Could the Austria sprint shootout prompt a reevaluation of F1’s tyre rules? That’s the question that emerged after the rainy weather rendered the strict tyre usage regulations obsolete during the Saturday shootout, allowing drivers to choose any slick compound they desired throughout the three sessions.
This led to a flurry of activity as drivers depleted their stock of available soft tyres. Nico Hulkenberg even resorted to using new mediums in SQ3 to secure fourth on the sprint grid, while others scrambled with used softs. The spectacle raised the suggestion that the accidental format discovered in Austria should be applied to the remaining sprints of the season, potentially starting with Spa at the end of the month.
To understand the context, when the rules for the standalone Saturday sprint were established before Azerbaijan, discussions about tyre usage over the weekend took center stage between the FIA, the teams, and Pirelli. The outcome was the replacement of the mostly redundant FP2 session with a three-part qualifying session, which increased the demand for new soft tyres.
Pirelli’s F1 boss, Mario Isola, explains, “The discussion started in Baku because it was decided to change to this new format quite late. And we already delivered the tyres to Baku. We had an allocation that was already defined for the sprint event. When we had this discussion, I said the tyres are already there, or they are arriving at the circuit. So we need the time to react if you want to modify the breakdown of the compounds.”
As a result of those discussions, a compulsory allocation for the three shootout segments was agreed upon, with new mediums for SQ1 and SQ2, and new softs for SQ3. Various possibilities were explored, including free usage throughout the weekend, but the final decision aimed to address the issue of cars not running or resorting to intermediates.
Teams quickly realized in Baku that if they were unlikely to make it to SQ3, there was no point in saving a set of softs that could be used more effectively in an earlier session. This led to different approaches in tyre usage during Friday’s practices and the qualifying session for the main race. Additionally, deleted lap times caused many drivers to consume more softs than planned.
Before Austria, the teams supported the idea of allowing any soft tyres for SQ3, not just new sets, to address the problem of cars not running or using intermediates. This was possible due to a provision in the 2023 sprint regulations that allows changes until the end of July, following the third sprint of the year in Spa, if any anomalies or unintended consequences arise, and if at least eight teams agree to the change.
With this knowledge, teams adjusted their tyre usage in Austria, especially during Friday’s sessions and the qualifying session for the main race. Rain on Saturday morning led to a wet track declaration before the shootout, resulting in free tyre usage if the track dried. Consequently, drivers could choose whichever tyres they preferred over the three sessions, leading to increased track action and variety in tyre choices. Only four drivers set their times on new softs in SQ3.
The more entertaining and eventful shootout in Austria compared to Baku suggests that the rules should be opened up to allow drivers to use their tyres freely across Friday and Saturday. This would address concerns about cars having few or no softs left and provide an opportunity for those eliminated in Q1 to have more new tyres for the shootout, creating a gentle form of reverse handicap.
There will be a meeting of the FIA sporting advisory committee at Silverstone to discuss the sprint format, and one option is to maintain the original medium-medium-soft format for Spa and consider changes for the final three sprints. However, some argue for opening up the rules immediately at the Belgian weekend to observe the outcomes.
The FIA has a joker card built into the 2023 sprint regulations, allowing changes until the end of July if any anomalies or unintended consequences arise and if at least eight teams agree. Pirelli’s Mario Isola believes there is room for improvement in the format and that the regulations should be simplified for better understanding by teams and spectators.
Whether the teams will support a change remains to be seen, as some may prefer a conservative approach to gather more data, while others may favor a more flexible format. The ongoing experience with the sprint format is still being explored, and a comprehensive review may be necessary in the future to make adjustments based on the implications observed.
In any case, the Austria sprint shootout showcased a thrilling and intense race, prompting discussions about potential modifications to the rules to enhance the spectacle and simplify the regulations.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about tyre rules
Q: Did the Austria sprint shootout lead to a reevaluation of F1’s tyre rules?
A: Yes, the rainy conditions and resulting chaos in tyre usage during the shootout raised questions about the effectiveness of the current tyre rules in F1. It prompted discussions about potential changes and a reevaluation of the format.