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. vishy (@vishy) said on 27th April 2012, 20:33

    @Keith
    It is easy to rationalize any explanation. You talk of strategy which i agree with, but tires should allow you atleast some amount of ability to push. These tires are just a joke, thermal degradation?? Seriously and 4 sets of tires in a race? The first stint lasted 7 laps at Bahrain??? Cmon that has got be a joke.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 27th April 2012, 21:33

      4 sets of tires in a race?

      Three-stop strategies are hardly out of the ordinary in F1.

      The first stint lasted 7 laps at Bahrain?

      As I said in the article, get rid of the ‘top ten tyre rule’ and you’ll see longer first stints. Though obviously not as long as those at the end of the race as the fuel loads are much higher then.

    • alphaa (@alphaa) said on 28th April 2012, 9:30

      Agree with you mate. Funny thing is, Pirelli think that these kind of publicity would help its sales, as if anyone would buy their tyres. I wont! I wouldnt want to go back to the garage every year and driving down the shops and having to know that I need to preserve my tyres otherwise I would need to do a pit stop, “my tyres have gone off the cliff, box box ” My gosh!

      • BaKano (@bakano) said on 28th April 2012, 10:31

        @alphaa, and of course you cannot really use them all year long because they don’t work in the rain!
        Are you a guy that expect a normal road car or component to behave on par with maker’s performance on motorsport (with specific products made with completely different requirements and purposes)? You gotta be kidding right?

      • Bridges said on 28th April 2012, 17:30

        Yeah I’m never buying Pirellis again, I commute 100 miles a day, 50 miles each way. I simply cannot risk having my tyres go off the cliff on my drive home, and I’m not going to nurse them constantly. I like to be home before 6 so I drive quite briskly and have to drive on some pretty hairy twisty roads. If my tyres fall off the cliff I probably will do to!

        Also sincere thanks to everyone who drives through the black mountains for not using pirellis and leaving the road covered in marbles :-)

  2. ed24f1 (@ed24f1) said on 27th April 2012, 20:43

    Without refuelling, F1 was always going to be more about conserving tyres, as, in general, tyres became the limiting factor instead of fuel. I mean that, these days, you only pit if your tyres are wearing, but with refuelling, you would pit more, as longer stints were costly with the increased fuel load onboard.

    So there’s no real solution to Schumacher’s concerns, in my opinion. Regardless of whether we have conservative Bridgestones or aggressive Pirellis, when the balance is tipped towards making fewer pitstops, there’s always going to be an advantage made from making the tyres last.

  3. Rolley Bidoney said on 27th April 2012, 21:15

    my opinion is: refueling should be back that’s create huge strategic options

    • alphaa (@alphaa) said on 28th April 2012, 9:27

      I couldn’t agree more. But you know what, it aren’t going to happen. The refuelling module is what costing teams a lot of money.

    • Dizzy said on 29th April 2012, 15:33

      and have most the passing done in the pits again?

      the refueling era sucked for racing as it made fuel strategy (worked out by strategy computers & engineers in the pit lane) the key part of a race.
      as soon as refueling came in on-track overtaking dropped as most the passes got moved into the pit lane.

      watching races like france 2004 where fuel strategy saw the 2 cars fighting for the lead 15 seconds apart with the eventual pass done in the pits was not exciting to watch.

      i hated the refueling era to the point where if it ever came back i’d stop watching f1.

  4. who's better who's best said on 27th April 2012, 21:34

    @keithcollantine

    I think 1 thing you are not taking into consideration is that whilst the pack is fighting each other they are seriously reducing their tyre life making a challenge for the lead impossible

    We have seen in every race this year, button lead from 1st lap (due to lewis’s clutch issue), rosberg from pole, vettel from pole, and although I can’t remember how alonso won…lewis would have won from pole in malaysia had it not been for the pitstop jack problem

    I agree the other rules should be scrapped, as you point out, their is just no need for them anymore

    However IMO if we can’t provide short lasting tyres that drivers can race with without damaging, meaning they have ZERO chance of winning then we should not have short life tyres

    I think DRS would work fine on its own. Infact I would go as far as saying DRS would spice up the show more with tyres from 2010

  5. GeorgeDaviesF1 (@georgedaviesf1) said on 27th April 2012, 22:22

    I like 2 tyre rule, ideally compounds would be closer but with same deg characteristics. Extra set of tyres in Quali would encourage more laps on Saturday afternoon…in theory

  6. f1addict said on 27th April 2012, 22:35

    Keith, you are a genius. That is all.

  7. dragoll (@dragoll) said on 28th April 2012, 0:52

    @keithcollantine I think people forget Michael’s first race win, he saw Brundle’s tyres wearing out in front him and he reacted and stopped for a new set of boots and won the race.
    The problem with the tyres today is degradation vs wear. You have quoted James Allens’ blog post which also talks about this issue as well.
    I’m not sure what Michael meant to say, in any case, it wasn’t very well put. However, If drivers (because James Allen writes it isn’t just Michael Complaining) that their granny’s can drive the cars while they’re conserving them, then something is wrong.
    If cars are only being pushed for 15-20 laps a race, then I do not agree with this. Perhaps swing the tyres back to higher wear rates and reduce the degradation rate.

    • Dizzy said on 29th April 2012, 15:35

      I think people forget Michael’s first race win, he saw Brundle’s tyres wearing out in front him and he reacted and stopped for a new set of boots and won the race.

      dont forget that it was a wet/dry race.
      schumacher noticed the tread pattern on brundle’s wet tyres starting to dissapear due to the overheating/wear so decidde it was the right time to switch to slicks.

