Why Pirelli deserve credit for F1’s terrific start to the 2011 season

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Pirelli tyres, Red Bull, Shanghai, 2011

Pirelli tyres, Red Bull, Shanghai, 2011

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?s 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.

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, Shanghai, 2011

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, Shanghai, 2011

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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141 comments on Why Pirelli deserve credit for F1’s terrific start to the 2011 season

  1. Jelle van der Meer (@jelle-van-der-meer) said on 20th April 2011, 11:56

    The question is whether the new rubber or type or rubber drives the good races. I think it is a combination of both and that China’s exciting race would not have been as exciting if teams already known the tires for a year.

    That said it was a brilliant race because more pitstops were made and there was a greater difference in performance and durability between the tires compared to Bridgestone.

    China race rating currently stands at 9.25 which easily blowes away the 2008 Brazilian rating of 8.756 although that number is probably lower scored based on who won rather than actual quality of the race – lots of disappointing Ferrari fans same as China race result is boosted by someone else winning then Red Bull

  2. sumedh said on 20th April 2011, 12:16

    Pirelli has definitely done a brilliant job. And what should also be appreciated is that Pirelli is sticking to what fans want and not succumbing to drivers’ whines of tyres being slow and less durable. Over the testing period, every driver (even Hamilton) criticized the Pirellis for being too slow, less durable and producing too many marbles but credit to Pirelli for not going the Bridgestone-way.

    But lets not forget DRS. I, for one, think DRS is a good innovation. So far the FIA has done a good job in selecting the distances for the DRS activation on the main straights of the circuits. All the DRS doing right now is offsetting the dirty air effect on the straights. You aren’t handicapping the driver in the front, you are only removing the handicap (dirty air) of the guy in behind.
    The battle between Alonso and Michael showed that DRS hasn’t made life too easy for drivers. Alonso was able to draw alongside Michael multiple times but only alongside, not in front. DRS deserves credit too. Lets just hope the DRS activation distances chosen for the next race are also perfect.

    • Sasquatsch (@sasquatsch) said on 20th April 2011, 13:14

      And what should also be appreciated is that Pirelli is sticking to what fans want

      Depends on what fan you talk to. As a Formula 1 fan for over 30 years, I saw a lot of show and a little real racing.

      I rather have real fights between drivers who can overtake on their own merit, in stead of overtaking actions because of new vs worn tyres or DRS, which makes it all too easy. There are no real fights anymore.

      Last year already had more overtaking actions than in the 20 years before, which were more attractive to me than most of the overtaking actions of this year.

      • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 20th April 2011, 13:53

        overtaking actions because of new vs worn tyres

        This has always been possible in F1 (and other forms of motor racing) regardless of the rules. That’s why races like Jerez ’86 and Silverstone ’87 are remembered as classics. It’s not something that’s only just been invented this year.

        • tonyyeb (@tonyyeb) said on 20th April 2011, 13:59

          When the cars and drivers are so evenly matched there has to be a difference somewhere to allow the overtake. With the Bridgestones it relied on a (big) mistake or car problem which happened in very few occasions, hence less overtaking.

        • jlcAce123 said on 20th April 2011, 14:06

          Well said Keith.

          Man…there’s no pleasing some people.

          First no overtaking, now ‘too easy’.

          I think it’s brilliant, I think tyres should last 5 laps(ok a bit extreme). Gone are the days when by lap 2 the race was set. Gone are the days when one driver (Vetel( was able to go the whole race in one set of tyres and change in the last lap just to comply with the rules.

          Now we get the best drivers and the best strategists earning their keep, and we should be grateful that it is all for our enjoyment.

          If you like dull races were same people win and race is set from first corner then you are not a race fan…

          • Patrickl (@patrickl) said on 20th April 2011, 21:02

            First no overtaking, now ‘too easy’.

            Actually that’s from different sets of people. I’m on the “stop whining about lack of overtakes” and “there is too much ‘show’ posing as overtaking” side of the fence.

        • Patrickl (@patrickl) said on 20th April 2011, 21:00

          There is a huge difference between “possible” and “happening for most of the race”.

          Webber had 15 overtakes. Practically None of those was interesting. At best a few of them at the start of the race.

