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


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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Images ?? Red Bull/Getty images, McLaren

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

  1. antonyob said on 20th April 2011, 15:04

    whats wrong with gadgets? i want to see racing, i dont care how they get there.

    • Robbie said on 20th April 2011, 15:20

      Fair enough…I want to see a driver pass on his own merit, not because his rival in front had a malfuntioning gadget…a pass due to one’s gadget being more effective than another’s at a certain small window of opportunity is less about racing than it could/should be imho…

  2. Fixy (@fixy) said on 20th April 2011, 15:20

    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’.

    It is a good thing for road cars to have tyres that wear out slowly, because they don’t have to make pit stops and they aren’t racing and they are not there for the spectators’ enjoyment.
    But in Formula 1 tyre wear is important as it means people outside the car can, together with the driver, make fundamental decisions and this may bring people to risk more to get an advantage and people to risk less to keep their advantage, and this will assure different strategies every race and provide us with better racing.
    Congratulations Pirelli!

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 20th April 2011, 15:32

      What Pirelli should be able to promote (next to making itself the talking point at every race) is that they are able to get exactly the mix they targetted.

      Just as in road cars its a fine balance between durability and performance. Great work.

      • DaveW (@dmw) said on 20th April 2011, 17:11

        Sure, I would love it if the tires of people ahead of me dropped off so badly that I could just drive by them on the way to work, instead of sitting behind them while they applied eye-liner or updated the facebook profiles or whatver is causing them to drive a snails pace and weave between the lines. Much like how Webber mowed down the Ferraris in China.

        • BasCB said on 21st April 2011, 7:03

          Off course that is not what anyone wants.

          What I said was, that Pirelli have reacted very well to the demands by the FOTA, FIA and FOM for tyres that give multiple options and more stops. They got it very nearly perfectly right.

          For road cars they use different criteria to fit customer wishes (balancing durability, fuel economy and performance), but in F1 they show how good they are able to produce exactly what they wanted to do.

  3. Gary Yogurt said on 20th April 2011, 16:23

    While I will not dispute that the previous GP was terribly exciting, I find it hard to understand the “green” benefits of fast-degrading tyres. While the absence of refueling may lead to some kind of comforting, warm thoughts of earth-friendly racing, tires require a massive amount of oil to produce. I understand they are limited in quantity for each race, but tyres that fall apart before your eyes (even on the cheapest television set) cannot produce a positive reaction from the same crowd that believes the lack of refueling any more beneficial than when fuel was a part of the pit stop.

    For a sport so concerned about its image it just seems a little counterproductive. Yes, I want more exciting races like China but for the world’s highest level of auto racing, why put the cars on tires made of cheese?

    • Herman said on 20th April 2011, 17:23

      As someone above mentioned, Pirelli bring the same amount of tyres as Bridgestone did, and now they are all being used rather then many sitting around not being used for a whole race weekend.

    • How about scooping up all those marbles and making some sets of recycled tyres out of them? I’m sure you’ll get enough rubber from 3-4 races to supply each driver with 1-2 sets of recycled tyres at the 4th/5th race.

  4. antonyob said on 20th April 2011, 16:24

    did the previous 10 yrs not happen or something? did we see hundreds of races ruined by faster drivers not being able to get past because of dirty air. now weve got tyres that make a difference weve got people saying it isnt a pure overtake

    UNBELIEVEABLE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    you know in the early days a slower car would move out of the way ( thats in the “pure” 1950’s and 60’s) and we ve had turbo boosts that jetted you past in the 1980’s.

    If you think there ever was an era where overtaking was pure and there was lots of it you are sadly mistaken.

    • Robbie said on 20th April 2011, 16:58

      I for one don’t want to see ‘lots’ of overtaking…I would prefer overtaking to be rare and special, which to me does not come from one guy on tires that happen to be in a small window of high performance while the other is a sitting duck on tires that have fallen off dramatically…I’d rather they have consistant tires and them not be subject to dirty air holding them back, such that a pass meant the driver in behind did a better job under an apples to apples comparison, not a situation of timing and circumstance, which is also racing, just to me not the pinnacle of racing…

      • CNSZU said on 20th April 2011, 21:05

        Nobody these days has the patience to follow an F1 race containing a total of 2 overtakes, even though they were special.

