Formula 1 chiefs must tread carefully with plans to ban tyre blankets from 2024, reckons Mercedes, to ensure car performance does not go beyond the products they run on.
While grand prix racing looks set to abandon a push to reduce tyre warming temperatures for next year as a precursor to the blanket ban, there remains every intention to remove the heating aids from the start of 2024.
Such attempts to ban tyre blankets, motivated on cost and sustainability grounds, have been made in the past but each time have been ditched because of potential complications in terms of safety and performance.
Looking ahead to the latest push for a tyre blanket ban, Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin thinks that F1 bosses must not allow a situation where tyres that are designed to cope without being pre-heated are not suitable for the increased downforce levels that teams are able to deliver.
“The sport has to be very careful that the legislation on blankets does not get ahead of the rate at which we can develop the tyres,” said Shovlin. “And Pirelli’s problem is not a static one.
“These cars have got more downforce in a straight line than the cars we used to have. The high-speed loads are very, very high and the teams are constantly working to add performance. And for Pirelli to just keep up with that constant development is difficult.”
Shovlin believes that while producing a tyre that can cope without being pre-warmed is possible, F1 needs to ensure that doing so does not come at the cost of the racing.
“Pirelli probably could give us one straight away,” added Shovlin. “But that tyre would not lead to good racing. It would not allow the drivers to push as hard, and you would end up with very high tyre pressures and a significant loss of grip.
“It's a case of balancing the needs of the sport, along with environmental concerns that are all being addressed. But the big concern is making sure that we don't end up with a worse sport, because we've led it with the legislation on what we want to achieve.”
Shovlin says that the challenge that Pirelli face in coping with the extreme performance of F1 cars is far from easy.
“I think the challenge of taking a car that's this fast, this powerful, that has this much downforce, and making a blanketless tyre is incredibly difficult,” he said.
“I think it's very easy to look at the Formula 2 series and say, ‘well, they do it’ but the energies involved are enormously higher – we're doing around 20 seconds quicker at some circuits. And that challenge for Pirelli is very, very difficult. It requires a lot of steps of technical development.”
Ferrari race director Laurent Mekies says the intentions of a tyre blanket ban are good, but accepts it is not an easy thing to achieve.
“The target is the right one, for the environment to remove the blanket,” he said. “I think we just need to give Pirelli the right time and the right chance, the right opportunities, testing opportunities, to develop the product that will meet everything. Once we have that we can then move to the blanketless approach.”