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Never Get Tyred

FEATURE BY MAX NOBLE
12/10/2022

Tread Shuffle! Not Wall Street!

Tyres! Here at Pitpass Financials - sorry, Towers - we are actually going to talk motor racing for an entire column! At the start, middle and end of each day, tyres are the only thing keeping any car, racing, non-racing or otherwise, connected to terra firma, via the only interface existing between your vehicle, and the surface on which you are travelling. Be that sealed road, unsealed (graded gravel) road, mud, sand or snow.

Here in Western Australia (WA) we have a delightful form of pea-gravel which makes our graded gravel (i.e. dirt) roads a particular challenge. Back in the day we held a round of the WRC, all the drivers spoke in hushed tones of the challenge of keeping it all together on this difficult surface. At anything above a walking pace it presented a mix of oil slick, ice, melting snow and "who knows? I cannot feel a thing!" To challenge the finest pilot. Indeed the height of my driving ignominy was spinning my mother's Mitsubishi Magna Wagon on a fast flowing dirt road... while my mother and father were in the back seat! Being WA (a land of rather large distances) this resulted in the final three hours of the drive home being a very uncomfortable silence.

Around the same time, late in the 20th century, your pun-affected scribe was seeking to have his trusty steed re-shod. I went for top of the range Bridgestones for my wheel size. To which the trusty blacksmith - sorry I mean tyre merchant - responded, "The car is old, and under-powered, why buy such nice tyres?" To which yours truly replied: "The laws of Physics do not alter as your car grows older. I need to grip the same road, in the same weather conditions, while obeying the same laws of physics, as a brand new Ferrari."

"Never viewed it like that," replied our blacksmith.

"Best if you did. Gimme the Bridgestones please."

Some weeks later, in lashing rain, your scribe in a decades old Toyota Corona Wagon drove around the outside of a then current Toyota Celica on a (dual lane) rain hammered roundabout. It would not have been possible with the tyres my blacksmith had recommended.

Physics and tyres! Pirelli. Ye gads. Said it. Typed it. Off to find the mouth rinse... The sole tyre suppler for F1.

I've mentioned in articles past about my horror journey through time with the "P" tyres. BMW, Audi, Ford, Citroen, Toyota, Mazda, Lexus, Subaru and Jaguar. Each improved by way of ditching the "P" tyre. Yet here we are with them the only tyre in F1. Which is not to say they are all bad. No. There are cheaper, harder road going tyres which perform worse than a Pirelli, it is just that equally, there are usually road going tyres which perform better. Frequently much better, for a similar price.

It is each vehicle's only interface with the planet, so it is best to get it right. I never tire of talking tyres because they are so impactful on performance. I'm paid by none of the tyre manufacturers and have to purchase all my own tyres with my own hard-earned currency. I tend to recommend Michelin, followed by Continental, followed by Dunlop, and Bridgestone in a tie for third. On planet earth these four swap places as to who has released the latest grip monster for use by a joyful public. Based on latest release they swap places, but in most instances their best offering will usually out-perform the current "P" offering at the same price point. This is based purely on personal experience and my driving style in the cars I've been fortunate to pilot.

None of my preferred tyre manufacturers currently act as farriers within F1. But as road cars have moveable aero, adaptive ride height, computer controlled suspension settings and six million other software affectations all denied to F1, I'm rather confident that I'm not missing anything here. Once again the road relevance of F1 to the public road comes into question.

Consider the two differing requirement specifications. F1 dry track tyres (slicks) need last no more than 150 km (half race distance), must carry a car of around 798Kg, including driver but excluding fuel. Try finding a road car that light these days, let alone an SUV! Next, they do not require grooves to dispel surface water as that is covered by wet weather tyres. Finally, we have no direct completion to allow for racing competition to improve the breed. So for all we, or the teams, know this year's track going F1 control tyre is actually worse than those supplied a decade ago. What is there to drive Pirelli to improve? How can we know without competition to push the improvements, and against which to judge?

Back on the public turnpikes we all inhabit we want a tyre to last at least 30,000 kms. A typical SUV weighs more than 1,600 kg and can tow the same again. We must have grooves to dispel water because slicks are illegal on most public roads, and we need an all-weather tyre which can handle year-round typical weather conditions. There is endless competition to improve the breed as all the tyre manufacturers try to out-perform one another at each price point, and thereby win our business.

