Michael Schumacher, Mercedes, Bahrain 2012

F1 should fix flawed rules before changing tyres

CommentPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Michael Schumacher, Mercedes, Bahrain 2012Michael Schumacher’s words after Sunday’s race have prompted a discussion over tyres in F1.

“I had to drive at a pace to manage the tyres to finish with tyres left over,” said Schumacher.

“We should question whether that should be the case. It’s unsatisfying and not what a Formula 1 event should be.”

There is a debate to be had over how far F1 should go to improve the quality of racing by using tyres that degrade.

But let’s get one thing straight from the off: When Michael Schumacher says an F1 event should not involve an element of tyre conservation, he is completely wrong.

Conserving tyres: Part of a racer’s skill

Schumacher may have seven world championships and 91 Grand Prix victories, but his grasp of the sport’s history is not his strong suit.

This is best illustrated by his reaction to leading a Ferrari one-two at Magny-Cours in 1998, when he questioned whether the team had ever achieved such a result before. Of course they had. They’re Ferrari. In fact, they’d had 41 of them.

If Schumacher’s knowledge of F1 were better he might remember some of the many examples of tyre conservation giving us great F1 races.

Such as the 1987 British Grand Prix, which Nelson Piquet tried to complete without a pit stop. Team mate Nigel Mansell changed tyres, dropped back and passed him for the lead with two laps to go. A similar situation played out 30 years earlier with Juan Manuel Fangio at the Nurburgring.

We could go back even further. Think of Tazio Nuvolari at the Nurburgring in 1935. Nursing his tyres, he was over a minute behind the leaders at one point. But Mercedes’ Manfred von Brauchitsch gambled on finishing the race only changing his Continentals once. As he began to struggle, Nuvolari was there to snatch an historic win.

Schumacher’s quote jars in comparison to this from Gilles Villeneuve, after he had won the 1979 South African Grand Prix: “I waited until the fuel load lightened before pushing the tyres too hard.

“Then when I felt either the front or back tyres go off I adjusted my driving style to bring them back again. Jody [Scheckter] came close and if I had made a mistake he could have overtaken me easily.”

These are just a few examples of races where the battle for first place was shaped by tyre conservation – there are countless other cases of Grand Prix where drivers grappled with the agonising question of whether to make another pit stop or try to hang on until the end.

The idea of giving drivers a set of tyres that can be pushed as hard as possible all race long is a recent development, one which made racing more uniform and less exciting – until Pirelli came back.

Have they gone too far?

Bahrain, 2012Having dismissed the notion that tyre conservation has no place in F1, we should ask if the sport has gone too far in terms of trying to spice up the racing by using tyres that are more prone to degrading.

Other drivers have made this point. In his column for Sky Martin Brundle noted: “I was talking with two F1 drivers, a world champion and a multiple race winner, and they had very similar concerns to Michael in that they can’t push the cars anywhere near their limits. ‘Physically my granny could drive the race’ quipped one to underline how far away from the limits they are.”

Remember that when Pirelli came into F1 in 2011, they were asked to supply tyres that would be more challenging for drivers and produce better racing.

Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery said in 2010: “When we have been working with GP2 and F1, they have said they would like us to take an aggressive approach.

“It would be better from a tyre maker’s point of view to take a conservative approach, so people then do not talk about the drop off of the tyres. But from a sporting perspective, and for the show, we probably want both these tyre choices to have decay.”

Recall also that teams initially struggled to make the tyres last at the beginning of 2011, but by the end of the season they found it less difficult and the racing had suffered as a result.

Following Schumacher’s complaints Hembery posted on Twitter: “At the end of last year we had huge criticism for conservative choices and races were boring. Make your mind up. We are doing what is asked.”

This time last year we often saw drivers make four pit stops during races. That wasn’t the case by the end of the year, not at present, and it’s likely we’ll see teams make further progress with the tyres in the coming races.

Therefore Pirelli should avoid making knee-jerk changes to the tyre compounds. However the rule makers and teams should consider two changes to the tyre rules which would improve the sport.

