Have the 2009 tyre rules gifted Button the world drivers’ championship?

No-one can rival Jenson Button's tyre management this year

No-one can rival Jenson Button's tyre management this year

F1 Fanatic guest writer Doctorvee of F1 blog Vee8 shares an opinion on how the tyre rules are affecting the championship.

In a year of big changes to the technical regulations, one of the most controversial talking points has been the decision taken jointly by Bridgestone and the FIA to widen the gap between the prime and option tyres.

Instead of taking the two best-suited compounds to each circuit, Bridgestone now takes one good set and one sub-standard set of tyres.

This was a bid to spice up the action during the races. But has it also boosted Jenson Button’s chances of winning the championship?

Contrived tyre rules

Given the present rules where every driver has to use both sets of tyres in dry conditions, the decision to widen the gap between the compounds was right. After the mandatory tyre change was introduced in 2007, the difference between the prime and option were usually too small to make any meaningful difference to the race.

People rightly argue that deliberately putting drivers on inferior tyres is an artificial way to contrive excitement. Fernando Alonso was especially scathing, saying it would be better to put drivers on wet tyres in dry conditions.

The reasons for the rule can be traced back to the end of the tyre war. Following the exit of Michelin from Formula 1, Bridgestone were worried that no-one would talk about them as the sole tyre supplier. So to keep the focus on tyres, they concocted this rule, borrowed from America’s now-defunct Champ Car World Series. (The Indy Racing League has adopted a similar rule this year).

But to keep the focus on tyres was wrong in my view. Back in 2006, I waved good riddance to the tyre war. At the time I said:

In reality, we no longer [have] a drivers? championship or a constructors? championship. All we had left was a glorified tyre championship in all but name. It?s not as heroic as a driver standing up on his seat to win a race. It?s not as sexy as a constructor pushing the boundaries of technology to make their car better. Formula 1 had come down to four ? literally ? black boxes. Elements that are peripheral to the cars became central to the championship.

I was perturbed that tyres should come to dominate the picture in F1 so much. I have since come to the view that the primacy of the role of these “black boxes” is inevitable. But it is a matter of striking the right balance. Bridgestone’s effort to get people talking about tyres is the exact opposite of what I want to see. Ideally, they should be as irrelevant as possible. That means taking the best sets of tyres, letting the teams decide how they should run them, and leave it be.

Instead, teams are hamstrung by Bridgestone’s selfish commercial interests. Now we have this mickey mouse situation where tyres once again appear to be playing too large a role in the championship.

Playing into Button’s hands

One of the traits that emerged very early on about the Brawn car was that is treats its tyres very well indeed. Meanwhile, Brawn’s driver Jenson Button is renowned for being one of the smoothest drivers in the world with excellent tyre management skills. I don’t wish to belittle the importance of tyre management. This is an aspect of Button’s driving which should be celebrated. But I fear that this one aspect of driving is becoming the one dominant influence on the championship.

Take the Bahrain Grand Prix. Toyota managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory because their cars simply did not have the pace on the harder tyres that the team had expected. Perhaps if Toyota had the freedom to run whatever tyres they wanted, they would have won the race. We will of course never know. But it’s difficult to escape the feeling that Brawn were handed that win not because they had the best package, but because they had a package that could cope better with deficient tyres.

The potential for the tyre rule to play this sort of role was evident from the first race of the season at Melbourne. A number of drivers who were having perfectly good races found themselves falling back simply as a result of the fact that they were forced to use suboptimal tyres.

We saw exactly the same phenomenon in Monaco. Most drivers who ran the super-soft tyres in the first stint had their race ruined. Sebastian Vettel – arguably Jenson Button’s strongest rival – struggled particularly badly, at one point losing a massive 4.5s in one lap.

Interestingly, Rubens Barrichello was another driver who struggled on the super-softs in the first stint at Monaco. The Brazilian ended the first stint 12.5s behind his team mate. This helped ease Jenson Button’s path to victory, as it meant that even those drivers who had the harder tyres – which were superior at that point of the race – lost valuable time.

That puts one nail in the coffin of the idea that the tyre rule is a particular advantage to the Brawn car. Barrichello has had more than his fair share of tyre issues this season. Not only did he lose time in Monaco, he also lost the race in Spain because he was struggling on a set of tyres.

This is where Jenson Button’s silky-smooth driving comes into play. Fair enough in one respect. You can argue that if Button’s tyre management is so great that it helps him win the championship, he has earned that right. But it does seem as though he is lucky to get this leg-up.

