F1 should fix flawed rules before changing tyres

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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

  1. claudioff (@claudioff) said on 27th April 2012, 13:28

    I realy wanted to know how these kind of decisions are taken. I mean, I think they (FIA, FOM, FOTA) have the resources to run some simulations and based on that take some decisions. Or, maybe, Bennie just wake up in a morning and says to himself, what if …

  2. DASMAN (@dasman) said on 27th April 2012, 13:49

    Keith, i think you blow your own argument out of the water with your very first example. A driver should have the option of either pushing like hell and needing another set of tires, or looking after his and perhaps saving a pitstop. The way it is now, everyone simply has to preserve the tires at all cost. Its not possible to even drive flatout at any stage of the GP. That situation is just plain wrong as drivers are driving to delta laptimes and not to the limits of their skill, tire management included.

    • hobo (@hobo) said on 27th April 2012, 14:30

      I lean this way as well. I do think the rules need to be changed but I also think that the tires need to be looked at. I know it’s not as simple as just requesting they change rubber and it’s that easy but I think the strategy should be to make a tire that can be pushed for 10-15 laps, hard, or run more frugally for 25-35.

      I agree that tire saving is a strategy that has led to brilliant races, but so has the strategy of burning through sets doing flying laps and pitting often.

      The rules changes I would want to see are: 1-bring refuelling back — this might negate any need to fool with tire compounds because it would allow teams to push more on low weight. 2-get rid of or reduce DRS — part of the reason that a driver cannot afford to run fewer stops and expect a podium is because they cannot defend against a driver behind. A driver on older tires is automatically slower (especially with the current rubber) but adding in DRS means that they cannot defend.

      The issues are beyond just rubber, but they include it.

      • Journeyer (@journeyer) said on 27th April 2012, 15:04

        I disagree with bringing refuelling back. It discourages overtaking when you can do it in the pits.

        I do agree with taking out DRS, though. It is overrated.

        • hobo (@hobo) said on 4th May 2012, 16:26

          Without refuelling you can’t push for at least the first third of a race or the tires vaporize. If you make the tires strong enough for the first third on heavy fuel, they will be too strong on low fuel, meaning 1 tire change the whole race. Boring.

          Reintroducing refuelling would allow aggressive tires because you can push on low fuel which will likely create less wear, so you can push more. Then you can either push and refuel/retire a lot or push less and pit less.

          By having no refuelling everything is about the tires, and that is the problem. There is no other strategy once the race has started other than tires.

    • Journeyer (@journeyer) said on 27th April 2012, 15:00

      @dasman BOOM. My thoughts, right on the money.

    • Joey-Poey (@joey-poey) said on 27th April 2012, 15:09

      They can push to the limits of their skills, it’s simply not desirable strategically. You didn’t read the examples very well. Even in the past, drivers have had to do the same thing. Never has F1 been about doing qualifying laps for the entire race. At this level, a degree of endurance is required to be balanced with your speed. If you want an all out sprint, there’s always GP2.

      • John H (@john-h) said on 27th April 2012, 16:24

        Never has F1 been about doing qualifying laps for the entire race

        It can be, but you might have to pit 6 times. That’s just too many. If you have to pit 4 times and the smoother guys 3, then you have a race on your hands between drivers with differing styles.

    • David BR2 said on 27th April 2012, 23:45

      I agree too and I really don’t get how the opinion of a 7-times champion is so easily dissed by Keith Collatine or anyone else. Schumacher not knowing Ferrari’s history is not the same as Schumacher not knowing what he’s on about when he says he, as a driver, isn’t pushing enough because the tyres don’t allow it. The same applies to citing two current drivers saying the tyres are making drivers drive far below their maximum – and then apparently ignoring this evidence! I don’t get how this opinion can be disregarded. For me that’s already more than enough evidence that tyre conversation is too dominant.

