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.

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

  1. Obster said on 1st June 2009, 21:32

    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?

  2. Macademianut said on 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.

  3. Brian said on 2nd June 2009, 2:23

    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!

  4. wong chin kong said on 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.

  5. antonyob said on 3rd June 2009, 16:58

    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

  6. Matt said on 4th June 2009, 16:01

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

  7. trocadero said on 5th June 2009, 9:00

    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.

  8. antonyob said on 5th June 2009, 9:06

    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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