Change the rules, not the tyres

Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus, Bahrain, 2012First, the ‘top ten tyre rule’ – which requires all drivers in Q3 to start the race with the tyres they qualified on – should be scrapped.

It was intended to encourage some drivers in the top ten to start the race on the harder tyres. Since its introduction in 2010 it has rarely had that effect.

Worse, it now seems to be encouraging drivers not to set times in Q3. In Bahrain Lotus gambled on not sending Kimi Raikkonen out for another run in Q2, content at missing the top ten and saving more fresh tyres for the race. We saw much the same last year.

Forcing the top ten drivers to start the race on worn tyres reduces the teams’ strategic options. A problem which is compounded by another unnecessary rule which also needs to be scrapped.

This is the ‘mandatory tyre change’ rule, which forces drivers to use both types of tyre compound during the race.

Because of this rule, no-one can gamble on completing a dry race without a tyre change. Everyone knows that everyone else will have to make at least one pit stop and can plan and second-guess them accordingly.

The rule was first brought in when Bridgestone became F1’s sole tyre supplier in 2007, amid concern that the end of the tyre war meant that tyres would cease to be a talking point and Bridgestone would receive little publicity from their involvement in F1.

That is clearly not a concern for Pirelli. Therefore this rule is not needed from a sporting or marketing perspective. Last year 83% of F1 Fanatic readers supported getting rid of it.

No knee-jerk needed

Pirelli’s tyres have produced some terrific racing since they were introduced last year.

Despite a one-sided championship contest, the 2011 season saw our highest rate the race results since 2008. Two of this year’s first three races ranked within the top ten.

Tyre conservation is an important part of an F1 driver’s skill: just like getting the set-up right, nailing a fast qualifying lap, lapping consistently in the races, overtaking and everything else.

Instead of making knee-jerk changes to the tyres, F1 should address areas of the rule book which several years’ experience have taught us are not working as desired.

Getting rid of articles 25.4 (e) and (f) of the sporting regulations would give teams more strategy options, make the racing less artificial, and give the drivers a little more tyre life to play with on race day.

F1 should fix those before tackling the trickier question of whether slightly less aggressive tyres would ultimately give us even better racing.


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166 comments on “F1 should fix flawed rules before changing tyres”

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  1. Nice article Keith. I liked the nod to history, you’ve gone further back than usual. Also, I happen to agree with you.

  2. great article keith!
    top 10 tyre rule – i think it should be removed, but give teams a set of super soft quali rubber (that can only be used in Q3), then let them start the race on whatever tyres they want (prime or option)
    ‘must use both types’ – get rid of it. it’d give the strategy option of “1 or no stops on the harder compound, or cane it with 2 or 3 stops on the soft”

    what paul hembrey says is on the button….”ffs, make your minds up!!”

  3. Nobody has mentioned relative car performance yet. Surely the varying aero set-ups of the cars have a huge affect on the behaviour of the tyres?

    As an example; Ferrari’s car is notoriously slow in warming up it’s tyres, which means they take longer to get to “optimum” operating temperature, but lasted longer. This must have had an effect on Alonso’s pace in the malaysian grand prix, which was run in much lower track temperatures. Degradation on Ferrari’s tyres would be very different from that of say Red Bull’s.

    Isn’t Schumacher’s gripe on not being able to push as much to do with the set-up of his car as the compound on the tyre?

    It’s very difficult to compare relative performance of tyres for different teams unless that all have a uniform aero setup.

  4. great article by @keithcollantine this was exactly what I was trying to explain to @indranildudhane @indranil.dudhane

  5. Absolutely, positively, 100% agreed, Keith!

  6. Simple, bring back tire wars!

    1. That’s not “simple” or a good solution. It would increase cornering speeds leading to further changes to cars, tracks or both on safety grounds, it would increase the performance gap between teams making the racing worse – and potentially recreate the situation we had in the early 2000s where one driver was running around on tailor-made Bridgestones winning every race by 20 seconds.