      Other gripes: the ridiculous rule over tyre allocations, penalizing those who make it into Q3 and encouraging just one or even no runs to compete for pole position. I find it simply incredible that this hasn’t been addressed when it’s been an issue since last year. Qualifying is now a total anti-climax, yet we’re told it’s all about the show. How does that make sense??

      And DRS has severely detracted from the value of over-taking. It would be tolerable if the rest of the race wasn’t about tyre conservation. But as it stands, the tyre conservers, bless them, who are less likely to risk their tyres by hard driving and attempting to overtake now have the bonus of being able to get past without compromising their driving style.

      In sum, it annoys me that the excessive concern now with tyre degradation, DRS-free-overtaking and years of crackdowns on ‘aggressive’ driving have meant that the most exciting (fastest, most skilled) racers now have to plod around with the slower drivers to make the ‘show’ work.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 4th May 2012, 10:26

      @dasman

      A driver should have the option of either pushing like hell and needing another set of tires, or looking after his and perhaps saving a pitstop.

      You mean like Di Resta did in Bahrain?

  3. I think you are bang on target with your opinion. I agree the rules are the things that are making the sport not so F1-like. Especially the rule requiring top 10 qualifiers to start on the same tyres they clocked their fastest lap. Hopefully things will change for the better.

    As for Schumi, being a Schumi fan ever since I started watching the sport, it was strange to hear this from him. Perhaps he is just too close to the action to know better.

  4. Don M. said on 27th April 2012, 14:05

    I agree with the rule changes that Keith is suggesting, but I think the problem runs a lot deeper. The tyres are causing the kind of lap-time fluctuation that is needed to provide interesting races, but it shouldn’t be solely the job of the tyres to achieve that. The cars and circuits need to provide a tougher test in order to create that effect – at the moment drivers are able to lap so consistently that you will never see anything other than a procession. The tyres are interfering with that and shaking-up the running order, but it’s not a good fix because it does appear to be a lottery. It doesn’t seem to be a case of predictable degradation which can be managed – it is more like a life-limit that appears from nowhere and doesn’t allow much degree of driver influence. Race positions are being decided by pit-crew mistakes which is also not satisfying. Pit-stops and tyre changes are needed to spice up the racing when the cars and circuits are poorly devised to provide proper racing. If the regulations were right there would be no need for drivers to keep making pit-stops to make the race a spectatcle.

  5. DVC (@dvc) said on 27th April 2012, 14:06

    Grammar in Title needs fixing.

  6. DVC (@dvc) said on 27th April 2012, 14:16

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

  7. spankythewondermonkey (@spankythewondermonkey) said on 27th April 2012, 14:29

    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!!”

  8. VoiseyS (@voisey) said on 27th April 2012, 14:37

    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.

  9. Mallesh Magdum (@malleshmagdum) said on 27th April 2012, 14:38

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

  10. Lustigson (@lustigson) said on 27th April 2012, 14:40

    Absolutely, positively, 100% agreed, Keith!

  11. Pipe said on 27th April 2012, 14:45

    Simple, bring back tire wars!

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 27th April 2012, 15:11

      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.

  12. BaKano (@bakano) said on 27th April 2012, 15:16

    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!

    • John H (@john-h) said on 27th April 2012, 16:29

      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!!

      • BaKano (@bakano) said on 27th April 2012, 21:57

        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.

  13. MahavirShah (@mahavirshah) said on 27th April 2012, 15:27

    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.

  14. DaveW (@dmw) said on 27th April 2012, 15:29

    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.

    • snowman (@snowman) said on 27th April 2012, 15:52

      Great comment dave, completely agree.

    • Maksutov (@maksutov) said on 27th April 2012, 16:03

      @dmw

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

    • Crom said on 27th April 2012, 16:25

      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.

    • HoHum (@hohum) said on 28th April 2012, 1:05

      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.

  15. snowman (@snowman) said on 27th April 2012, 15:48

    “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.

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