Jan Matsuzaki: the Aston Martin tyre guru set to shape F1 title race — MPH


Why can Red Bull and Aston Martin run their tyres at a lower pressure than F1 rivals? Step forward Jan Matsuzaki who has an acute understanding of race rubber

Sebastian Vettel with Jan Matsuzaki

Since teaming up with Matsuzaki at Aston Martin, Sebastian Vettel has seen spectacular gains from tyre strategy


Might Jan Matsuzaki turn out to be one the most influential people in determining the shape of this year’s world championship?

Who is he? He’s a senior engineer with the Aston Martin F1 team and has been there many years under its various names. Prior to that he was Bridgestone Motorsport’s chief engineer. He’s an exceptionally knowledgeable tyre guy and very much at the centre of that team’s always sharp understanding of how to extract performance from the rubber.

Recall that it was this team – then named Force India – which first figured out you could get better stint durations from the 2013 Pirellis by mounting the rears back-to-front? Recall the many remarkable stint lengths over the years which allowed the team to finish way better than it qualified? Significantly, the best examples of this were invariably with Sergio Perez who worked very closely with Matsuzaki and learned a lot.

You can bet Vettel is listening very carefully to the guidance of Matsuzaki

Every time there was a change of tyre spec, Force India’s results tended to be boosted. He was an intrinsic part of why the team in its underfunded days could punch above its weight. This year there was a tyre change and an aero change, both of which have had fundamental effects on the competitive order. The Aston’s low-rake concept was not well-suited to the aero change and the team lost the competitiveness of 2020’s pink Mercedes, aka Racing Point. But recently the team has been transcending the competitive level of its car in the races – by getting much better tyre usage than the cars it qualifies around.

As you can read elsewhere on this site, getting the balance of tyre temperatures right between front and rear axles and between qualifying and race has become a whole lot more difficult with this year’s tyres and cars.  But Aston seems to have got the best handle on it; witness Sebastian Vettel’s spectacular overcutting exploits in both Monaco and Baku. You can bet Vettel is listening very carefully to the guidance of Matsuzaki in how he and his team plan his races.

Related article

Red Bull recruited Perez as an experienced old hand to back up Max Verstappen’s title campaign in a way that the Red Bull junior drivers of late had not been able to. But they may have got more than they even realised – for he brought with him not only experience of the Mercedes engine but of years of in-depth tyre understanding from his time at Force India/Racing Point.

Look which two teams found a way to legally run the Pirelli pressures lower than anyone else: Red Bull and Aston Martin. Sure, that’s what led to the blow-outs in Baku. But as Pirelli’s Mario Isola explained yesterday, that was down to Pirelli not correctly simulating the actual loads the tyres would be subject to there – because they hadn’t understood the extent to which these two teams had found ways of minimising the running pressures. “Not because the teams were doing something against the regulations,” he emphasised, “but because they were looking, as usual, for performance and that created a different scenario compared to what we were expecting, and the different scenario was that mainly the tyres were running at a lower pressure compared to expectations.

“If you go for a bit lower pressure you will get some performance”

“Because in the regulation it is not written what is the running pressure that you have to respect. So I cannot say they are doing something against the regulation in search of more performance because if they respect the starting pressure, at the moment, they are complying with the regulations… they are here racing, they are not here just to cruise around the track. And that means, looking for performance, we know that if you go for a bit lower pressure you will get some performance. That means they are looking for performance and the running parameters were not in line with our prediction.”

Related article

So now that Pirelli has reacted to the blow-outs by increasing the minimum pressures by 2psi to keep them away from the pressure threshold at which a standing wave is created in the inner sidewall (the cause of the blow-outs), that performance advantage will now be gone, right? No.

“That knowledge will still allow anyone who had found a way to minimise pressures in running conditions to do the same as before,” stressed Isola. The higher pressures will prevent that threshold being breached, but if you could run lower than the others before, you’ll still be able to do so now. Just hopefully not at levels where that sidewall gets the standing wave energy pattern.

Let’s see what happens next.