What Was the Point of the Formula 1 Pre-Season Pirelli Tyre Test in Bahrain?

Matthew WalthertFeatured ColumnistDecember 21, 2013

NUERBURG, GERMANY - JULY 04:  Pirelli tyres are seen on display in the paddock during previews to the German Grand Prix at the Nuerburgring on July 4, 2013 in Nuerburg, Germany.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

The 2013 Formula One season was plagued by controversy over Pirelli and the tyres it supplied. In an attempt to head off similar problems in 2014, the FIA authorized a tyre test in Bahrain from December 17-19.

Now that the test, where 2014 tyres were used on 2013 cars, has finished, one question remains to be answered: What was the point?

As a refresher for those who tuned out once Sebastian Vettel turned the championship into a game of follow-the-leader, there were multiple high-speed blowouts at the British Grand Prix, a secret testing session with the Mercedes team and ongoing complaints about how quickly the tyres degraded.

Pirelli had planned to run its 2014 tyres during free practice at the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix in November. This would have provided comparative data: the same cars and drivers, at the same track, running two different sets of tyres. Unfortunately, rain scuppered those plans, hence the necessity of the Bahrain test.

However, only four teams showed up in Sakhir last week, bringing just three drivers with 2013 race experience.

Bahrain Tyre Test Driver Line-Ups
TeamDay 1Day 2Day 3
FerrariPedro de la RosaPedro de la RosaJules Bianchi
MercedesNico RosbergNico RosbergNico Rosberg
Red BullSebastien BuemiSebastien BuemiSebastien Buemi
Toro RossoJean-Eric VergneAM: Jean-Eric Vergne PM: Daniil KvyatDaniil Kvyat

Not exactly ideal. If Pirelli is going to do any comparative analysis, it will be with data that is eight months old, from the 2013 Bahrain Grand Prix (unless Pirelli also brought 2013 tyres to the test).

When asked to comment for this article, Pirelli's Head of F1 Communications, Alexandra Schieren, told Bleacher Report via email, "This is a private Pirelli tyre test...the test is not open to the media or public, and we are not going to issue any media information from the test."

All that changed on the final day of the test, though, when Nico Rosberg tweeted that he had suffered a tyre blowout at 320 kph on the pit straight. The tweet was quickly deleted but not before it was widely shared. Grandprix247.com posted this screen capture:

Twitter, via grandprix247.com

Pirelli quickly issued a statement saying that various prototypes had been tested and that, "Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes was fitted with one of these prototypes, a tyre which had only been tested in the laboratory and which will not be proposed again."

According to Pirelli, "The safety of the tyres which will be supplied for the next Championship is not in question."

Nico Rosberg
Nico RosbergMark Thompson/Getty Images

Taken as an isolated incident, Rosberg's blowout may not be a cause for concern, but with the aforementioned tyre failures that occurred during the 2013 season, there will be some worries going forward that Pirelli has not fully solved the problem.

According to an article by Autosport's Jonathan Noble and Matt BeerJenson Button has already said that the first pre-season test, next month in Jerez "is going to be hilarious...the tyres aren't going to work, the cars probably won't work either." And that is coming from one of the sport's most experienced drivers.

In fact, it is shocking that McLaren did not show up in Bahrain, if for no other reason than to get Button's new teammate, rookie Kevin Magnussen, a few more laps of experience in an F1 car. The only other team with a rookie driver confirmed for their 2014 line-up, Toro Rosso, gave Daniil Kvyat half of the running time in Bahrain.

Originally, McLaren had offered to send a car to the test at its own expense, according to Auto Motor und Sport via Grandprix247.com. Once the FIA opened the test up to all the teams, though, McLaren must have decided it offered little value, and participating would have been a waste of time for the team and for Magnussen. 

And if McLaren thought that, what does it tell us about the value of the test for Pirelli and for the development of next season's tyres?

Paul Hembery, Pirelli Motorsport Director.
Paul Hembery, Pirelli Motorsport Director.Ker Robertson/Getty Images

Pirelli has been repeatedly hamstrung in its efforts to produce the new tyres. First, there were delays signing contracts to confirm the Italian company as the 2014 tyre supplier. Then, Pirelli was asked to tell the teams the specifications of the new tyres by September 1, despite not having an on-track test.

The significant changes to the cars and engines for next season also complicate matters for Pirelli. According to NBC's Will Buxton, drivers are already reporting wheel-spin up to fourth gear with 2014 cars in the simulators. This would significantly increase the amount of wear on the tyres, necessitating much harder compounds.

While harder tyres would mean slower lap times overall, they might also allow drivers to push the limits of their cars more often. In 2013, we often saw drivers aiming for a specific, pre-determined lap time to maximize tyre life, rather than driving as quickly as possible.

From the test in Bahrain, though, Pirelli will not be able to measure how the tyres react to the increased torque and wheel-spin from the 2014 cars. That is probably also why only four of 11 teams decided to participate. Had the other teams felt there was an advantage to be gained by running, they would have been there.

Pirelli now knows that whichever compound Rosberg was using is not viable, and the test may have provided some data to help choose which tyres to bring to Jerez for the first pre-season test, from January 28–31. But final decisions for 2014 will likely need to wait until the new tyres are run on the new cars.

If that is the case, then wasn't this test just a waste of time?


Follow Matthew Walthert on Twitter @MatthewWalthert