Rim size. The "Big Money" on street cars is now with 20, 21 and even 22 inch rims! All far in excess of the modest 18 inch rims that F1 has only recently discovered. Yet, as F1 used to know so well with smaller wheels sizes, the tyre wall is an integral part of the suspension set-up. Just ask Miss Physics, it is all related. So one has the joys of a massive rim perspective giving a great showroom ascetic, yet the bump-thump trauma of a tyre wall the thickness of a Bandaid.

In the cycling world we call it a "pitch-flat" when one thumps into a pothole, hammering the tyre so fast and violently into the rim that it pops the inner tube. Not good. SUVs on 22 inch rims suffer the same irritation. What relevance my F1 tyre with an 18 inch rim carrying a 798Kg car on 18 inch rims? Looks like bicycle tyres share more in common with road car tyres than F1 tyres these days!

There is an ideal rim to tyre wall ratio which, dependant on the vehicle weight and suspension settings, can vary wildly from situation to situation. Cruising on flawless German blacktop with no intention of taking your BMW X5-M V8 off road? Engage beast mode and get the 22 inch monsters.

About to cross the Kalahari Desert in your Defender 110 with 942Kg of urgent medical supplies in the back? I'd recommend steel rims of around 14 inches. What are you trying to successfully achieve?

Tyres play a unique role in your suspension reactance, your ride quality and your road noise. All of which have no relation to modern F1 cars, tyres or tracks.

Next? Grip. Pirelli are masters of advertising. They ran adverts some years back with the tagline "Power is nothing without control". Brilliant! So true! Do not deform during cornering, disperse water when asked, last more than fifteen minutes, be consistent under pressure so the driver does not have multiple kittens mid-corner as they saw at the wheel fighting over-steer, then under-steer in turn millisecond by millisecond.

Grip in the dry is good and required. Grip in the wet is a life-saving must have. Easy way to grip is super soft rubber which lasts a mere few thousand miles. The smart way to grip is a delightful brew of compound, softness, tread pattern, tyre wall give and tyre face construction. Like software development, generating the right tyre compound is part science, part arcane dark art. More side wall give, more bounce-bounce, more heat. Less side wall give, less bounce-bounce... more chance of bump-steering out of a corner on a bumpy country road. It all interrelates!

Compare how much running in the wet the average driver does in Wales compared to an F1 pilot! The charming Welsh driver will cover more miles in the rain over a bank holiday weekend than the F1 field does in an entire season! What transfer of technology to you think that yields?

A bicycle tyre generates grip in the wet by latterly cutting through the standing water to make contact with dry surface. The contact patch on a bicycle tyre is minute, so even with the combined bike and rider usually weighing less than 100Kg, the force per unit area through the contact patch is very high. By comparison, road car tyres, F1 intermediate and full wet tyres, generate grip via pressing the water into the grooves of the tyre and throwing it off the road, to provide a small damp patch for the tyre rubber to use in a desperate grab for road surface grip. Hence the amazing rooster tails of spray coming off the F1 cars when we actually see them running in the wet. Hence the massive mud flaps and side skirts on large trucks so that the water being thrown up in the air from their tyres does not drown any car next to or behind them.

Tyre life span. F1 changes tyres within a 305 km (not quite 190 miles) race. Would you be happy changing tyres that often? I'd be up for at least two new sets of tyres, per week! Road going drivers want comfort, grip and long life all at once! Not something F1 cares about. Especially when a control tyre means they are all in the same boat. Comfort? Forget it. Grip? They all want lots but can only have what Pirelli delivers. Long life? The FIA mandates a minimum of one tyre change so that in the dry two differing compounds are used per race! So to cry "here for road relevance, honest" is simply not true. The FIA want a tyre from Pirelli that does not need to cover more than 150 km! Lord Above! Here in WA we would not make it to the corner shop without needing new tyres!

The world of the humble tyre is 100% ruled by Miss Physics and her immutable laws. We each have a choice as to how much we wish to spend. I commend every Pitpass reader to never skimp on tyre spending for their car, bicycle or motorbike. In the wet, during emergency braking, that manic swerve to avoid the cyclist who just jumped off the pavement (sidewalk) in front of you... great tyres will play a direct role in saving the day, while dire tyres will drive you direct to the scene of the disaster.