  7. What surprises to me is that Keith had to stated the obvious and give several examples about tire management! I think he had the same impression has me: Because Schumacher complained a lot of people agreed because he is Schumacher, and you need to prove them wrong wth some evidences, because they simply don’t believe tire management always was and always will be a very important part of all kind of motorsports!

    1. It’s not right or wrong, 0 and 1, black or white, etc….

      All of those examples involved managing tyres and I don’t think many of us ‘on the bandwagon’ so to speak who agree with Schumacher need to be stated the obvious examples – most of us are fanatics. Our point is that we are currently perhaps slightly too dependant on being able to preserve tyres at the moment, that is all.

      Yes tyre management is important… no one is denying it!!

      1. If seen a fair share of comments, that seemed to come only after Shcumacher’s words, saying that the tires are now ridiculous and that F1 drivers should be able to push always and not be tire managers. There were also comments about the teams that should not waste time figuring out how to make the tires work and last.
        These kind of statements are too radical! The problem is not tire management nor a driver will always be able to push from start to finish!
        Pirelli tires have today a very narrow window of usability and sweet spot, so it is harder these year to make them work and difficult to predict how long they last. But the tires are not destroying the races or bringing a random outcome to the results. I also think that with more knowledge on how to make the tires work, the teams and drivers will not suffer from such uncertainty about them. Let’s allow some time for it to work.

  8. I don’t get why preserving one’s tyres is not a pre-requisite skill for motor racing. As a driver if your’e supposed to manage your engine, fuel or braking then I suppose you are supposed to manage your tyres as well. I don’t think anyone can ‘make’ tyres that degrade but not so much as to provide a certain driver hardship in racing. And funny enough, we’ve seen Sauber do it on a regular basis, Force India did it a few times last year and last race this year, 2 stop strategies and the like are possible. That MS has had bad luck in some races has nothing to do with the tyres.

    In fact I think Vettel and Button are quite good on their tyres and they compete. Alonso doesn’t complain about tyre wear and I think he has much to complain about. This is what I propose;

    1) Everyone in the top 10 should use qualifying specification tyres to determine positions.
    2) For the race they should be given the option of starting on a set of their choice. Additionally they should be given 2 sets each of prime and option compounds.
    3) The mandatory pit-stop rule must be scrapped. Thus a team can decide if they would like to run a race completely on a single type of compound. In the event they have to use more, they will automatically have to use the other compound.
    4) In any event that they run out of ALL their allocations they use tyres from FP1.

  9. Keith’s comment is well-reasoned in the factors he cites but he glosses over a key underlying issue raised in Schumacher’s comment—the difference between wear and degradation. The latter, you can think of as the change in the rate of wear. In this case, once a certain, unknown level of wear is reached, the marginal rate of wear sky-rockets—the tires basically self-destruct. No one really knows where the cliff is, and so the drivers are forced to hedge by driving well within the car’s limits. Pirelli purposely designs the tires to create unpredictable degradation. Because of the Show.

    And accordingly I find Keith’s examples from antiquity a bit inapposite and actually tend to support Schumacher. In these tire-decided races, the winner prevailed because he managed “wear.” Because the tires were not designed for the Show. The reason why Villenueve could “bring back” his tires is because there was no cliff. There is no “bringing back” today’s tires by careful driving. Once they are over their limit, they might as welll be square. There is no going hard and then backing off or planning out a pace as a function of wear.

    Indeed, if your car lacks basic balance, there is no driving around that or managing it anymore. Look at Button, not known as a tire destroyer. He had a dynamic imbalance in Bahrain from the start his race was basicallly finished–this tires would simply evaporate way early, forcing an early stop, and a spiral out of contention. Pirellii is not allowing “car control” or anything else to prevail over a poor handling car. It actually punishes this skill. More generally, Pirelli threatens to take complete control of the “racing” and to put it in one dimension—the sphere of guessing-managing the degradation curve.