After all, isn’t F1 supposed to be about giving the best drivers the best equipment? Jenson Button’s skill is in being a good driver with deficient equipment. If the best drivers had the best cars with the best equipment at all times, would Jenson Button have won five races out of six? I have a feeling that he wouldn’t have. Is that really what F1 should be about?

I would never wish to belittle Jenson Button’s excellent form. I have no doubt that his Championship lead is fully deserved. But I just wish he could have demonstrated it in an environment where the best drivers have the best equipment, which is what F1 should be about in my view.

Advert | Go Ad-free

47 comments on Have the 2009 tyre rules gifted Button the world drivers’ championship?

1 2 3
  1. StrFerrari4Ever said on 31st May 2009, 14:58

    Very good post DoctorVee it really does make you wonder how things would be if teams and drivers where allowed to choose whatever tyres they could run and not be comrpomised by having to run a tyre in the race which will only last lets say 6 laps.
    I also have the same view point with you on if drivers had the best cars at all times would Jenson be at the front personally I don’t feel he’d be able to stay with the big guns but his driving this year has been top class.

  2. Armstrong said on 31st May 2009, 15:05

    I disagree with the idea that the tires are somehow making the results a farce. Its up to the drivers to modify their driving to match the tires they are on. Last year the Honda was horrible and RB had the measure because he was able to ‘man handle’ the more much better than JB.
    All of the teams started with the same information, they all tested the tires and they all decided on which direction to go with their cars. In the end the teams and the drivers need to find the best compromise. If there was a single tire rule and the Brawn cars had a hard time getting heat into the tires (like last year) then they would be stuck in he back again.
    I like the rule, it forces drivers to adapt. Speed is not the only skill a racer should have. They need intellect, something that JB is illustrating ingrand style.

    • todd said on 1st June 2009, 3:41

      yeah i agree with you, all the teams know the spec they need to design for, so design a car that’s better on the tires and learn to drive.

      button’s driving style does suit them, but who’s to say that’s wrong?

      complaining about the tires is no different to complaining about the aero or engines, there’s a spec, now design something to make the most of it.

      surely there’s a road car benefit that’s can come out of this.

      if a toyota road car gained 50% more tire life because of the way it managed its ties i’d look at buying toyota. but just letting a team chose a tire and then thrash it to bits is just a waste.

  3. They all have to race under the same rules regardless. You say you don’t want to belittle Button’s tire management skills but that is the entire point of your well written article.

    If the two tire rule goes the way of the dodo next year along with refueling, teams will theoretically still make pit stops to change tires. The driver who manages to be fast without killing his tires make fewer pit stops and wins the race on his skills.

    Instead, teams are hamstrung by Bridgestone’s selfish commercial interests.

    And what is new in that statement? Under the stewardship
    of Bernie it’s always about the money. And the teams can only survive with commercial support from sponsors.

    Certainly I agree with your theory that a mandatory tire strategy may overly complicate the process of how a team wins a race and titles. And I don’t see how Bridgestone gains any favorable marketing by forcing teams to run tires that are not durable and potentially lose races for teams like Toyota.

    But Jenson’s smooth driving will always be an asset regardless of what the tire rules are. I was one of his staunchest critics when he was struggling with his Honda/Williams contract issues and he paid the price (stuck at Honda) for what I thought was the wrong decision at the time. He has obviously learned much from his time in purgatory and is handling his new found success with aplomb and dignity. Compare the rookie season of Hamilton as well as last year for a stark contrast.

    I enjoyed the read regardless of your conclusion.

  4. Internet said on 31st May 2009, 15:21

    I don’t think it’s Button that has the tire management skills. It’s just the car looks after its tires so well.

  5. -A- said on 31st May 2009, 15:35

    There have been many elements of Formula 1 are introduced on a regular basis to create entertainment, rather than an absolute-level competition. Clearly, the decision of widening the gap between the prime and option tyre is a measure going in this direction.

    In my opinion, however, it would not be adequate to claim that this would narrow down the question of how the championship is decided to just the one factor of the tyres or, if you want to see it that way, tyre management.

    Tyre management has also been a relevant issue before the 2009 rules. Ever since 2007, both compounds had to be used under dry conditions, regardless of their performance behaviour. Even though there usually were smaller “gaps” between the two compounds in 2007 and 2008, at times, there have also been clear indications that either the prime or option tyre was the significantly better choice for a long run on a certain race track, leading to according strategies. On top of that, generally, every racing tyre can be handled badly by putting to much tyre pressure in and/or pushing to hard with it.

