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Children of the revolution

This year’s cars feature not only heavily evolved aerodynamics (with more than 20% extra downforce compared to last year) but also tyres that are 25% wider. The result of these changes was instant: lap times plummeted. During pre-season testing in early March we were seeing lap times around two or three seconds faster than last year, and that theme continued throughout the first four races of the current season, in Australia, China, Bahrain and Russia. These are very different races and circuits, with weather conditions that are also massively diverse.
Yet the consistent performance improvement clearly demonstrates how these 2017 cars are a lot quicker than their predecessors. The objective of this new technical revolution was to create cars that are around five seconds per lap quicker than 2015, which was used as the reference point. That goal has already been reached. But only now is it getting serious…

Why serious? Because the fifth round of the 2017 F1® championship kicks off the European season. In other words, the part of the year that carries the most significance, using traditional circuits that offer many obvious and trusted points of comparison between the cars. In Spain during May, with a few notable exceptions, there’s a strong chance of summer heat, which is set to become the rule between now and at least the end of September. 
This factor, in combination with other circumstances such as the notoriously abrasive asphalt on the Montmelò circuit, provides a real challenge for the tyres, which are required to deliver maximum performance on a track that traditionally features high wear and degradation.

And then there is the Circuit de Catalunya itself. It’s in this industrial Spanish heartland close to the Mediterranean that Formula 1® showcases one of its most demanding and revealing test benches. There’s a very long downhill straight, where the cars exceed 320kph, before tackling a twistier section through the hills, with varied elevation and a wide mix of different corners highlighting multi-faceted aspects of performance. The aerodynamic and mechanical set-up needed to go quickly in Barcelona is one of the most complex of the year. The challenge placed on tyres is among the highest of the year too, and that difficulty increases as track temperature rises. In the past, these temperatures have even exceeded 50° centigrade.

From what we’ve seen already in pre-season testing, it would not come as a huge surprise if pole position for next weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix comes down to something in the region of 1m18s. If this is the case, then the improvement compared to pole position in 2015 will be around six seconds: in other words, four seconds faster than last year’s pole (which was 1m22.000s). From the beginning of 2014 (the start of the hybrid era) to one year ago, the improvement in the race lap record in Spain was just under two seconds. In the three races between 2004 and 2006 (before the chicane was put in at the end of the lap) that same improvement was around eight tenths of a second. And those were meant to be the fastest Formula 1® cars in memory, with normally-aspirated 2400cc engines and a total weight (minus the driver) that was around 120 kilograms less than today. In 2013, the final year of the pre-hybrid era – and again with much less weight compared to today – pole position in Spain (courtesy of Nico Rosberg and Mercedes) was 1m20.7s. More than two seconds slower than the times Kimi Raikkonen set with Ferrari during pre-season testing this year.
Maybe there are too many numbers here. But they serve to give an idea of the incredible progress offered by the 2017 cars. Now these cars, and in fact the whole sport, faces its first really big test of the year from 12-14 May in Montmelò. On the Catalan track, a true university of racing and testing, the full effects of the technical revolution that has made Formula 1® faster than ever will be seen in earnest. Pirelli steps up its performance with caution, but also with the certainty of supplying a range of P Zero F1® tyres that have delivered both speed and consistency throughout the first four races of the season. Allowing drivers to push even harder than they did in the past, and give us exciting and closely-fought competition, as we have already seen so far this year…

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