Technically Speaking: Tyre Swapping

03/07/2013
FEATURE BY MATT SOMERFIELD

Yesterday's statement from Pirelli insinuated that the teams should shoulder a proportion of the blame in regard to the spectacular tyre failures we witnessed at Silverstone at the weekend.

One of the criticisms from Pirelli was the teams’ use of their tyres on the wrong side of the car. The 2013 construction, if you didn't know, features a metal band as part of the construction rather than the Kevlar band used in 2012. This steel band wraps diagonally across the tyre so the diagonal / seams run in a different direction dependant on which side of the car the tyre is run.

The teams swiftly realised that, dependent on their own configuration, using the tyres on opposing sides of the car would operate the them differently thermally giving rise to a tactic used up and down the grid. Pirelli can only recommend that its tyres be used in a certain direction (although they would like their recommendations for tyre orientation, pressure and temperature to be regulated by the FIA) and the barcode found on the side of the tyre indicates the true orientation of a tyre.

Teams can and will mark their tyres according to how they feel will best benefit their setup/cause.

Perhaps the most famous of the delaminations in the preceding races was that of Lewis Hamilton in Bahrain as he was required to change his gearbox following the failure. As we can see in the magnified image below however the use of tyre swapping was not the problem.

If we look at the following images however we will see that in Spain McLaren has marked and mounted its tyre in an opposing direction to the recommendation of Pirelli.

Here at Silverstone with the cars parked after the race, we can see both Mercedes and Red Bull have mounted their right hand tyres on the left side of the car.

For those questioning whether Lewis Hamilton's tyre failure was as a result of tyre swapping - although not conclusive as he could have come to the grid on an older set of tyres - the image below shows Mercedes was tyre swapping on his car throughout the weekend also.

I'd love to be able to say whether the drivers who did incur these tyre failures at Silverstone were in fact using the tyre swapping technique, but due to the speed of the car vs the photography speed you cannot pick out the L or R on the barcode labels when the cars are in motion.

The practice of tyre swapping is not a new phenomenon with teams using it to leverage an advantage since the mid 90s. Prior to Silverstone Pirelli was aware it was taking place but as there are no regulations to prevent the practice the Italian manufacturer’s hands were tied.

Note: All pictures can be found in higher resolution here.

Matt Somerfield

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Published: 03/07/2013
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