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The Pirelli Challenge

June 11, 2012

Following another thrilling Grand Prix in Montreal, I’m hearing the now more and more familiar sounding moans and groans of those who think the current Pirelli tyres, and their effect on the sport, is bad news for F1.
I can’t help but disagree.
I understand the arguments about having to manage tyre wear and temperature, and about the sudden and extreme drop off in performance when they come to the end of their life, but surely that’s something the teams and the drivers need to learn to understand and use to their advantage?
If we look back through F1’s history, the sport’s littered with a variety of different challenges which competitors have had to overcome to be successful.
During the days of tyre wars between manufacturers, different development compounds and constructions would arrive at each race, having often only been tested by the larger teams in advance, something that Mr Schumacher (one of our complainers) benefitted greatly from during his glory years at Ferrari by the way. He had a direct and very influential say as to which way Bridgestone went with their development at that time! Smaller teams would have to make the best of the new tyres on the day they were supplied to them.
When engine development was free and revs were up over 20000 rpm, teams and drivers would often have to manage their engine use to avoid a terminal failure and make it to the end of the race, just as we do these days to enable engines and gearboxes to last the required amount of races over a season.
The biggest difference of course today, is that we no longer have the testing miles available to push these things and find their limits before arriving at each event. Teams have had to use the track time at each Grand Prix to do just that and the ones learning most and most quickly are the ones which will see success.
We’re now 7 races in and although we’ve had 7 different winners, it’s no coincidence that they’ve all come from the top few teams. Both Red Bull drivers, both McLaren drivers, a Ferrari and a Mercedes, with the only relative surprise being Maldonado’s victory in Spain. These teams have the best cars and the best drivers and if they do the best job, they should win races and championships and that’s how F1 should surely be.
Every time there’s a major technical or sporting change in motorsport, it provides an opportunity for everyone to make the best of it, levelling the playing field to some extent. The most experienced, best resourced and cleverest teams will undoubtedly shine through as they always do and I’m sure that right now everyone’s just frustrated because they haven’t quite got their heads round it properly yet. As soon as someone has all the answers, I guarantee we’ll hear no more complaining from them.
What’s really great is that this year the characteristics of the Pirelli’s open up the opportunity for different strategies to genuinely compete against each other during a race, bringing it alive with excitement in each segment. The fact that drivers and teams have to manage their tyre use is nothing new and is simply another challenge to overcome and should be viewed as an opportunity to steal a march on their rivals.
It’s hard for me to see the negatives to the sport when I’ve been part of some very tedious years for F1, years that damaged the spectacle and undoubtedly lost us viewers and fans.
After all, this industry is built around fans and we should be right behind something which delivers exactly what they’re after, great racing.

Marc Priestley
Twitter: @f1elvis

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From → Formula One

6 Comments
  1. Mike permalink

    Its great news, the race is so unpredictable who want 7 wins by Vettel or Alonso? 7 winners at 7 races thats WOW factor for the fans, tell me you dont want to watch Spain next weekend!!!

  2. meneres permalink

    It’s not about the tyres. We had great seasons in 2008 and 2010. Why do we need KERS and DRS?

  3. the racing is better and i am not complaining but the teams in Q3 need an extra set of tires or if they fail to qualify in a certain percentage of pole (ie not go out) then cars behind should be promoted. qualifying has been blistering since the knock outs we don’t want to see cars sat in the garage in Q3! great blog btw I will be stopping by here regularly.

  4. Kurt permalink

    BUT -are the winners at each race doing a great job – or is it far more random than that? Surely if you got you’re head round the tyres you would be able to win more than once. Lots of fans I spoke to think its a lottery and you can’t build fan loyalty to a sport where there is no logic! Even the pundits can’t explain the results until days after the race!

  5. Corrado permalink

    I’m sorry to completely disagree here, but I don’t see tyres lasting a third of the race distance to be acceptable. What kind of technology advance will we get from that?

    KERS is now applied in EV and hybrid cars, and DRS is being used in production cars like the new Ford Focus.
    F1 has been the testing ground for ground-breaking technologies all we have come to benefit from. Having tyres that don’t last will not bring any benefit back to production cars.

    It’s a pointless lottery of who’s lucky that specific day, with so many uncontrolled variables that makes the race – yes – interesting, but not in the right way.
    As we’re at it, why not to give Charlie Whiting a button to activate sprinklers at a random point, or a fog machine just before a corner?

    Teams are already speculating with fuel, trying to get a lighter car, and “managing” the engine – meaning they’re running at far less than peak performances.
    We’ve seen so little engine failures this year, aren’t you asking yourself why? No, it’s not because the engines are better built, or built to last. They’re race engines, built to provide outstanding performances. And they can’t because if they turn the engine mode to top performance, the tyres shred like chewing-gum in a mile.

    We need space for more technological challenges to push the limits, not artificial cliffs where to fall off.

    I don’t like F1 because I can see a different winner each race, to make the championship uncertain and interesting to the end, but because is the breeding space for exciting technologies, that are now thwarted by the mindless pursuit of the spectacle at any cost.

    We had exciting last minute championship winners (Hamilton two years ago!) without all this fuss with weak and dangerous tyres.

    They have caused a number of accidents and lots of near misses, and the large number of pit stops are unnecessarily confusing the race.

    Who want to buy a tyre that suddenly goes away? Pirelli have made the most horrendously wrong call here, in partnership (in crime) with FIA that wants to have “spectacular” races to have a product to sell to the media.

    I’ll have to deal with this trend, but I’m sorely disappointed that the field is levelled with artificial limits, and excellence (technical skills, bravery, experience) is not rewarded.

    Please don’t tell me that Maldonado winning a race was not a random throw of the dice.

    It’s all about the money.

  6. I’d agree with you, except for one small thing. My problem is that the cars are not designed around the tyres. All of the tech and aero changes that take place are matters which must be considered by the teams at design stage. What comes out of that is a car design which complies with the regulations. This then should define the teams season – are they good enough to progress or not?

    The tyres at design stage represent an unknown, and their unpredictability this season is also an unknown. My point being that you can design pre-season for everything but the tyres – the testing restrictions ensure that you cannot attempt to (pardon the pun) get to grips with the problem until Friday of each race weekend.

    Finding a set up that makes the tyres work on Friday is no guarantee that they’ll work on Saturday for Free Practice or Quali or both and then you have to enter the race on a set-up and with tyres that might or might not work on raceday.

    The variability of the tyres performance vis a vis the set-up of the car would appear to be something that can make or break your race before the lights go out. Your Saturday set-up might be completely wrong for the conditions encountered on race day.

    I’m sorry to disagree with you on this one, but I’m of the opinion that if you can’t design the variables into the car pre-season then there shouldn’t be any variables.

    This argument does not relate particularly to the drop off in performance, however, on that particular issue the teams would have more knowledge of the window in which this would be likely to occur and would not have, a la Alonso, made a “wing and a prayer” call.

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