  5. DaveW (@dmw) said on 20th April 2011, 16:25

    Not really. The racing is exciting not because of the tires per se, but because the teams don’t yet understand the tires, or their performance remains primarily a lottery. With additional data, strategies will converge, just as they did with refueling. In any event, as far as passing caused by tires being the best thing ever, or rather more of the same thing that always happened like is some races in the 80s, not quite. A car suddently going 5 seconds slower on a lap and getting passed like he is chained to a post is racing, but its a thin gruel by current or historical standards, even compared to a pass-less battle between competitive cars for 25 laps. The best pass in China that mattered remains Hamilton’s pass on Button in stint 3 into turn one. No DRS, not tire-crippled quarry, just old fashioned late-braking.

    This obsession with seeing passing as the ultimate evidence of “racing” reminds me of how my 2 year old flips straight to the back of her Thomas the Tank Engine book to where the trains crash so she can scream “OH NOOO!” and avoid all the less immediately satisfying story-line development.

    • OK, what people are missing with a lot of these ‘passes out of the DRS zone’ is that this is showing the DRS zone was judged to perfection.

      That move on Button was available, in part, and possibly a large part, due to DRS. Lewis was losing a lot of pace out of the corner before the long straight (13/14?) this was partially due to lack of traction and partially because it was hard to follow closely due to lack of aero grip.

      Last year what this would mean is that he would drop back down the straight, no chance into the slow right hander because he’s too far back no chance into the last corner because the concertina effect means that button would have been driving away from him easily – Because he is now so far back not enough slipstream to get up the inside into 1. He has to wait another lap of chinking back under buttons wing until he has the same problem on the next lap until Button makes a big mistake, which may never happen.

      This year – Lewis loses some ground through 13/14 due to aero and traction half way along the straight manages to use DRS to get back under the wing – back to the position he was in JUST BEFORE turn 13/14 where he lost ground due to aero, manages to keep up through the slow right hander and the left hander onto the pit straight, he is now in a position that he can slipstream Button and take a stab up the inside into 1.

      DRS allowed that overtake and several others – it was still down to driver skill but DRS removed the ridiculous lap after lap zero hope chasing due to aero loss and handed the opportunity (NOT CERTAINTY) back to the chasing driver.

      You may also see a reduction in the amount of people getting T-boned due to ridiculous lunges up the inside as people now don’t have to try absolutely desperate moves when nothing is on that is only going to put 2 closely matched competitors out of the race and ruin the rest of the race for us!

      • DaveW (@dmw) said on 20th April 2011, 18:29

        OK. Well made and well taken. But if DRS does not produce the pass on the straight in which it is deployed, why exactly have did we choose this particular contraption to improve the Show? Your point tends to prove that if this is a proper effect, it’s an obtuse approach and extremely second-best. Why not just go with what we have already, and let a pusuer improve the Show by getting an extra heaping of KERS discharge in the appropriate zone? Or something?

  6. Mike Griffin said on 20th April 2011, 17:53

    Racing in the past was decided in the pit stop windows alone, apart from maybe somebody struggling on tyres for whatever reason or a faster car fighng through the field.

    Now, cars slice and dice on literally any corner of the track, whilst fighting the tyre degradation and the added unknown of how much traction there is.

    DRS has made the racing better too. Some say it’s “fake”, but that isn’t possible. Racing is racing, no matter what produces that racing, it’s still racing.

    It’s not as if every time the DRS is opened, the driver sails past. Hamilton passed Vettel for the lead, and the win, through sheer ballsyness alone.

    • Well that pass was mainly intellect. He saved his KERS for the correct place – again it’s racing though – He thought the pass through, saved his KERS (where most people would just be punching it in the same place lap after lap) and executed it perfectly.

    • DaveW (@dmw) said on 20th April 2011, 18:32

      DRS is not fake. I grant you. Just as a McDonalds apple pie is a real pie, it’s just made out of apple-flavored potato bits, corn syrup, and food coloring. Outwardly engaging, but ultimtely unsatisfying.

