Thursday, July 19, 2018

Understanding tyre compound deltas

Pirelli revealed at the beginning of the 2018 F1 season that it was using new software to help it choose the three tyre compounds available at each race. Pirelli's Racing Manager Mario Isola commented:

"It's important that we collect the delta lap times between compounds to decide the selection. If we confirm the numbers that we have seen in Abu Dhabi [testing in November] - between soft and supersoft we had 0.6s, and supersoft to ultrasoft was 0.4s - depending on that, we can fine tune the selection and try to choose the best combination."

Getting the tyre compound deltas correct is indeed a crucial part of F1 race strategy, so let's review some of the fundamental facts about these numbers. The first point to note is that tyres are a performance multiplier, rather than a performance additive

To understand this in the simplest possible terms, consider the following equation:
$$F_y = \mu F_z $$ This states that the lateral force $F_y$ generated by a tyre is a product of the coefficient of friction $\mu$, and the vertical load $F_z$. All other things being equal, the greater the lateral force generated by a car in the corners, the faster the laptime. (Note, however, that in many circumstances one would wish to work with lateral acceleration rather than lateral force, given the influence of car-mass on lateral acceleration).

Now, suppose we have a base compound. Let's call it the Prime, and let's denote its coefficient of friction as $\mu_P$. Let's consider a fixed car running the Prime tyre with: (i) a light fuel-load, and (ii) a heavy fuel-load. 

Let's really simplify things by supposing that the performance of the car, and its laptime, can be reduced to a single vertical load due to downforce alone, and a single lateral force number. When the car is running a heavy fuel load, it will generate a downforce $F_z$, but when it's running a light fuel load it will be cornering faster, so the vertical load due to downforce will be greater, $F_z + \delta F_z$. (Recall that the contribution of greater fuel weight to vertical load results in a net loss of lateral acceleration due to weight transfer). The lateral forces will be as follows:

Prime tyre. High fuel-load

$\mu_P  F_z $

Prime tyre. Low fuel-load

$\mu_P (F_z + \delta F_z) = \mu_P F_z + \mu_P\delta F_z$

Now, let's suppose that there is a softer tyre compound available. Call it the Option. Its coefficient of friction $\mu_O$ will be greater than that of the Prime, $\mu_O = \mu_P + \delta \mu$. 

Consider the performance of the same car on the softer compound, again running a light fuel-load and a heavy fuel-load:

Option tyre. High fuel-load

$\mu_O  F_z = ( \mu_P +\delta \mu )  F_z $

Option tyre. Low fuel-load

$\mu_O (F_z + \delta F_z) = ( \mu_P +\delta \mu )(F_z + \delta F_z) $

So far, so good. Now let's consider the performance deltas between the Option and the Prime, once again using lateral force as our proxy for laptime. 

High-fuel Option-Prime delta

$( \mu_P +\delta \mu )  F_z-\mu_P  F_z = \delta \mu F_z$

Low-fuel Option-Prime delta

$( \mu_P +\delta \mu )(F_z + \delta F_z)-\mu_P (F_z + \delta F_z)=\delta \mu (F_z + \delta F_z)$

Notice that sneaky extra term, $\delta \mu \delta F_z$, in the expression for the low-fuel compound delta? As a consequence of that extra term, the Option-Prime delta is greater on a low fuel load than a heavy fuel-load. As promised, tyre-grip is a performance multiplier.

If you scrutinise the compound deltas in each FP2 session, you'll see that the low-fuel compound deltas from the beginning of the session are indeed greater than those from the high-fuel running later in the session. 

Given that the compound deltas input into race-strategy software are generally high-fuel deltas, one could make quite a mistake by using those low-fuel deltas. In fact, parties using low-fuel deltas might be surprised to see more 1-stop races than they were expecting.

There is another important consequence of the fact that tyres are performance multipliers: the pace gap between faster cars and slower cars increases when softer tyres are supplied. The faster cars have more downforce, and therefore more vertical load $F_z$ than the slower cars, at any equivalent fuel-weight. The delta in vertical load is multiplied by the delta in the coefficient of friction, and all things being equal, the faster cars duly benefit from that extra $\delta \mu \delta F_z$.  

Of course, that qualification about 'all things being equal', hides some complex issues. For example, softer tyres have a lower 'cornering stiffness', (i.e., the gradient of lateral force against slip-angle). A softer tyre therefore generates peak grip at a higher slip-angle than a harder tyre. If the aerodynamics of a car are particularly susceptible to the steering angle of the front wheels, then such a car might struggle to gain proportionately from the greater grip theoretically afforded by a softer tyre. Such a car would also appear to gain, relative to its opposition, towards the end of a stint, when the tyres are worn and their cornering stiffness increases.

Notwithstanding such qualifications, the following problem presents itself: the softer the tyres supplied to the teams in an attempt to enhance the level of strategic variety, the greater the pace-gaps become, and the less effect that strategic variety has...