    If, as Keith says, as in 2011, the teams will crack the code and figure out how to lower and smooth the degradation curve, what will have been the point of Pirelli’s attempt to create fun chaos? It will have just been an experiment in computer modeling for the teams. Will they then revise their construction formula to start the game over again?

    As far as the race ratings going up due to Pirelli, I think people are going to soon realize what is happening is not the racing they know and love. Like doughnuts and other sugary treats, this product will give tummy aches in large doses.

    1. Great comment dave, completely agree.

    2. @dmw

      hmm… very interesting comment, I hadn’t thought of it in so much detail, but that makes perfect sense.

    3. This article is a bit hard on Schumacher and cuts out a chunk of what he originally said. But as a world champion driver (not a pundit or historian) he has a right to voice an opinion on current F1 trends. I agree with the concerns: there just doesn’t seem to be a balance with these tyres – not only do they need the right window of operating temperature, they seem to need nursing to such an degree that drivers are not able to push. I agree with the notion that having to drive well below the driver’s and the car’s limits just to maintain the tyres isn’t in the spirit of F1. We could argue about this all day, but to echo the comments on James Allen’s original post, I don’t want to think of the F1 World Champion as the best tyre conservationist.

    4. Once again DaveW makes excellent sense, I would like to append my own thoughts
      1. I agree totally with Keith that the rules need amending.
      2. Don’t shoot the messenger, Schui has bought this debate out into the open
      3. I am not totally in agreement with Keiths historical examples, the early ones are more about drivers who nearly succeeded by changing a tyre than they are about drivers who raced without pitting as was the norm in those days.
      4. Last years tyres were generally OK this year its too much, agree with MSC. I want to see Kobayashi going Banzai, Webber, Hamilton, Alonso, Schumacher etc. carving through the field when they find themselves coming from behind. I don’t want to drivers calculating how many positions they will gain by slowing down and not pitting.

  10. “Michael Schumacher says an F1 event should not involve an element of tyre conservation”

    As far as I could read from his statement he didn’t say that and it wouldn’t make sense for him to say so as tyre conservation has always been a fundamental part of racing. What he was saying is it has basically became everything in the race to the point were drivers main concerns are just tip toeing around trying to make them last. You just need to listen to a replay of all the team radios in Bahrain to see how ridiculous it has gotten.

    Most drivers aren’t speaking out about it because they are told the fans love it because it’s making great racing but the tyres have become more a gimmick now than the DRS. Schumacher and Alonso’s great strengths were putting together lap after lap of qualifying stints in a race and unfortunately they or anyone else now can’t do that because one lap alone flat-out ruins the tyres.

    Look at how close qualifying is. We don’t need fall apart tyres to make the races good when the grid is that close. Agree with the rule changes mentioned.

  11. We need qualifying tyres to be introduced, or tyre limits to be completely removed. Let the teams use as many tyres as they want. But there is no need to change the content of the tyre itself.

  12. To believe Keith or Michael? It is easy one. Michael of course. Anyone saying that with this quotes Michael is saying the tyres shouldn’t be conserved is wrong. Michael have been driving 20 years, and he was conserving tyres all his career. He is against tyres that you can’t push at all. He want to race ,but with tyres like this you can’t. If you push 100% in the third lap you are 1,5sec slower. Just check test times(Rosberg- 03.03.2012).
    13:44:27 50 1:22.932 -0.278
    13:45:33 51 1:23.602 +0.670
    13:47:37 52 1:24.588 +0.986
    13:48:31 53 1:25.418 +0.830
    13:50:33 54 1:25.384 -0.034
    13:51:29 55 1:25.750 +0.366
    13:52:37 56 1:25.987 +0.237
    13:54:27 57 1:25.893 -0.094
    13:55:34 58 1:26.273 +0.380
    13:57:35 59 1:26.384 +0.111
    13:58:35 60 1:26.849 +0.465
    14:00:28 61 1:27.094 +0.245
    14:01:28 62 1:27.456 +0.362
    To drive to delta time is not F1. We need hard racing, drivers attacking each other, but we didn’t see that because of this tyres. We don’t need tyre puzzle. We don’t need tyre with very narrow operating window. We don’t need cheese tyres. We need tyres that can be pushed for 15 laps and to lose 1,5-2 sec , not 5 seconds.
    We need tyres for racing. All overtakes now are fake, effortless. I guess some people like the author like that. We saw Kimi cruising behind Vettel, Lewis behind Alonso, MS behind Massa. We don’t want the best drivers to circle around impotently. This is what Pirelli give us , impotent F1. Nobody s going off the track, cars are finishing without technical problems. No wonder when they drive at around 70% of their capabilities. Michael didn’t win 7WDC driving at 70%. Also Rosberg say the same things, other drivers will soon support MS. So, Keith you are not right and I am not sure you are real F1 fan. Go check Michael first win and Nico first win. See how tyres behave. Michael first win was something. Goodyear were some tyres.