  8. HAHAHA hilarious, please tell me its true that Schumi thought they had achieved the first Ferrari 1-2 in history. What an ignoramus

  9. alphaa (@alphaa) said on 28th April 2012, 9:23

    At times I do find articles from Keith somewhat subjective. I respect that, as this is your website, and I do find some good points about the rule changes. However, having said that I don’t agree that Michael Schumacher was entirely wrong, and I have heard other experienced driver mentioned the same issue. We are never in their shoes, and we do not have the information to disagree, only 24 drivers on grid have the experience of these tyres, it not right to judge them whether they are right or wrong. All I can say is that, I do feel that drivers weren’t allowed to push their car to the limit, once they do usually result with worn tyres, and because of that, the leaders of the first lap usually have a big advantage because it doesn’t need to follow any car, and he can set his own pace generally.
    We would always like the drivers to push as hard as they can, making the overtaking as exciting as it can be. Now, not to mention about the DRS making each overtaking less exciting, the tyres are not helping. I remember seeing Di Resta letting people pass in the race, simply because he knew he has 1 less stop, and he needs to conserve his tyres and defending others will only cut short of his tyres life even more.
    So why do we want such tyres? Initially, these Pirelli does increase the number of stops, having seen that its predecessor popularity in Canada race 2010 where teams were forced to stop 4 times. But it isnt a set formula, more stop does not equal to excitement. We would like to see at least half of the cars on the track is pushing to their limit in terms of speed and performance, I want to see that if a driver got overtaken was because he was SLOWER, not because he was conserving his tyres. I don’t want another reason into why he was overtaken. If you got overtaken, you are slower. Very simple, and thats racing. Like Boxing, when you got knockout, it is because you aren’t a better boxer, not because you’re preserving your energy for another fight.
    I personally like the Pirelli tyres, but I dont think it should be that fragile.

    • Jan Verboven said on 29th April 2012, 18:36

      actually you don’t like the Pirelli tyres then, because fragile and unpredictable they are.

  10. Don M. said on 28th April 2012, 11:42

    F1 should address areas of the rule book which several years’ experience have taught us are not working as desired.

    Ever wondered why we check the weather forecast for every race weekend, hoping it will be raining? Degrading tyres are a poor fix for F1’s fundamental problems. They are necessary to create action with the current rules and regs, but with a better formula there would be no need for gimmicks like DRS and disintegrating tyres.

    It’s actually perfect timing to shake everything up. F1 could make a huge contribution by advancing the efficiency of new technologies. It could be relevant again instead of being an expensive playground for people with time and money to waste.

    It’s too easy to believe we are seeing good racing lately, just because we had years of boredom. It was celebrated that, in Bahrain, two drivers led a grand prix for the first time in their careers. But, realistically, Vettel led from start to finish, didn’t he? Cars on fresh tyres, catching and breezing past rivals who have compromised their performance to inherit track position – is that RACING?

    Just my opinion – No need for Tyresome(!) responses of the type: “if you don’t like it, don’t watch it” – those comments really are degrading(!!).

  11. Hadzhiev (@hadzhiev) said on 28th April 2012, 11:43

    The blog is generally a good one. I’m not an englishman but I used to like it very much! One thing is for sure after this article and it is that a driver should be extra careful what he says. And the other thing is that the authors of the content published on http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk do not like Michael Schumacher.

  12. Bullfrog (@bullfrog) said on 28th April 2012, 13:08

    Fascinating stuff from Alexander Rossi, commentating on the GP2 race that’s just finished. They’re using similar Pirellis to F1 (complete with “cliff” when they wear out), and he said that compared to Bridgestone or Mchelin tyres, they feel like driving at 85-90%. You can’t slide the car at all, and he compared it to driving in the wet. He thought it was the tyre construction – softer sidewalls.

    So it sounds like you’d need to switch tyre supplier to change the way the tyres handle and degrade.

    Exciting finish to the race too, with the winner (on worn-out tyres) just holding off the second-placed guy. It’s good to see that happen twice in a longer Grand Prix, maybe three times – but four or five sets of tyres just looks silly.

  13. The Limit said on 28th April 2012, 15:13

    It matters not one bit what ‘WE’ think about the situation on tyres. The point I like is to remind people that if Schumacher was winning races and titles, he would not be complaining. Anybody that says F1 is ‘more boring’ now than it was ten years ago is in my eyes openly in denial. The 2002 season was, without doubt, one of the most predictable and boring in recent F1 history.
    However, despite this, Schumacher never complained then when he was champion with half a season yet to run.
    It is always the same with all racing drivers. As soon as they start losing its the fault of the car, the tyres, the engine, the mechanics. As Martin Brundle said of Hamilton last year, ‘it is always someone else’s fault’ when things go wrong. You could pin that to the majority of all racing drivers, not just F1 drivers.
    F1 is there to satisfy its fans, not Schumacher and Schumacher alone. As great as he is and as impressive as his c.v. is the sport continued without him just like it has without past ‘legendary’ drivers. The fact remains that Schumacher thought he would come back and start were he left off, competing at the front for championships and this has not been the case. He should have done what Mika Hakkinen did and retired towards the pinnacle of his career instead of being in denial like he is now. He is past it!

  14. DuncF1 (@duncf1) said on 28th April 2012, 16:43

    Sorry to be a pedant @keithcollantine, but shouldn’t that be *fix (not fixed) in the title?

  15. lecho (@lecho) said on 28th April 2012, 19:40

    I agree with scrapping the top 10 tyre rule, but disagree with removing mandatory change. It is both more challenging for a driver to manage two types of tyres at a race and also forces the car setup to be more balanced, thus reducing the difference between the cars at some point – when one car is stronger on harder or softer compound.

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