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by habentsen, 18/10/2022 7:33

"Tyre war and no DRS wing.

Now that is something I dream about, but I fear it will always be just a dream…."

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2. Posted by Max Noble, 15/10/2022 21:30

"@overdriver - Indeed change is the only constant…. Except it is just the style of daft decision that changes…. The daft decision making remain… yet… that’s better than doing nothing… just."

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3. Posted by overdriver, 14/10/2022 13:14

"@Max - before we get too carried away with comparing then with now, it's interesting to note that the same race produced an incident which may not sound unfamiliar. Graham Hill's BRM stalled on the grid and, under the direction of renowned official Toto Roche, was push started. A 'course' rule meant that this incurred a 60 second penalty. However, this fact was not relayed to everyone which obviously had a bearing on what we now refer to as the 'race strategy' of the competition.

Hill finished third but post-race had his championship points (4) disallowed whilst being allowed to keep his finishing position!

It has to be said that this was in pre FIA days with jurisdiction being administered (fragmentedly) by CSI and national motor sport federations but 'plus ca change' eh?"

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4. Posted by Max Noble, 14/10/2022 12:12

"@overdriver - in the post-truth Trump age it is all too easy to call bluff on every fact Miss Physics presents… so rather than go check your statement I’m simply going to accept it. A brilliant tale of true men racing under insane conditions. Clark is a legend on so many levels. I believe this would have been how it played out that race. Simply. Brilliant. My thanks for highlighting. Hello and welcome to your wonderful past FIA… any useful plans for the future?
"

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5. Posted by overdriver, 14/10/2022 10:54

"I quote from the "Motor Racing Year 1963-4" (edited by John Blunsden and Alan Brinton) concerning the 1963 French GP at Reims:-

"He (Clark) hoped for rain, so that he could nurse his engine, and rain it did.... only to bring a further problem, since he was using the same tyres as in the first three GPs, and their balding tread gave little drainage."

Clark went on to win the 273 mile race and take the fastest lap.

Says it all really."

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6. Posted by ancient70!, 14/10/2022 8:26

"One thing I have lately thought about with respect to the wet weather spray problem, is how much are the lovely low pressure diffusers sitting below a upside down wing with low pressure lower surface contributing to the spray problem? I feel it may have a greater effect than the water being displaced by the tires?"

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7. Posted by Max Noble, 14/10/2022 6:14

"@rtw1951 - I’ll send their CVs to Pirelli and see what happens. :-)"

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8. Posted by Max Noble, 14/10/2022 1:49

"@Tadris40 - agree the science is fascinating… jus a shame no tyre war to make it exciting!

@Spindoctor - I am not worthy of being mentioned in the same sentence as the esteemed LJK! A remarkable journalist, a fine car lover, and a true eccentric! I’ve run tyres a couple of PSI higher ever since is wonderfully reasoned article many a year ago! Agree MotoGP has it about right.

@NevilleT - bit confused on the disk brake comment… Agree - Max in a pre-war Auto Union monster with drum brakes and cross ply tyres would be a sight I’d pay for!"

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9. Posted by NevilleT, 13/10/2022 23:44

"I don't see the problem. My 1960 TR3a was the first mass-production car to have disk brakes. They have no problem at all stopping the wheels from rotating at any speed. It might be something to do with the 590x15 tyres. They are now known as 165x15. Perhaps metrication is only half implemented on tyres. Eventually, they will be 165x381 when the task is complete. My only complaint with the tyre manufacturers is the smell of burning rubber. Perhaps Pirelli or Bridgestone could come out with burning rubber that smelt like Colombian Coffee or the delicate aroma of freshly baked bread. Perhaps different smells for each tyre so you would know which one you locked up.
For F1 I suggest we go back to cross-ply tyres. In my early driving days cross-ply tyres pumped more adrenaline through my body than a superchaged roller-coaster ride while blindfolded. Imagine being able to watch in slow motion Max take Eau Rouge at 60 kph and never sure when The Red Bull would let go."

