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Analysis: Pirelli chose the wrong tyres for Canada

Pirelli is responsible for choosing the best tyres for a Formula 1 race. Yet, It appears something went eerily wrong when they picked for the Canadian GP.

Pirelli, Formula 1's sole tyre supplier, choose three compounds to bring to every Grand Prix, but did they make the right choice for Canada?

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Pirelli appeared pleased with the performance of their tyres during the Canadian Grand Prix and said all three compounds were used “extensively.” But, how true is that statement? A closer analysis of the tyre data seems to show something rather different, which raises important questions about the methods used by Italian manufacturer to make their weekend tyre allocations.

Pirelli brought their hypersoft, ultrasoft, and supersoft tyres to Montreal. Every driver, apart from the two Mercedes, took either seven or eight sets of the hypersofts.

When the race start rolled around on Sunday afternoon, only eight drivers actually used the hypersoft – and six of those choices were mandatory due to qualifying regulations. The only two drivers who chose to use the hypersoft of their own free will were Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly and McLaren-Renault’s Stoffel Vandoorne.

Both drivers finished outside the points.

So, why would anyone bring so many sets of the hypersoft and then completely neglect the tyre in the race?

“Nobody knows exactly how [the hypersoft] will perform in Canada in terms of wear and degradation”

– Pirelli statement, made before the Canadian Grand Prix weekend.

Given their relative inexperience with it, it can be assumed that Pirelli did not expect the degradation of the hypersoft to be so high in Canada. They themselves even described the weekend as the tyre’s “debut” – given the almost non-existent wear factor in Monaco.

But, the choices made by the teams is almost forced upon them and their generalized predictions don’t always conform to the circuit’s demands. Sure, it adds an element of unpredictability, but arguably so, it can also stall the racing and the spectacle that comes with it.

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Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly on-track during the 2018 Canadian Grand Prix, with the pink hypersoft tyres strapped on.

The point is, in Canada, the hypersoft was neglected because it didn’t make sense for the teams to use it. When trying to do something different to competitors, it’s almost impossible to stop more times and gain an advantage from doing so. The simple strategy proved that ultrasoft/supersoft kept the tyres in a better window than hypersoft/supersoft. Using the hypersoft effectively would’ve meant a two-stop, yet when everyone else was going for the one-stop, it’s very difficult to find a situation where one can benefit.

Valtteri Bottas showed this effect perfectly during the Canadian Grand Prix. He stuck in second place for most of the race but had no options to attack the leading Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel. “Not being able to put him under any pressure meant we couldn’t create any opportunity for Valtteri so second was all we could play for today,” Mercedes’ Andrew Shovlin said post-race.

“After that I was trying to put pressure on Sebastian, but didn’t have enough pace.”

– Valtteri Bottas, post-race in Canada.

Bottas just couldn’t apply pressure because there was no alternative strategy. That’s the purpose of having the third tyre compound, to create a difference. Sure, Pirelli took a risk with the hypersofts, but being more conventional with tyres that were a step harder could’ve given fans a better spectacle.

That’s mainly because when you’ve got tyres that are harder, it allows for a strategy that, under certain circumstances, can sometimes upset the conventional order. In Canada, if the soft tyre had been available to the teams, anyone could’ve tried using it to finish from the safety-car period on lap 1.

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The crash between Lance Stroll and Brendon Hartley that could’ve thrown a twist in the Canadian Grand Prix, that is, if Pirelli had brought soft tyres.

However, since the supersoft tyre was chosen as the hardest compound, this chance didn’t happen, and the teams knew from the moment Stroll and Hartley collided in spectacular fashion that there was no available alternate strategy.

Soft tyres would’ve made them think differently.

Funnily enough, Kimi Raikkonen said post-race in Canada that he needed to “try something different.” In his eyes, the only thing Ferrari could do was extend his first stint.

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After having an abysmal race, Kimi Raikkonen couldn’t rely on a strategic risk to try and get himself back in contention for the Canadian Grand Prix win.

“I don’t think that cost us any position,” Raikkonen said. It may not have cost him anything, but it didn’t help either.

Simply put, Canada had no strategic variance due to Pirelli’s choice of compounds. 

An easy explanation for Pirelli’s decision to use the hypersofts in Canada could be a lack of experience with the compound. But, Pirelli knew full well the capabilities of the other two compounds and knew that they’d be trying to force a two-stop with the hypersoft. Heck, they even brought the softs in 2017, and two of the podium finishers incorporated them into a one-stop.

Pirelli may not have been aware of the hypersofts capabilities, but they knew the supersoft wasn’t going to be a neglected tyre.

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Valtteri Bottas on-track during the 2017 iteration of the Canadian Grand Prix. He’s got soft tyres on, a compound Pirelli opted to not bring back in 2018.

Sure, the soft tyres didn’t throw a strategic curveball in 2017 but that was because there wasn’t a catalyst, such as a safety-car. The undeniable truth when running a one-stop race is that there will be two ideal compounds, which means the whole three tyre selection rule doesn’t work for them.

This is not entirely Pirelli’s fault, as they’ve had to meet the demands of the FIA, who wanted more durable tyres. The idea was always to move away from Pirelli’s highly-degrading compounds that were more prevalent at the start of the V6-hybrid era.

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Pirelli’s tyres back in 2014, when they were narrower and degraded significantly quicker.

Maybe Pirelli wanted to use Canada as a marketing exercise, to show off the hypersoft tyre. It produced great results in qualifying, sure, but results are only handed out on Sunday’s.

Pirelli’s motivation appeared to be in the need to create a two-stop. “We should still see more than one pit-stop,” they said before the weekend. But, that need, if true, seemed to overtake the ability to make a decision that would better the racing.

One-stop doesn’t always equal bad racing – but, generally, using just two of the three compounds available in a race does.

Steven Walton is an 18-year-old Journalism Student at the Ara Institute of Canterbury. He previously attended St Andrew's College in Christchurch, where he excelled at History and Classical Studies. Steven is the Editor-in-Chief at Green Flag F1 and spends most of his days living, breathing, and immersing in the Formula 1 world.

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