  13. Shane (@shane-pinnell)
    27th April 2012, 16:16

    Nice article and I must say I agree, 100%! Scrap the top 10 qualifying tire nonsense and the mandatory tire compound change. I would go one further and have more tires available for practice/qualifying, freeing up an unused set (or two) for the race. I do not want to see Kimi Raikkonen sitting in the garage conserving tires instead of going 100% in an F1 car during qualifying, that is bad for the show. I do think that if this were implemented they would need only be the set tire, I know Pirelli has a difficult time with bringing tires to the race only to scrap 30% of the ones that go unused since they are glued to the rim and can only be cut off.

    I would also like to see a greater difference in the performance of the two compounds on offer for the race. A greater difference in performance and longevity. I would like to see a general target of the soft tire on a 3 stop (4 sets of tires) roughly equalling the total race time of a 1 stop (2 sets) on hard tires all other things being equal. Of course different chassis, drivers and tracks would lend themselves to one or the other (or mixed) strategies, but that would make the racing better. Hamilton on a 3 stop soft with Button on a 1 stop hard for instance. This could be adjusted per race, maybe a track with characteristically low tire wear rates could even have a no-stopper vs a 1-2 stop, that would be awesome!

    All that being said, I definitely applaud the effort from Pirelli and I hope they know that it is appreciated. I am sure they fear some negative press regarding their tires in F1, but I certainly don’t feel that way. I think they are doing a fantastic job providing what has been asked of them.

    1. Here, Here.

  14. I agree that “the start on the tyres you qualified with” rule should be changed, i.e. removed.

    But I wonder, cause i have not checked and don’t have any figures, if the degredation is much worse when following than when in clear air. So far the car in front has usually won without too many tyre issues but even the team-mate has looked like getting nowhere fast and complaining about no grip, cannot accelerate out of corners etc.

    In the last race Kimi looked like he was going places fast, in clear air until he caught his team mate, a few laps later he had to come in for a tyre change.

  15. I think a solution is let the teams have free reign on which tyres they bring and run at each gp. Still give them a limit of 11 dry sets a weekend but let them bring 11 sets of supersoft if they want. Get rid of rules governing which tyres to run and where, let them have a different compound on every corner of the car (did Berger not run different Pirelli compounds on different sides of the car at the 1986 Mexico GP due to one side of the car being put under much higher loads). This would encourage more creative strategies, give the engineers a headache and allow each team to optimise their car. Failing this… qualifying tyres?

    1. Pirelli suggested qualifying tyres last year didn’t they (amongst other things)? But the teams couldn’t agree on anything. Useless lot.

      I like the idea of a free choice of compounds, that would come across well now that they’re labelled different colours. But while it wouldn’t be as scary as the ATS team’s cross-ply fronts & radial rears in 1982 (yikes), no doubt there’s a good health & safety reason for not mixing them.

