The first step on Pirelli’s ladder of talent, which can take an up-and-coming driver all the way to Formula One, is the GP3 Series: the feeder formula to GP2.
GP3 uses identical Dallara chassis powered by Renault engines, and it has been supplied by Pirelli since 2010: marking the Italian firm’s return to single-seater racing the year before it equipped Formula One. The emphasis is on nurturing young talent by teaching the drivers as much as possible – and an important part of this is tyre management.
Before the GP3 season gets underway in Spain on May 12, the GP3 drivers have the opportunity to test their cars during three two-day sessions. The second of these tests concluded yesterday at the same Barcelona track on which the first round of the championship will take place. In addition to this, there will be one more test before the season gets underway (at Silverstone in April) as well as an in-season test at Valencia in June.
The first GP3 test took place from 21-22 February at Estoril, with Lotus GP driver Aaro Vainio emerging fastest thanks to a time of 1m30.466s. In Barcelona, Carlin’s Antonio Felix da Costa was quickest with a time of 1m37.934s today.
By way of comparison, the fastest time during GP2 testing at Barcelona was 1m29.154s (set by Pirelli’s inaugural GP3 champion Esteban Gutierrez) while the fastest time in Formula One testing there was 1m22.030s.
Pirelli makes three compounds of P Zero tyre for GP3 – hard, medium and soft – but only one is nominated for each race. There is also one type of wet weather tyre. During each race weekend every driver is provided with three sets of slick tyres and two sets of wet weather tyres (if they are needed).
During the Barcelona GP3 test, the drivers got to sample the Pirelli P Zero GP3 hard compound, which was the only one made available. In Estoril, the drivers had the medium compound at their disposal. There is deliberately quite a big step between the compounds in GP3, so that the drivers can learn as much as possible about the differences between each type of tyre.
Pirelli’s P Zero GP3 compounds – which come in 13-inch size, just like Formula One –are designed to deliberately degrade with a specific window of peak performance. This is so that the drivers can learn how to get the best out of them and how to formulate a race strategy.
Weather conditions remained warm and dry in Barcelona with track temperature peaking at 32 degrees centigrade, helping to get the hard tyre into its correct working range. The drivers also tried out the wet-weather tyre for installation laps on the first morning, as they got used to their cars.
Pirelli’s racing manager Mario Isola said: “The GP3 Series forms a vital part of our sporting strategy, in line with Pirelli’s philosophy of bringing on young talent for the future. The specification of the GP3 tyres this year is the same as it was in 2011, which gave the drivers some vital insight into how best to manage their race strategies. At the most recent test in Barcelona, it was clear that they had already learned several useful lessons from the first test. All the drivers paid close attention to warming up their tyres before pushing for genuine pace, so they had no graining issues and found the hard compound to be extremely consistent. They also managed to complete a number of race simulations. We see the GP3 Series as our ultimate racing school, which is why together with the organisers we decided not to give the drivers a choice of compounds for the races, so that they can instead focus fully on their driving.”
The GP3 Series takes to the track next for a two-day test at Silverstone in England from 11-12 April. Pirelli will bring its hard compound tyre for the final test before the season begins.
For the first race of the year in Barcelona, Pirelli’s hard compound tyre has been nominated. For the second race of the season in Monaco, the GP3 drivers will use the soft P Zero tyre.