The new Formula 1 season began with three very good races – the most recent of which is already being hailed a classic.
F1’s new official tyre supplier Pirelli deserve to be thanked and congratulated for the exciting and unpredictable races we’ve enjoyed in the last month.
Pirelli’s brief on their return to Formula 1 was to make tyre strategy a part of racing again. This was something Bridgestone never came close to getting right in their last four years as F1’s sole tyre supplier.
That much was clear at Monza last year, where the softest tyre they brought was able to complete the entire race distance.
Pirelli could have turned up with conservative, rock-hard tyres, slap their logos on them and watch the cars go around. Instead, they’ve grasped the far trickier task of producing more challenging rubber for the teams.
Other tyre suppliers may not have been happy to do that. Michelin, one of the companies that were in the running to return as a tyre supplier this year, are currently running an advertising campaign touting the benefits of road tyres which they claim last much longer than their rivals’.
That’s not a message that would sit comfortably alongside F1 cars making tyre stops every dozen laps.
Pirelli have also shrugged off criticism from some drivers such as Adrian Sutil, who complained “it?óÔéźÔäós a big step backwards compared to Bridgestone”.
But by complaining about the decrease in tyre performance Sutil, Jarno Trulli and the rest have missed the point.
Tyre performance ceased to be a factor when the tyre war ended five years ago. Now tyres can be used to make life more challenging for the drivers, and as a result produce better races.
By that measure the Pirellis have been an enormous success. Teams now pursue different, conflicting strategies that produce great racing.
They no longer have the luxury of being able to time a pit stop to bring their drivers out away from other cars – solving one of the major obstacles to better racing of recent years.
Inevitably the controversial Drag Reduction System has attracted a lot of attention. But Sepang and Shanghai showed us that while DRS helps drivers make straightforward passes on straights, it’s the tyres that allow them to get close enough to race each other in the corners. All the best passes so far this year happened outside the DRS zone.
With the season just three races old a significant part of the reason why we have seen such unpredictability and excitement is that the teams are still getting used to the new tyres. They had an accumulated 14 years’ experience on Bridgestones but just a few months on Pirellis.
It remains to be seen whether, a few months down the line, Pirelli will still be able to keep the teams guessing and the races will remain as exciting.
Next year, when the teams are allowed a great degree of freedom in weight distribution on their cars, the picture could alter drastically.
There are also some significant challenges on the calendar still to come. Istanbul’s punishing, high-speed turn eight – which comes next – is one of them. And their wet weather tyre performance is still relatively unknown.
But in the words of Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery: “we want to give racing back to the racers”. That’s exactly what they’ve done so far, and they should be congratulated.
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Images ?é?Ž Red Bull/Getty images, McLaren