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The Japanese Grand Prix from a tyre point of view: Suzuka, 5-7 October 2012

Paul Hembery: “Hard-soft combination for more strategies at Suzuka”

What’s the story?

This year, Pirelli will bring the P Zero Silver hard and P Zero Yellow soft tyres to Japan: a change from last year’s nomination when the medium and the soft tyre was used. However, this year’s compounds are generally softer across the board, meaning that the tyres seen in Japan this year will offer even more performance, as has been the case throughout the season. This has not always been reflected in lap times, due to new technical regulations for 2012 that have slowed the cars down slightly and also brought them closer together in terms of speed. But the tyres themselves have benefitted from an extended window of peak performance – and Suzuka is one of the places that tests them most all year. Along with Barcelona, this is a circuit where the highest energy loadings are recorded all year on the P Zero compounds, mainly due to the number of long and fast corners such as 130R and Spoon.

In fact 130R is the fastest corner of the year taken at 310kph in seventh gear, where the tyres are subjected to three simultaneous forces: downforce, cornering, and acceleration. The lateral force alone is equivalent to 3.1g, but as 130R is quite an open corner this is not where the tyres experience the most lateral force: instead that comes at Turn 7, the Dunlop Curve, where lateral energy peaks at 3.4g. Because of all these mechanical and thermal demands on the compound, it is not uncommon for the tread temperature to exceed 110 degrees centigrade.

Weather conditions can be complex in Japan – in the past, qualifying has even had to be postponed until Sunday morning due to heavy rain – so as usual Pirelli will also bring the Cinturato Green intermediate and Cinturato Blue full wet.

Pirelli’s motorsport director says:

Paul Hembery: “Suzuka is definitely one of the highlights of the Formula One calendar for us: not only from a technical point of view but also because of the unique atmosphere. The fans are some of the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic in the world, and we are always assured of an extremely warm welcome. But it’s the layout of the track that delivers the technical challenge: Suzuka is a classic drivers’ circuit, a bit like Spa or Monza, with some of the most awesome corners that we see all year and very little margin for error. While it might at first seem from the names of the compounds that we are bringing harder tyres to Japan this year, in fact they are softer. Despite the increased demands that this places on the compound and structure, they are still more than capable of withstanding the immense forces to which they are subjected lap after lap. With a full step between the compounds as well, we hope this will bring extra performance and excitement to what is already a classic race. This should also open up the opportunity for lots of different strategies, which as we have seen already this year can form the foundation of a memorable victory, or boost drivers to a top result even if they have started from lower down on the grid. Last year the drivers’ championship was actually decided in Japan, but this year has been so competitive that we are still a long way from seeing the titles settled – and that is great news for all the fans.”

The men behind the steering wheel say:

Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber F1 Team): “The Suzuka circuit is a very special one – and not only because it is my home grand prix! I’m sure a lot of drivers would agree that it is a great circuit – it is a very technical track, really exciting to drive and actually it is very difficult to do a perfect lap there, which is part of the challenge. To learn most of the circuits it is enough to do 20 or 30 laps. But in Suzuka you are still learning even after you have done hundreds of laps. I think our car should be very fast there. The surface has a lot of grip which means it is easy enough to get the tyres to work, but also it is quite difficult to manage them over long distances. The high-speed corners obviously put a lot of load on the tyres as well. Of course for me my home grand prix is something special. The Japanese fans are great and the mood and atmosphere they create is a great support. And they’re not just cheering me either! They are true Formula One fans and that is why I’m really proud of them.”

Pirelli’s test driver says:

Lucas di Grassi: “Suzuka is really enjoyable to drive and it always produces good races but it’s not so easy for the tyres because there are so many heavy demands: the first part of the lap, for example, is just corner after corner so the tyres are constantly working with no real chance to cool down. There are a lot of combined forces in particular, when the cars are turning and accelerating, and this is what always puts a lot of energy through the tyre. Because of this, there is never a problem with tyre warm-up, but of course you have to take care over a longer stint, particularly when the car is heavy with fuel. It’s good that we have the hard tyre in Japan this year: I tested this 2012 hard tyre a lot and it’s a really versatile product, which has plenty of performance but durability as well: a big step over the equivalent compound in 2011. The soft tyre should be the perfect choice for qualifying, but I would expect to see the hard tyre come into its own during the race.”

Technical tyre notes:

  • While the non-stop series of corners puts plenty of energy through the tyres, the flowing nature of the track means that it has the lowest traction demand of the year. The only place where the tyres have to provide full traction is coming out of the hairpin (Turn 11) and the downhill final chicane. Braking effort is also comparatively low.
  • The front-right tyre has a particularly tough task in Japan: through 130R, for example, it has the equivalent of 800 kilogrammes of downforce going through it – while cornering at maximum speed.
  • High levels of stress on tyres can cause blistering if the car is not set up properly. This phenomenon is the result of localised heat build-up, particularly in the shoulder of the tyre, as it flexes. If not dealt with by reducing the demands on the tyre, this can cause parts of the tread pattern to break away and affect performance.

The tyre choices so far:

PZero Red PZero Yellow PZero White PZero Silver
Australia Soft Medium
Malaysia Medium Hard
China Soft Medium
Bahrain Soft Medium
Spain Soft Hard
Monaco Supersoft Soft
Canada Supersoft Soft
Europe Soft Medium
Great Britain
Soft Hard
Germany Soft Medium
Hungary Soft Medium
Belgium Medium Hard
Italy Medium Hard
Singapore Supersoft Soft
Japan Soft Hard

Pirelli in Japan:

  • Japan is where last year Sebastian Vettel joined a distinguished club of Pirelli Formula One world champions: Alberto Ascari, Giuseppe Farina, and Juan Manuel Fangio. Another Seb – this time Sebastien Loeb – also clinched the World Rally Championship for Pirelli in Japan in 2008: one of four WRC victories Pirelli has claimed in Japan.
  • Pirelli Japan won the prestigious Autobacs award in 2010 for being the best tyre supplier of the year. Autobacs is a long-established dealer in automotive parts and accessories that was founded in 1947. Pirelli Japan won the award for its sales success, with the P4 tyre proving to be the best-selling product.
  • Pirelli’s premium tyres have become best-sellers in Japan, thanks to the interest from Formula One and the enthusiastic Japanese performance car market. The P Zero tyre in particular is a sought-after product, frequently fitted to modified performance cars, while the P Zero Trofeo is also fitted for track use.

Other news from Pirelli:

  • Pirelli’s test driver Lucas di Grassi will get his first taste of the Australian V8 touring car championship in October. Di Grassi will drive a Holden Commodore in the Gold Coast 600: a race that pairs domestic drivers with international stars. Also taking part will be former Pirelli test driver Nick Heidfeld. Di Grassi finished on the podium when he made his sportscar debut with Audi at Interlagos in Brazil two weeks ago.
  • Pirelli claimed the FIA European Historic Rally Championship with victory at the Rally d’Isola Elba in Italy. Using Pirelli P7 Corsa Classic tyres, Massimo Pedretti gave the Lancia 037 Rally its first international title in 25 years.
  • The Hangar Bicocca, Pirelli’s arts and cultural exhibition space in the centre of Milan, hosted a unique installation by German artist Carsten Nicolai called ‘Unidisplay’. At more than 50 metres long, it unites art, light and sound in what its creator describes as a new artistic concept.