    Naturally, this is not an element of the sport which makes life easier for the teams and their drivers. However, I personally don’t believe this compromises the validity of the sport. Tyre management has always been one circumstance the teams/drivers had to take into account, in order to try and come up with the best competitive package, compared to everyone else.
    This would appear to be no different under the current tyre rules. The teams have to try and create a car which does not go too hard on, for example, a softer compound not in the perfect performance window for a track in question – and the drivers have to either demonstrate or learn the capability to handle the tyres well, to not push too hard when the tyre is graining or otherwise degrading heavily, or, on the other side of the spectrum, pushing harder to keep up the temperature.

    Under these circumstances, Button has won five out of six races, because apparently, he and the team (or his team of engineers, if you want to take into account Barrichello’s performances) have done the best job, comparatively. Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing haven’t measured up to that, because Vettel ruined his tyres in the closing stages of the Australian GP and the opening of Monaco just two weeks back. On top of that, his team underperformed on race strategy at Bahrain and Barcelona, making decisions which left them unable to capitalise on a car which, at that time, arguably seemed considerably faster than the respective end results accounted for.
    Conclusively, Vettel and Red Bull failed to make the best out of the circumstances applying, so that’s why they’re behind, or why Button and Brawn are this far ahead (already).

    In that respect, Jenson Button and Brawn GP appear to be no different than any other competitor who has ever won a championship like this. To win in Formula 1, you need to bring the best performance under the circumstances applying. Therefore, qualities like the “best car” and “best driver” never can or will be absolute, but always relative to the competitors and the conditions under which the competition took place.

  6. I completely agree but you’re talking rubbish.

    Tyres: They should be able to buy from anyone they please. Failing that they should be able to make a choice of any compound that Bridgestone produce (they should bring all the options including one that would last a race distance (for next year)).

    Jenson: Skill is Skill. He’s been given a good car and he’s getting on with the Job. He did that before when he had an almost good car. I don’t like the tyre rules, but I don’t think they unfairly (or undesirably) benefit JB.

  7. Aquatic Mammal said on 31st May 2009, 16:24

    Tellingly, Ross Brawn stated before the race in Melbourne that with the new tyre rules, the outcome of the races this year would depend largely on how well the car treated the option tyre. With that in mind, Ross revealed his strategy for the year was to set the cars up primarily for the option tyre. Watching practice this year, you don’t see the Brawns topping the times so much. This is because they are dilligently working on option set up. Only when qualifying draws near do they develop much data on the prime.

    I agree that this set up strategy and Jenson’s style contribute a great deal to the overall race pace of the Brawn this season but I think it a little unfair to attribute this advantage to something inherrent in Jenson, rather than the studied race craft of Ross Brawn.

    Also, those options seem to work best for Jenson in clear air. If he was tucked up behind a Ferrari / Williams / whoever, trying to get past, I’d lay money his ‘smooth driving style’ wouldn’t count for so much.

    AQ

  8. persempre said on 31st May 2009, 16:36

    Nothing new in tyre compounds deciding wins, unfortunately.
    The tyre compounds went a long way to aid McLaren when their car was heavy on tyres. Bridgestone has to factor in safety. If they didn`t there would be countless tyre failures.
    I think the 2-step compounds is contrived purely for the “show”, giving with one hand & taking away with the other.
    I view it in the same light as banning tyre warmers. There`s no cost saving (everyone already has the technology) so it`s just designed to throw another element in the mix. I`d prefer less contrivance & for the drivers` just to be able to get on & race.

    • F1Yankee said on 31st May 2009, 17:23

      just because eveyone has the technology doesn’t mean it’s free – there’s still money spent on production, shipping, and power. the ban isn’t adding a contrived element, it is re-introducing a natural element.

    • persempre said on 31st May 2009, 18:16

      My point was I don`t think banning them has anything to do with the cost. If tyre warmers were the make or break of a teams` finances then I`d really worry! :)
      If cost were everything then Max would not have insisted on KERS. That has cost some teams a fortune.

  9. JHunt said on 31st May 2009, 16:42

    Why not just bring the unsuitable tyre and make everyone use that ? Wouldnt that be more ‘fair’ and exciting (as the pefromance dropoff would depend on how the car handle it and the driver’s tyre management skill)

  10. Excellent piece of damning with feint praise. I wonder if you’ve ever driven a racing car of any sort, let alone F1. Button is one of several top F1 drivers who have specailist skills. And each season tends to demand a discrete difference in the skills required to win. This is Buttons year. He’s damned well earned his stripes with seriously bad cars for years. Drivers like Hamilton, Massa and Alonso, who’ve been used to the best cars on the grid are finding out what it’s like to struggle the way Button did for too many years.

    The only conclusion you come to that I agree with is that single tyre suppliers distort the realities of car and driver performance. We need tyre competition back.

