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

Posted on | Author Duncan Stephen

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.

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

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  1. HounslowBusGarage
    1st June 2009, 9:05

    This article has stirred up a lot of dust, probably because of the word ‘gifted’ in the title, which many readers find perjorative.
    The inference seems to be that the FIA deliberately angled the regulations for the following year towards a particular teams and individual strengths.
    I don’t think that what you meant, DoctorVee, but that’s how it reads with ‘gifted’ in it.
    So every winner of every race and championship has been ‘gifted’ their success by the regs. Or more realistically, their teams have best designed a car that maximises performance within the regulations envelope, and then run it successfully with a skilled driver *not* crashing it too often for the whole season. Not such a snappy headline, is it?

    Even the phrase ‘the best car’ is a bit tricky.
    The best car is the car that best maximises its performance against the regulations at that moment. The Brabham fan car or that unraced MacLaren might have been the most effective cars of their times, but weren’t the ‘best car’ because they were not within the regs. The regs might be badly written, but regs is regs, and the teams work to them.

  2. have they helped? yes
    have they gifted? no

  3. Robert: 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.
    But can you call it a strategic variable when in Monaco all the super-softs went off a long way before the teams had apparently worked out they would? This could have led to a potentially dangerous situation, and it may still lead to one at any of the races to come.
    If this strange rule using one good tyre and one bad tyre compound is only there for the interests of Bridgestone and ‘The Show’, you have to question why it was allowed. I thought Safety had a higher priority than anything else these days?
    Yes, it has allowed Button and Brawn to be more competitive this year, but aerodynamics and downforce are also playing a part in this success too.
    Three Cheers for the Brits on Top, but lets bring back a sensible rule where the teams choose the tyres, not the tyres being chosen for the teams!

  4. Reminded me of something Vettel said at the Barcelona race: he was discouraged from following other cars in the race as the extra sliding wore his tyres out.

    Far from spicing up the action, this (and all the “conserve your tyres” nagging over the radio) is keeping the drivers apart on the track.

    Why can’t the teams deal with tyre wear that doesn’t match their simulations? Why not just bin the simulated races, that would save a fortune.

  5. Funny, No-one complained that Lewis Hamilton was being gifted wins last year when the tyres suited his more agressive driving style.

    Surely if teams were allowed to chose any tyre that suited their car the best it would still be a question of who managed their particular tyres best.

  6. I’m currently of the opinion that should they decide to continue with this two compound per race tyre rule, then teams should be able to choose in advance which two compounds they want at any particular race…

  7. Tyres are always a big factor, and frankly this season is about as fair as it has ever been. If you remember the tyre war years, not only were the tyres too big a factor in the championship, politics came into play inside the tyre camps, where tyre development mid-season would favor one team over others on the same rubber. This season is very straightforward – four tyres, two at each race, make them work. If teams don’t have a good idea how to do that by now that’s their problem. It’s a completely fair situation. In fact, due to having almost no winter testing, the Brawns were actually playing catch-up when it comes to slick tyre data compared to the rest. Complaining that they have been “gifted” an advantage is nonsensical.

  8. Great article mate..loved it.

    The whole tyre war thing was a farce, it was just Ferrari vs the Michelin runners, that was about it.

    I kinda enjoy the whole tyre choice vs performance thing, it shows how well the the team (driver/engineer/team principal) has strategized the race. I’m under the impression that the best racers are pretty smart chaps, I’m sure they love the challenge of getting the most out of their given equipment and making it go faster, so for me, all this including rubbish tyres from Bridgestone..is part and parcel of racing.

    Jenson is top because of two things, his superior tyre management and Ros Brawn..its as simple as that. With no re-fuelling next year, Jens might be one of the guys that come out tops, since tyre wear will be a lot more critical next year.

    1. Jay has made an excellent point here. With refuelling banned for 2010, tire wear/management will be an even bigger factor in who wins races. Of course, car setup will be an even bigger factor with regard to tire management.

      Cars will start the race substantially heavier than most current drivers are used to, and tire wear will be increased for a considerable portion of the race due to the heavier load. Taking care of one’s tires, and having a proper setup on the car, is going to be a more important part of racing successfully in 2010 than we have seen in F1 for a long time.

      So, a driver like Jensen Button may have even more of an advantage, considering his smooth and unpunishing driving style.

      And a genius at car setup-dare I say Ross Brawn?-is going to be the more successful at winning.

      Winning races is all about creating the best result with the given factors, and Brawn/Button have certainly done so this season. Hats off to them, and a word of advice to the other teams-complain less, develope more.