  3. Thank Heavens for Pirelli!

    With regards to the ‘green’ thing. Last season Bridgestone carted around the world a whole load of tyres that never got used. How green is that?

    I suppose F1 could go the other way and have just one set of tyres lasting for four or five races (just like the engine and gearboxes and all perfectly technically possible). Woe betide anyone whose tyres start going off after just one or two races!

    Road car tyre manufacturers have long been able to fit tyres to road cars that grip just as well and last much longer than they currently do.

    Why does anyone think that they don’t sell these tyres to the general public?

    Why do you think that tyre manufacturers are loath to bang on about how long their tyres can last on a road car?

    Michelin currently have an ad which states that its new ‘Energy Saver’ tyre lasts 6000 miles more than any comaparable tyre. But it’s biggest selling point is that it saves you fuel. hmmmm…..

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 20th April 2011, 20:24

      Have you recently looked at tyre comparisons? When choosing what tyres to go for for the summer i had a look.

      Actually those Michelins do have the best durability, but they have worse braking and wet handling characteristics. Continental is pretty durable as well, but has a big performance advantage, making them 1st in most tests and Michelin somewhere in 5th. Pirelli is currently somewhere between that.

  4. Harvs (@harvs) said on 20th April 2011, 12:53

    At the end of the day i’d by bridgestone for my car, they provided more performance ( faster lap times) and were more durable, if perelli were interseted in selling tyres they would develop a tyre that is provides more performance (faster lap times) and degraded faster. i.e. prove that they can make good tyres, while still spicing up the racing.

    but then agian the average joe who buys a tyre wont consider this

  5. Sasquatsch (@sasquatsch) said on 20th April 2011, 13:02

    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.

    Nope. Racing has been given back to the strategists, not the racers. It spices up the show, I agree, but it isn’t real racing.

    Last year was given back to the racers thanks to the ban on refuelling with more overtaking actions than in the 20 years before. This year it is back in the hands of the strategists.

    Thanks to the different tyre strategies we will probably see more overtaking than in the entire formula 1 history, but I wouldn’t call it racing. This way it becomes more a show than a real sport. Overtaking a car who is on worn tyres when you are on new tyres is not difficult. Even a Force India could overtake a Red Bull that way, or a Super Aguri overtaking a McLaren in 2007.

    IMHO I think that the real problem that overtaking is difficult in the past 20 years is that aerodynamics are too important. If cars could slipstream through corners we would see more overtaking, even if drivers are racing with the same tyres. No need of the unfair DRS either.

    So bring back ground-effect and bigger tyres. This will make a car less dependent on aerodynamics, which will improve slipstreaming and thus overtaking. We probably would see a lot more action than in the past years, going back to the number of overtaking actions we had before 1994, when the number of actions dropped dramatically (because of refuelling). Last year brought the number of overtaking actions back to these levels.

    • Patrickl (@patrickl) said on 20th April 2011, 21:05

      Completely agree. It’s a “show” allright.

      Still, on the ‘racing’ front not much has changed. If it hadn’t been for Hamilton we wouldn’t have seen any ‘real racing’ in China.

      • VXR said on 24th April 2011, 9:36

        Oh dear! Is Hamilton not part of the ‘show’ ?

        And he wouldn’t have been part of that had it not been for a late change from a two stop to a three stop strategy. He couldn’t have done that last season.

  6. maxthecat said on 20th April 2011, 13:02

    This is back to the good old days, late 80’s/ early 90’s it was similar, you always had drivers on newer tyres carving through the field. This is what has been missing for a long time, forget DRS, it isn’t needed as long as the tyres continue to be like this. Is it manufactured racing? no, tactics should always play a part in F1, the skill of the pitwall is as important as the skill of the driver.

  7. Tedster said on 20th April 2011, 13:14

    I for one am very excited about the Turkish GP for it is renowned at being extremely harsh on the tyres a good example of this was in 2008 when Hamilton had to take an extra stop in order to avoid running into the degradation problems that haunted him the previous year! it will be interesting to see whether the new smoother and more composed hamilton will suffer from the same problem or whether he has now learnt to drive around that problem! am expecting turkey to be another 3 stop race at least and hopefully lots of last lap drama in the last 3 corners!