  11. Explosiva said on 31st May 2009, 17:17

    And I don’t see how Bridgestone gains any favorable marketing by forcing teams to run tires that are not durable and potentially lose races for teams like Toyota.

    Never thought of it that way. Good point. “I’m gonna buy Bridgestone tires because they wear out after 1,000 miles!!”

    • todd said on 1st June 2009, 3:47

      how is it bridgestones fault for toyota being very bad at using tires, when other teams – with the same tires are doing wonders with them.

      toyota had the same options as everyone else, their demise in monaco was their own fault.

  12. Robert McKay said on 31st May 2009, 17:51

    Ironically enough Monaco is the one race this season where Bridgestone aren’t doing their “lets have a gap between the compounds” problem, so in theory they could have looked even dafter.

    I certainly agree that tyre wars are not good for F1. I think it unbalances things in all but a very narrow range of circumstances. But in the same breath Bridgestone should not be sole tender and then resort to gimmicks in order to justify their presence. If being sole supplier to the worlds top racing series in itself is not enough good PR then don’t do it and someone else will.

    Playing devils advocate, however, arguably the only really interesting part of the entire Monaco GP was in the first stint when the Brawns and Vettels supersofts went off in a big way. It does generate overtaking, albeit very artificially, and I think that, from a tactical point of view at least, having the two-compound rule and then adding to its effect has added an extra dimension to the races – one that perhaps is replacing refuelling as the main team strategic variable.

    And arguably I see driver management of the tyres as something that should be easily observed anyway. But certainly the “purity” of the spectacle is compromised by such a concept, that I can definitely agree with.

    After all, isn’t F1 supposed to be about giving the best drivers the best equipment?

    The thing is, however, if you ask one hundred people who post here to finish the sentence “F1 should be about…” you will get a huge range of answers. The above statement isn’t really sufficient to properly convey the nuances of the sport so I’d only say in reply “well, not necessarily”. Maybe there are some points where technical “purity” can be or should be superceded by “the show”.

    I’m not saying that the current situation is brilliant, far from it. What I am saying is that I think there’s a fine line that needs to be treaded here. Melbourne saw a race where clearly one tyre was absolutely hopeless in race conditions, which is no use and makes the sport look silly – and puts Alonso’s comment about putting wets on in the dry into context. The real problem is that with only 4 compounds in total Bridgestone are not fine tuning the tyre compounds suitably. Now creating 2 separate compounds for each race track to produce a good balance between having an option and prime is not cost effective and isn’t going to happen, unfortunately. But assuming nothing fundamental will change and Bridgestone will continue the “2 compounds with a gap” rule, then they maybe need to fine tune their stock compounds – maybe with 6 or 7 initial “grades” as opposed to the standard 4, and allow them the opportunity of a bit more freedom to maintain the core of the concept without basically having to choose the wrong tyres, in essence.

    An extremely interesting article.

    P.S. Vee good to see you over on the Digital Spy F1 Broadcasting thread.

  13. I’m not sure I agree with this article.

    Tyre management has always been an issue and from next season will become more of an issue. With refuelling banned, whoever can make their tyres last longer is in with an advantage. Tyre management is a core skill, along with overall pace, concentration, stamina etc etc, if you’ve ever been in a racing simulator, you’ll know how hard it is to actually develop a style that doesn’t destroy the tyres after one or two laps.

    The tyres have not “gifted” the championship to Button at all. Button’s overall ability has “gifted” him the championship.

  14. Noel said on 31st May 2009, 18:37

    I completely agree with the opinions of this article. I’ve felt since the first two or three races of the season that the artificial nature of having to use a tyre which’ll go off terribly after a short stint is bad for the show. Yes it mixes the field up but as our man says, the teams don’t have a choice. F1 isn’t about just tyre management.

  15. persempre said on 31st May 2009, 18:50

    Yes, tyre management has always been part of the expertise of a good driver.
    There are occasions, though, when compounds take it beyond the control of the driver because the actual package of the car either can`t generate enough grip for that particular compound or, conversely, makes degredation a big issue.
    That can happen with any driver no matter how good.
    Different driving styles will add to or reduce the problem. A smooth driver in a car which is kind to tyres can go further than a brake happy guy in a car that`s hard on the tyres. The reverse can also be true if the compound is harder to get up to heat. Then the more aggressive style of driver (or harder on tyre car) can benefit.
    So I don`t think it`s as straight forward as just being about the driver skill. A lot of factors including temperature come into play.

1 2 3

Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments must abide by the comment policy. Comments may be moderated.
Want to post off-topic? Head to the forum.
See the FAQ for more information.