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10. Posted by Spindoctor, 13/10/2022 22:28

"Great stuff yet again! Tyres in F1 have been one of my numerous hobbyhorses for ages & you neatly identify the shortcomings of the current Pirellis. I strongly suspect at least some of the porpoising is a consequence of an inability to manage tyre hysteresis.
Pirelli's problem is the ridiculous artificiality of the context in which they are mandated to design tyres. The need to use two types per race is utterly stupid. In order to achieve appropriately short tyre lives the various compounds, even within the same hardness groups are inconsistent between circuits. A "soft" at Silverstone is different to "soft" at another circuit.

My current favourite Motorsport is MotoGP where despite a one-brand arrangement, each of the tyre compounds available on any weekend will perform decently for most of a Race. The skill of the Riders is to balance performance against degradation in both their initial tyre choice and how they use them in the race. There is lots of tyre management involved, but mainly they're flat out for most of the Race.

Compare & contrast to F1 where tyres have an extraordinarily limited working temperature range leading to races that often won or lost solely on which Team's car hits that sweet spot at any given circuit. Even when they achieve that near-miracle, Pilots very rarely go flat out. We often see drivers ceding places because owing to tyre strategy they're not racing X or Y, but Z who's on the same strategy. This is all vey "spicy" but Motor Racing it barely is....

Finally, I must give a nod in the direction of the very learned LJK Setright, a man whose knowledge of tyres and Engineering were one of the highlights of Car Magazine in its heyday. I suspect his take on this would have mirrored that of Mr Noble."

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11. Posted by rtw1951, 13/10/2022 19:40

"Mr. Noble, you have in your possession the very thing to force Pirelli to improve their product. How do the tires hold up to the claws of the PitPass Cats, will the tread stand to a severe scratching session? Just a thought. "

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12. Posted by Tardis40, 13/10/2022 17:50

"Did you happen to catch the interview with Pirelli during, IIRC, P2 in Japan? It was both fascinating and informative. The amount and type of work they put into the tires and the in-depth understanding of the process is quite impressive."

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13. Posted by Max Noble, 13/10/2022 12:03

"@ancient70! - Blessings on such fabled tales! Yup… Had friends that replaced the “weak” clutch in the Subaru WRX-STi only to then blow differentials rather than clutches… How we all laughed… Agree with your view of totally destroying tyres on out-back roads. If you’d had show-pony 21 inch rims on that wagon it would have been 1,001 times worse! Miss Physics takes no prisoners…. It really is her way, or not possible…"

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14. Posted by ancient70!, 13/10/2022 11:39

"Ah the God of road relevance! A pity he has so few believers. I do think any racing car has very little road relevance. Had a trusty Ford Escort which devoured brake pads, maybe my driving played a role here? My trusty garage mechanic said “no problem , I will fit some competition pads, they should last a long time” And so it was, the pads now lasted forever, the only problem now was my Escort was now devouring bake discs at greater rate than it previously had pads.
I had a interesting tyre experience with a 2.0l Subaru Forrester, non turbo, fitted tyres were Bridgestone 70 aspect ratio, on 15” rims. Tyres were marked HT, which translated to Highway Terrain! Of course this did not deter me from belting along the most horrendous rocky, rutted dirt roads at a great rate of knots! The ride was fantastic, until you stopped somewhere and realised you have destroy one of the rear tyres. (it was always a rear tyre that went !?) While in motion you never noticed a thing, brilliant ride until the inevitable failure, I must have destroyed 4 tires on crummy roads. The tyre plus Forrester suspension performed brilliantly on bad roads in terms of ride comfort etc, so much so you be going much too fast for the condition of the road (track) surface. I suppose HT does not equate to RT (rocky terrain!)"

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15. Posted by Max Noble, 13/10/2022 10:06

"@ChickenFarmerF1 - And long do the makers of luxury goods hope that confusion remains! If I buy the watch Lewis wears, shall I, assistant accountant third class, be more of a hero like Lewis? If I buy Pirelli P-Zero Nero tyres as fitted as original equipment to the latest Ferrari V12 Coupe, will my mildly modified, and dropped, Nissan be a bit more Ferrari, and hence awesome?

The Golden Rule… He who has the gold…makes the rules…
"

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