      1. Yes and Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

        1. Jan Verboven
          29th April 2012, 17:50

          Totaly wrong, Pirelli has them, and in a big way

  16. William Wilgus
    27th April 2012, 17:06

    ” . . . for the show, we probably want both these tyre choices to have decay.” [emphasis added]
    That’s just it: do you want a show (NASCAR) or racing? The two are not the same. By the way, if you want drivers to have to manage their tires, why not bring back the one set of tires per race? Not only would it provide a show, it would reduce costs and be more green!

  17. Barcelona could be ridiculous. Last year most leading drivers did 4 stops. Button and the Saubers managed to do “only” three. And they’ve made the tyres softer this year!

    At least they are trying something different by using compounds 2 steps apart, including the lesser-spotted hard tyre. Maybe that degrades slower – certainly it gave us a good chase at the end of last year’s race, Vettel v Hamilton. But won’t everyone be avoiding it? And stockpiling their soft tyres for the race? We could see a record low number of participants in final qualifying, and several drivers queuing up to start 11th…

  18. When did Michael say :”“Michael Schumacher says an F1 event should not involve an element of tyre conservation” Lol. That simply isn’t what he said or implied.

    And the tires were already changed (from 2011 to 2012) without the rules being changed. Of course the stupid Q3 and mandatory tire change rules should be scrapped.

    This year, the unpredictability and the degradation from the Pirelli’s completely ruined racing. It’s just a lottery because Pirelli went too far for 2012.

    1. Michael never implied that. You are correct and if anything this blog is rather harsh on Schumacher. There are many within F1 who currently feel the same as him. They just have not said it in front of the media for there words to be twisted.

      1. Many within F1, indeed. Even drivers, if Brundle’s comments are anything to go by. Of course, people prefer to conveniently skip over those sort of things.

  19. Chris Goldsmith
    27th April 2012, 17:18

    It’s a tough call really, and I can see both sides of the argument. I think the problem with the 2012 spec tyres is that the operating window is far too narrow in terms of temperature. It would be great if the tyres had a much wider operating window, where the harder you pushed the more the tyre would reward the driver with better grip, but increasing the rate of wear exponentially. Whereas another driver could choose to drive slower, and yet still get reasonable grip. Whereas as soon as the tyres fall out of the operating window, they degrade in a way which actually punishes a driver who tries to manage his pace. This creates a situation where the operating window of the tyre is so narrow that the pace of the car must be very carefully maintained. Of course, this is a factor of modern F1 – teams have become too clever, to the point where the optimum strategy can be calculated, and the driver’s job is merely to try and deliver that strategy as accurately as possible. Yes, we have seen certain varibles which have meant that some cars have managed to do better in certain situations, but this hasn’t really been down to the driver and his ability to get the most out of the tyre, rather a situation where a certain team’s car is able to stick closest to the optimum operating window of the tyre without compromising its degredation in the process. Since those variables can’t (currently!) be anticipated, it does add an element of guesswork, which isn’t really something that teams are able to react to.

    The upshot is good racing – every race this year has been great – but I do think that things are a little too tyre-dependent at the moment. As I say, a wider operating window, but one which requires drivers to be extremely careful not to overstep the limit, would be great. It might also be nice if we ditched the tyre warmers and saw drivers having to bring the temperatures up carefully and not damaging the tyres before they hit the performance window.

    Who knows whether this would work or if it would even be possible.

    1. If Pirelli can make a tire that falls apart after 1 lap of abuse (which they appear to have done), surely they can make a tire that would last for maybe 5 laps, so that a driver who reels in the car in front of him gets more that one chance to make the pass. After Bahrain, Raikkonen said he could only make one move on Vettel before his tires went off– his best chance to pass was really to jump him in the pits, which wasn’t the intended effect. But this is a small tweak that Pirelli could make and still stay within the assignment they’ve been given.

  20. This is what i would do:

    1.-Get rid of start race on q3 tyres.
    2.-Get rid of compulsory ussage of two compounds.
    3.-Increase pitlante speed limit / try to shorten pitlanes so teams going for more stops dont get too penalized.

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