Patrick Friesacher interview: tyre expert with revolutionary ideas

The former F1 driver and Red Bull Ring instructor explains the tyre factor and how it can decide races. Why do they perform so differently? How do you treat them correctly? When is it best to change them? He has two fascinating ideas on making races even more exciting. Firstly – only the drivers should be able to decide when to pit. Secondly – more tyre manufacturers in Formula 1 would ensure for more competition and speed.

What will be different at the Austrian Grand Prix compared to the Styrian Grand Prix with the tyres?

The teams have different tyre compounds available – C3, C4 and C5. In comparison to last weekend, the tyres have become a degree softer. As Formula 1 cars are very sensitive to such changes, that has a big influence on the setup. The teams have to watch very carefully in the first two practice sessions how the tyre wear and degradation will be at the current track temperature.

Will the softer tyre compound change everything?

No, not everything. The two usual suspects will be at the front again - Red Bull Racing and Mercedes will battle it out for the win. I think that Max Verstappen will profit from it the most, as the softer tyres suit his car more. For all the other drivers, it‘s about using the tyre sets they have available cleverly. Every driver has two hard, three medium and eight soft tyres available for the weekend.

Will anything change in the pit strategies in the race? Last week one stop was the right idea.

The teams have a bit more space to play in and options this weekend. Of course it depends on how much performance the new C compound actually brings, but there will be a few opting between one or two stops.

How can it actually be the case that the same tyres perform so differently on different cars?

Because the setup with the cars is so different. It’s about aerodynamic and mechanical grip. It has to be just right for the tyres to work ideally. That can change by the day. You can have a superbly set-up car today and if tomorrow the track temperature is just five degrees warmer, suddenly it might just not be working any more. Teams have to be able to react very quickly.

Looking at it the other way – why does a different tyre compound perform so differently on the same car?

It may be the same car, but with a softer compound you can always drive faster. You have more traction in accelerating, you can brake later and your cornering speed is higher. That changes everything.

What role does the driver play in that?

More grip is the best thing that can happen to a racing driver. Everyone always just wants to drive on soft tyres, as the lap times are much faster as a result – it can easily take three or four seconds off. The soft tyres need to be protected though and ‘tyre whisperers’ like Sergio Pérez gain a clear advantage. Being able to protect tyres but still be fast is a real art form.

That brings us to the topic of tyre management. What can a driver actually do to protect their tyres?

When this order comes from the pits, you have to generally brake a fraction earlier as a driver and make sure you are taking some tempo out. When your tyres are at the limit, you have to wind it back a bit, even if no driver enjoys doing that.

How can you get tyres to the right temperature window?

By pushing! It‘s really important how you hit the accelerator when you exit a curve. When the wheels are going crazy my tyres are going to heat up faster, of course, than when I hit the accelerator cleanly, build traction and take the momentum with me. Too much wheelspin is definitely really bad for the tyres.

How much do drivers actually know about the condition of their tyres?

As a driver you first notice on the treads if you have a problem. You can also feel if the tyres are starting to overheat. The car begins to slide, it gets more nervous on the rear axle or understeers on turning. Thirdly, you get lots of info from the race engineer, of course.

It might rain at the weekend. Do you need to manage wet tyres or intermediates too?

Of course you do, especially if it dries up and you are still out with wet tyres or intermediates. You have to try to cool your tyres and find the spots that are still wet. Under torrential rain you have to find a totally different line, as the racing line will be full of rubber wear, which gets pretty slippery in the wet. The drivers therefore have to keep on braking inside and looking for the areas with a lot of grip.

There are always discussions between drivers and the pits on when the best time to come in is. Who actually decides that?

Ultimately it is decided by the strategy department, as they are the ones who have the overview. Where the driver will come out again after the pit stop has to be considered. Whether he has a lot of traffic or an open road. It doesn‘t help him at all to get new tyres and then get stuck behind slower cars.

Do drivers get overruled in some cases?

Yes, that has to be the case. Incidentally, I would like to see in the future at some stage no pit radio any more and the drivers having to decide on pitting for themselves as they feel that their tyres are getting worse. 

Do you think more tyre manufacturers would make Formula 1 more exciting?

I like the idea. Two or three tyre manufacturers would create competition, which would liven up Formula 1. The fans would see more battles and the lap times would get even faster. It would be a really cool thing…

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