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Differing driver styles - the truth is in the tyre 30 Jul 2008

Robert Kubica (POL), BMW Sauber, BMW Sauber F1.08, French Grand Prix 2008, Magny-Cours, Saturday, 21 June 2008. © Martin Trenkler / Reporter Images David Coulthard (GBR), Red Bull Racing, Red Bull Racing RB4, French Grand Prix 2008, Magny-Cours, Friday, 20 June 2008. © Martin Trenkler / Reporter Images Lewis Hamilton (GB), McLaren, McLaren Mercedes MP4-23, Canadian Grand Prix 2008, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Montreal, Canada, Sunday, 8 June 2008. © Martin Trenkler / Reporter Images Nelson Piquet (BRA), Renault, Renault R28, French Grand Prix 2008, Magny-Cours, Friday, 20 June 2008. © Martin Trenkler / Reporter Images Felipe Massa (BRA), Ferrari, Ferrari F2008, Monaco Grand Prix 2008, Monte Carlo, Saturday, 24 May 2008. © Martin Trenkler / Reporter Images

Bridgestone on how tyres tell the tale of individual style

Formula One racing is a test of skill and talent at many levels, but the person who receives the greatest amount of attention is the man behind the wheel; the driver. Threading a Formula One car through the twists and turns that make up a race circuit is an art requiring great skill. It’s also an activity where there is no one best way to go about it.

Driving style is something that differentiates drivers. Just as designers can produce two very different looking cars which can be lapped within hundredths of a second of each other, so too can drivers in the same vehicle practice the art of driving in a very different manner, yet achieve a very similar lap time.

Working with all of the teams and every driver in Formula One means that tyre suppliers Bridgestone see many different driving styles - and the differences can be detected from how the driver uses his tyres.

“As all Formula One cars and drivers use Bridgestone tyres we get a very good insight into the differences between the 20 drivers who compete at motorsport’s pinnacle,” explains Hirohide Hamashima, Bridgestone’s Director of Motorsport Tyre Development.

“Driving style makes a big difference. For instance, a driver’s input from mid corner to exit is often quite illustrative of how tyres are being used. If there is one progressive steering input from the corner apex to the exit, this will usually not cause as much tyre wear as a style that involves many changes.”

Of course, a driver has a big say in how a car handles as drivers work with their engineers to create a set-up which is both fast, and suits their driving style.

“Every driver has their own preference for how they prefer their car set-up, and set-up includes aspects like camber, toe-in, and roll stiffness amongst others, and these all have an influence on how our tyres perform and react to the road,” explains Hamashima.

“In simple terms we hear of drivers who prefer a car that tends towards understeer or a driver who prefers a car that oversteers. On a basic level, the first car will wear the front tyres more than the second one, where the rear tyres get more use.”

Another area where driving style has an impact on tyre performance is in terms of warm-up. A driver who is more aggressive with his tyres will get them to their best operating temperature quicker than one who is not so aggressive.

“Warm-up is an interesting area,” says Hamashima. “Being aggressive will get heat into the tyres quickly, but if a driver is too aggressive he will wear his tyres quicker than a driver who is more sympathetic. Aggressive drivers also need to know how to control their cars in situations of lower levels of tyre grip.”

At every Grand Prix, Bridgestone has two compounds of their dry grooved Potenza Formula One tyres, as well as the wet and extreme wet tyres. Both of the dry compounds have to be used, and whilst sometimes it is clear which is the favoured compound at a particular track, sometimes the choice is not so clear cut.

“Compound choice is certainly related to a driver’s style and personal preference,” says Hamashima, “and we have seen occasions where the softer compound provides the best solution for certain drivers, but the harder compound is more constant in its behaviour, so a driver loses less time due to unexpected responses.”

As well as compound choice, there is also the factor of how much air you put in the tyres. “Tyre pressure is also another area where driver preference plays a good part, and pressure has a big influence on how a tyre performs,” explains Hamashima.

“We issue a safe range of pressures for our tyres and the teams must keep within this range, but there is still good scope for drivers to dial-in to get their preferred response. In basic terms a higher pressure within the safe limits we give will provide more stability, whilst a lower pressure means the tyre heats up slower, but it also degrades less, and is less sensitive to bumps.”

Another aspect which can be seen as part of a driver’s signature when behind the wheel is where they position the car on the track.

“The actual line a driver takes into a corner or a sequence of corners also plays a part,” says Hamashima. “However, in most cases in modern Formula One there is only one main line, particularly because of the marbles and dirt off line, although there are rare exceptions, and of course variations around the basic racing line.”

It’s not an easy job being a driver, and the difficulties of getting the car to do exactly what you want it to do on track are compounded by having very expensive electronic devices scrutinising your every move.

Where once a driver’s word that, for instance, ‘I was taking that corner flat,’ would be taken more or less by his engineers, now the telemetry will show just how fast, with how much throttle and how much steering angle a driver is using.

Feedback from the engineers to the teams’ technical boffins and the drivers themselves is useful data in the pursuit of a fast lap and technical and personal advancement.

But, despite all the data available, drivers do still like to have their cars set up in different ways. Sometimes it’s the confidence a particular set-up produces in the driver and the consistent performance that it allows the car to give the driver that offers the fastest solution - rather than a set-up which on the computer simulation may supposedly be quicker.

“Drivers are contesting the drivers’ championship and all drivers are human beings with their own wants and needs from their car,” explains Hamashima. “Drivers also need to harness their competitive streak correctly to make the best of their equipment. This is part of the interest in Formula One and Bridgestone is happy to work with so many top drivers and learn from all the different driving styles.”