  9. Your overtone is that Button is “lucky” because he’s a very fast but smooth driver? So Mansell was lucky because he could drive the FW14B and Piquet was lucky because he could handle 1100hp better than anyone else? Maybe Schumacher was lucky all those years because he only developed his Ferrari and didnt help any of the other teams? The tyre rules are the same for everyone but apparrently this year only one driver is “lucky” – what is it this year that its the car for Button (or the tyres that everyone else uses???) but for Senna in ’88 it was Senna or Prost in ’93 blah blah……….

    1. I hate it when people say Jenson is lucky. He’s put his time on the test track I’m pretty sure a lot of his input has gone into developing this car, taking nothing away from Rubens as well.

      The way I look at it, there a two types of champion. One is a guy that moves to a team with the best car on the grid and win the title, which does take some doing. The other, is the guy that joins a team, grabs hold of his car, develops into a championship winning car. The likes of Schumacher, Alonso, Hakinnen fall into category two and Jens will join them if he wins this year.

      So, is it fair to say somebody who has helped develop the car over the yeara ending up as the best on the grid as lucky? I wonder if it occured to anyone that the other teams just arent as good?

  10. This is full load of horse manure.

  11. Very good post. Jackie Stewart has always praised Button for his smooth style.

    Now, will next year’s no refuelling rule favor another driver the way it did Prost back in the 80’s?

  12. Macademianut
    1st June 2009, 23:58

    Great Article! I think the rule of forcing a stint on each tyre is just silly. I agree that the drivers should be given the best possible equipment and let them race to finish line.

    On one end F1 claims to be the pinnacle of driving technology, while on the other, these kinds of rules have absolutely no reason but to simply throw some factor of action for the viewers.

  13. I know that these are the best drivers. I know that they should be able to handle to these tires. I know that the teams have to adjust their stratedgy to match the tires, tracks, weather conditions….so on…. but my biggest beef with this is that they are delibertely putting the lives of these brave men at risk by making them drive on tires that disintigrate after only a few laps. They all want to compete, they all want to win, and one day a driver will push his tires too far and get himself and likely someone else into a serious accident. Every team should be using the best available tires.
    We need to stop making rules to artificially enhance the entertainment value and realize that its the drivers that make the sport exciting. They need to be able to get in any one of those cars and be able to compete.
    Optmize the cars and let the drivers do their own thing. FIA needs to stop trying to make up rules because they think that it will enhance the racing.
    These cars could technically only have to stop once per race. Pit stops are not that exciting (unless its a Ferrari pit stop).
    I know everyone is against standarzing in F1. But its time to accept that fact that maybe we need it. The only thing that shouldn’t be standarized is the engines. If teams had a 80 mil cap but they could put most of that into their engines and everything else was simply bought from FIA, then we would see great racing because i would then come down to driver and engine. Chassis would all be the same, except for paint jobs, tires would be same, but the most important thing, the heart of the car, the engine, it would be different in every car.
    Right now, some teams have a great Areo package but they seem to have put more money into that instead of their engine and they suck because of it.
    I understand why people will think that Standarizing would suck but it seems like the only way we will ever see real racing in this leauge.
    Way to go to my fellow Canadian, Wickens, on winning the first F2 race of the year!

  14. wong chin kong
    3rd June 2009, 14:28

    It was Ross Brawn that brings F1 success to Button this year. Ross Brawn the genious has the vision to develop a race winning car tailored to the 2009 rules much earlier than other teams. The Brawn car was designed to perform well in any type of tyres, so their race pace would be consistent in every races. It is just that Button could extract out much more from his tyres compared to Rubens.

  15. there will always be an element of a rule that favours one team or driver and f1 one is completely contrived anyway. it has to be as technology improvements have made a “pure” car impossible really since they moved the engine to the back.

    interesting article though and it does explain the results but i do think.. so what, if its not the Brawns its the ferraris with their veto or williams with their fw23 techno marvel or cooper with their rear engined v12 killers. there will always be something

  16. All this talk of tyre ware does not take into account Buttons excellent qualifying record

  17. Of course the combination of best car, engine, team and driver will always come to the fore. Ross Brawn designed the car to suit his two drivers and maybe somewhat surprisingly Jenson is proving bettern than Rubens in that car, given the number of years Ross and Rubens worked together at Ferrari.

    Similarly if Jenson was an also rnn taking advtage of a good car, why did Sir Frank Williams sign him as a rookie and then lure him back only to have Jenson buy himself out of the contract? After 9 years he finally has the equipment to prove his ability in the same way that Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso have not become worse drivers.

    I would like to see those three have a test session where they all drove all three cars, Renault, Brawn & McLaren and see who is fastest overall. Sadly it will never happen.

  18. well lewis and jenson both drove the same saloon car a “star in a reasonably car” on Topgear and Lewis was 0.3 seconds quicker as i remember, certainly he was quicker. But that wasnt the bit that made it special, the special bit was Lewis’ time was in the wet !!! Think Mansell was quicker than Jenson as well. Hill was only 0.1 quicker than the fastest non driving celeb.

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