  7. alelanza (@alelanza) said on 20th April 2011, 18:46

    Great article. What’s amazed me more about the current setup is that, even though we’re only 3 races in, instead of converging towards a solution we see the teams really having to analyze and even come up with solutions mid race. The tyres are so borderline that the track/weather has made it so that from one race to the next it has made sense to go from an endurance/save your tyres approach to an all out 4 sprint mini races. I agree, the question is whether the teams will be able to have it all figured out come abu dahbi

  8. Rich said on 20th April 2011, 19:18

    I cannot believe, a sub standard product is being hailed as great racing. If Pirelli was trying to sell me tires for my racing leauge,I’d say thanks but not thanks. The tires are terrible.

  9. For me racing is when two people compete on equal term and the best wins.

    In the old days, drivers did not all drive to the limit of the machinery they had, and a lot of that is because they did not have the data to tell them where gains could be made. Today we have oodles of data and drivers are able to identify where they can improve and close the gap. Not to mention that the reliance or aero now means the car behind is actually disadvantaged even if it is equally fast.

    So why did we get an interesting race last weekend? It’s simply because the teams have not gathered enough data on the tyres. If the current tyre compounds continue to be used, soon the teams will get data and run simulations and we’ll see all the teams running the same “optimum” strategy and we’ll be back where we started.

    I’m not in favour of “unfair” practices like the DRS and reversing the grid. I think that in order to keep the racing exciting, we need to keep up the uncertainty so that teams do not get the data they need to all come to the same conclusion and strategy. Pirelli provide that uncertainty now and if they want to continue to do so, they should keep changing their compounds.

  10. antonyob said on 20th April 2011, 19:32

    Which bit of them is terrible rich?

    Also which race series are you running? Sounds terribly exciting??

    • Rich said on 20th April 2011, 19:37

      The tires do not last as compared to other tyre suppliers in the past. Namely last years bridgestones. Pirelli in my opinion need to improve upon the degradation a bit.

  11. Now the pit crews have a bigger role in the race. Their strategy and performance will effect the race greatly. This change is a great idea and Pirelli has pulled it off for the benefit of the sport.

    • Let me also give thanks to Pirelli for making the tires degrade at equal amounts. That is huge and really makes for a lot of possibilities that will make getting the strategy right will always take a certain amount of luck.

  12. antonyob said on 20th April 2011, 19:43

    Rich. Doh! They were asked to produce a quick deg tyre! Its not paris dakar, its about mixing the field when a qualifying format does its best not to.

    Doh doh doh. Read the blog, it explains all

    • Rich said on 20th April 2011, 19:49

      Well, antonyb, I am man enough to admit a mistake. heheh. I appreciate the correction.

      I still don’t like what’s going on in formula 1 right now. They need to go back to the drawing board in my opinion. If you are going to make things equal then make it all equal.

  13. Patrickl (@patrickl) said on 20th April 2011, 21:11

    Funny how Pirelli’s is getting the praise now that people seem to enjoy the “show”. Instead when there were complaints it was big bad FIA who had put a knife on their throats demanding poorly constructed tyres.

    I hope that people will at least finally grasp the truth that it was Pirelli who came up with this idea of fast deteriorating tyres. As opposed to Michelin’s suggestion of longer lasting tyres.

    I posted quotes of their respective CEO’s fighting it out in the media about who’s idea was better, but I was oveblown by the massive media campaign of FOTA and FIA trying to save Pirelli’s face. A lie is always easier to swallow for the masses when a dozen people chant it at the same time.

  14. Don M. said on 20th April 2011, 21:46

    Tyres good. DRS bad.

    I was going to leave it at that but wanted to point out that we are particularly lucky with how things have turned out because the cars are not well-matched this year. Mercedes and Ferrari are miles off the pace but the uncertainty surrounding optimum strategy allowed them into the mix in China. If the teams can get as close as last season we will be seeing some amazing racing. DRS is really, really wrong though!

  15. Guilherme (@the_philosopher) said on 20th April 2011, 21:54

    Istanbul’s punishing, high-speed turn eight

    What a dramatic corner. Pity it has such a rubbish, boring name!

    Surely someone could come up with actual names for the corners at Istanbul Park?

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