  8. antonyob said on 20th April 2011, 13:24

    you give a driver more grip and you ask him what he wants next and he’ll answer, even more grip. They are hardly a bellweather on whats good and whats not.

    What produces good races is differential in performance and quickies behind slowies. the tyres Pirelli make are almost 100% responsible for this and i for 1 am going to buy Pirellis for my roadcar next time.

    Anyone whingeing about F1 at the moment is either just a bloody whinger or they’ve not watched F1 long enough to know how stullifyingly dull it can and has been.

    And the reason Bridgestone left was because no one was talking about the tyres anymore. They are now and Pirelli will get huge value from their involvement. No on is surely stupoid enough to think an F1 tyre reflects what they are doing with their road tyres. are they? surely not??

  9. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 20th April 2011, 13:42

    Pirelli do deserve a massive pat on the back for their work so far.

    It was foolish for Bridgestone to be intimidated by the consumer market wanting durable tyres, feeling they had to convey that message via F1. Any person, motorsport fan or not would surely realise that F1 and road car tyres are nowhere near comparable, F1 dry tyres are slick for a start!

    But back to Pirelli, yes they have helped produce brilliant races so far and long may it continue.

  10. F1Yankee (@f1yankee) said on 20th April 2011, 13:44

    they should have dumped the boring-ass bridgestones for super fun time pirellis years ago. we’re getting the benefit of a tire war without the drawbacks.

  11. I`m just loving it so far! I love strategic headaches mixed with good racing on the track as Mclaren and Lewis Hamilton provided us with in the last race. Credits to Red Bull and Mark Webber as well ! :) Pirelli is making the teams and drivers work harder during the race, it`s no longer just about having a good result in quali ( e.g Vettel ) and a good racing start ( e.g Buton ).

  12. antonyob said on 20th April 2011, 14:08

    exactly Keith. Mansell catching Senna at Monaco at 2 seconds a lap plus was because hed piutted for new tyres. its a classic even though no overtaking happened ( hey it was monaco).

    Trouble is we forget and we also had barely any information back then. Murray was trying to put his trousers out and Hunt was probably trying to light them.

  13. verstappen said on 20th April 2011, 14:27

    Thank you Pirelli, they’ve indeed done what they promised.

    Still, at lest one rainy race would be nice.

  14. W-K (@w-k) said on 20th April 2011, 14:45

    Although some praise must go to Pirelli, it’s probable that some of the action seen in these few races is because the drivers and their teams don’t yet know how to use them to full advantage.

    Lewis’s win was probably due more to what was learnt in the previous race. And what have the teams learnt from Mark’s race performance this time.

    Forget q3 I want to start race with at least 4 sets of new tyres.

  15. Robbie said on 20th April 2011, 14:56

    One of the things I object to with this topic is the implication that Pirelli are some sort of heroes for doing what the FIA asked of them…the article starts out by implying it was totally Pirelli’s decision to go this route, with tires that wear out much moreso than previous tires, because they ‘want to give racing back to the racers’…but this is all FIA directed…I doubt racers would ask first and foremost for tires that are only good for a few laps and then fall off a cliff…I think they would want much more consistancy than that…

    I am under no illusion that had Bridgestone or Michelin been asked to make softer tires that wear out much more quickly, they could easily have done the same thing as Pirelli…

    The tire situation has ended up where it is due to F1’s inability to provide an exciting show by other means…at times they have wanted only one manufacturer so that tires are ‘the same for everyone’…tire manufacturers themselves tend to want a competitor in F1 so that we talk about tires much more…this year I suppose we are talking about tires a lot because even though there is only one manufacturer the tires are a big factor to the races…ie. a gadget…

    Anyway, while I agree with some points on either side, and it is hard to argue that last race wasn’t exciting, I think for me the jury is still out, and I would much prefer less gadgets, of which I consider the current tires one of them…they are half way to the equivalent of BE’s sprinklers around the track…

    Big fat slicks like they had in the 70’s equals much more mechanical grip and much more drag down straightaways, equals teams forced to run less wing for any kind of respectable speeds, equals more mechanical grip with less aero dependancy, equals passes due to the skill of the driver whose behind, not due to the guy in front handcuffed to do anything about it on tires not likely in their optimum performance window…

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