Tyre management has always been a critical part of the overall performance of the car in modern racing. No matter how competitive a car is, victory or defeat often came down to how the driver handled the rubbers mounted on his equipment.
For instance during the 2020 season, the all-conquering Mercedes cars fell from grace during the 70th anniversary GP held at Silverstone, solely due to a miscalculation with their tyres’ pressure — The first time in five races. On the same track a week earlier, a cascade of punctures punctuated the end of the British Grand Prix, costing Valtteri Bottas, an almost guaranteed second place finish, while Hamilton limped away from a chasing Verstappen, on three wheels.
Certain drivers are renowned for the impeccable management of their tyres, notably Lewis Hamilton and Sergio Perez. Both of them performed during the 2020 Turkish GP, stints on intermediate tyres twice longer than their competitors, en route to take the first and the second spot of the podium.
But when asked about the drivers whose tyres’ management stand out to him, Mario Isola — Pirelli's Head of F1 & Car Racing — didn’t name the usual suspects. He instead praised the one of Max Verstappen.
"We are talking about the 20 best drivers in the world. It is clear that they have great skills.” he told RacingNews365.com
"Every driver has his own driving style. A driver can make the difference if he knows exactly how far he can push the tyre”. He added.
“Max is a great driver in that respect. And Lewis for sure, but Charles is also very good at tyre management.”
Recalling the time he noticed the Dutchman’s tyres management skills, Isola asserted :
“I was impressed by Max in Brazil a few years ago. His performance on a wet track was great. The conditions were the same for everyone but he drove unbelievably well.”
He however pondered : “Maybe the Red Bull car was suited to wet weather, but what he did was incredible regardless.”
Assessing the selection of a softer rubber compound on the highly abrasive track of Silverstone, Isola stated that their choice was a good one, while admitting that the car’s strain may also have played a crucial role.
“We opted for a softer tyre at Silverstone [last] year and [it] was good,”
"The car is an important tool in making the tyres last longer. Who knows, maybe the Mercedes car was a bit tougher on their tyres?”
"I can’t claim that the Mercedes drivers were any less good than the rest that day"
In the end, reflecting on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on F1, Isola highlighted the challenges the sport had to face, and praised the way it managed to keep going, in context of a complete unknown.
“If you think back to March, it is sort of a miracle. It was really a bit of a nightmare at the beginning”. He told GPFans.
“I am not talking about production, how to deliver tyres, but how to manage the situation on track because the virus was something completely unknown.”
"During the first lockdown, for example, in Italy, the situation was so complicated that we didn’t have a lot of COVID tests available."
“Everybody gave some contribution to that [and] I believe that at the end of the day it was quite a good procedure," he said. "Although we had positive cases the championship was able to continue and carry on."