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. Maksutov (@maksutov) said on 27th April 2012, 15:55

    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.

  2. ivand911 said on 27th April 2012, 16:04

    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.

  3. Shane (@shane-pinnell) said on 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.

  4. W-K (@w-k) said on 27th April 2012, 16:26

    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.

  5. sw280 (@sw280) said on 27th April 2012, 16:34

    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?

  6. William Wilgus said on 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!

  7. Bullfrog (@bullfrog) said on 27th April 2012, 17:07

    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…

  8. Diablo said on 27th April 2012, 17:11

    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.

    • Chris Anderson (@anderscja) said on 27th April 2012, 17:54

      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.

  9. Chris Goldsmith said on 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.

    • Pelican (@pelican) said on 27th April 2012, 17:42

      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.

  10. joac21 (@joac21) said on 27th April 2012, 17:40

    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.

  11. toddjamin (@toddjamin) said on 27th April 2012, 17:46

    wow, couldnt agree more

  12. Hallard (@hallard) said on 27th April 2012, 17:50

    To a certain extent, I disagree with the idea that Pirelli shouldnt change the tires. Not because I want them to last longer, but because I’d like to see the tires degrade more consistently throughout their life span.

    As they are, the tires seem to be very temperamental, and require a delicate hand, which suits the driving style of some drivers and punishes others. Although I dont have any hard evidence to back this up, it is my observation that these tires somewhat flatter the driving styles and set-up preferences of drivers like Button and Vettel, who prefer a very stable rear end on the car. Meanwhile Schumacher and Hamilton tend toward pointy cars where they can toss the back end around a bit more, and while this does them no harm in qualifying, both appear to have a harder time coping with the resulting degradation in race conditions. An interesting contrast to the ‘Bridgestone era’, where the ultra-durable tires seemed to provide an advantage to drivers who could really throw the car around and get more heat in the tires, rather than driving very precisely.

    Either way I’d like to see the tires drop off a bit more predictably, without actually lasting longer, which would still allow for exciting racing but maybe alleviate some of the apprehension about pushing them hard (and subsequently ‘falling off the cliff’) that the drivers apparently have.

    The other thing that I’d really like to see is a change in the tire compound so that there are fewer marbles formed off of the racing line. These Pirellis seem to just tear apart in chunks, whereas the Bridgestone tires were much more visco-elastic (think that’s the right word) and rubbered-in the racing line without turning the rest of the track into a skating rink. If they could accomplish that, I think overtaking off-line would generally be easier to attempt for drivers.

    For the record, I do think that the criticism of Pirelli is ridiculous. They have done exactly what they have been asked to do, the sport has benefitted greatly in my estimation, and for that I applaud them. Nonetheless, I think Pirelli could do even more to improve the tires, and eliminate the perception that tire management is too important. Anyways, I’ll just end this here before I start complaining too much about the absurd aero and engine regulations that make these kind of tires necessary to begin with.

  13. bsnaylor (@bsnaylor) said on 27th April 2012, 18:35

    To throw a spanner in the works, I say bring back refuelling.
    The strategy with that and tyre stops made for some fascinating unpredictable race days.
    It’s almost as unpredictable with the tyre handling/deg at the moment, but imagine the two combined.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 27th April 2012, 18:53

      The strategy with that and tyre stops made for some fascinating unpredictable race days.

      No it didn’t – it made it less predictable because you always knew roughly when the drivers were coming in for their next pit stops.

      Worse, it gave strategists the luxury of being able to pit their drivers at moments which would bring them out into clear air so they could lap quickly, and avoid the inconvenience of having to race for position.

      I could go on but I already have.

  14. Frans (@frans) said on 27th April 2012, 19:16

    Did the 2011 tyres were as fickle as this year tyres in responding to temperature change? I don’t really mind last year tyres, but this year tyres seemed very sensitive to temperature. For example at Bahrain race. I don’t think teams brought any significant update that can add +1s to race pace, yet the Lotuses and Vettel can lap +1s faster at race day compared to their nearest competitor. At the start of the race, Hamilton and the rest was slower than Vettel even though he should have the rubber to push. At the end of the race where Button was saving tyres and then make a push, he was still much slower than the leading cars. Qualifying times wasn’t that far off and I don’t think the McLarens setup their car for qualifying nor do I think that their DRS were much better than the RBR and Lotus. So where the difference came from? All I can think about is the change in the temperature between qualifying and race day, thus someone that can accurately predict the temperature for race day will have an advantage. If that the case then definitely Pirelli should change the tyres because there will be to much luck involving predicting the temperature accurately thus the one that win is the one that got lucky with their setup.

    I also agree to the tyre rules. It is stupid, especially the mandatory tyre change.

  15. Earthling said on 27th April 2012, 20:30

    Avery simple solution would be to insert windows for tyres to be changed.
    Allthough it seems like great racing, if they arent able to drive on the limit of the car, f1 is not worthy of being the highest class anymore.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 27th April 2012, 21:31

      insert windows for tyres to be changed.

      And reduce teams’ strategy options even further? I sincerely hope not.

      • Earthling said on 29th April 2012, 15:02

        I do agree that it should be left to the teams to come up with the best suitable strategy.
        The fact is that driving to keep the tires from falling apart has nothing to do with racing, all the more with endurance.
        That is not what F1 was ment to be.

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