Formula 1’s 10 teams voted to keep the 2019 Pirelli tires for the coming season because the new compounds would have required them to make last-minute car modifications.
The post-season Abu Dhabi tire test in early December gave all of the teams the opportunity to run the 2020 compounds for two days, but following that test they voted unanimously to keep the 2019-spec rubber for the new season. Pirelli head of car racing Mario Isola says that decision was not down to the tires not performing as expected, but rather a combination of factors with teams juggling new cars and major regulation changes in 2021.
“First of all, the test in Abu Dhabi was a representative test,” Isola told RACER. “It was a good test in a condition that was very similar to the race weekend, so you know that the track is representative enough – I’m not complaining about the quality of the test in Abu Dhabi.
“During the test it was clear that the 2020 tires had some positives, but the improvement of some of the aspects was not perceived during the test in Abu Dhabi, for a number of reasons – I’m not here to discuss the reasons, but that is the reality.
“They found a bit more consistency. The found, for example, there was an improvement in longitudinal traction. There were some positive aspects, but it was very late in the year.
“It was very late in the year in a period in which all the teams were over-stressed about the design of the 2020 car, the design of the 2021 car – they started [on 2021] during the 2019 season, when they were [still] working on [improving] the 2019 car – so actually they had three projects running at the same time, and they had to delegate their resources to the three projects.
“Obviously when we discussed it after the test – because I had a lot of meetings and chats with the teams to understand their feedback – the feedback was not negative. It was, ‘we are very late in the year, because of the new construction that has different characteristics and a different profile compared to the old one, we need to make modifications to the 2020 car. The 2020 car is 95% finalized so we don’t want to change it again, we prefer to stay on the 2019 tires’.”
According to Isola, the decision should be viewed as a vindication of the work Pirelli did with last season’s tires, rather than any failure with the 2020 compounds.
“The fact that they say they prefer to stay on the 2019 tires also means that the 2019 tires work well. After the beginning of last season when there were some complaints and some discussion and we also got to the vote in Austria to return to the 2018 tires, I said ‘Wait a second, there is a learning curve every year which at the beginning you struggle a little bit to understand the tires but then everybody understands the tires and we can work on the current tires’, because all the indications on the 2019 tires were positive compared to the 2018.
“Less blistering – much less blistering – less overheating, compounds that were spaced in the right way in terms of delta lap time, not seven but five compounds that is a reasonable number, so in terms of integrity the product was perfect. No issues with the 2019 tire means we can continue with the same product for another year.”