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

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  1. jpowell (@jpowell) said on 28th April 2012, 22:23

    What your article is suggesting is that the cars should not be driven at any time during the race at ‘balls out pace’ and that a smoth and considered pace throughout the race is what F1 is all about. F1 was supposed to be a spectacle showcasing great individual performances. Not a contrived pantomime of musical cars . I have been watching F1 since 1964, last year was bad and this year I am afraid even the highlights on BBC. are to much for me.

    • uan (@uan) said on 29th April 2012, 16:46

      this may be just me, but I wouldn’t describe Bahrain in the terms you just described. Vettel in the first lap alone went “balls out” compared to those behind. Kimi sliced through the field and that wasn’t contrived. That Vettel had to pull over immediately after finishing because he had no fuel shows that he was pushing pretty damn hard, not just smooth and considered.

      Perhaps Pirelli should have brought the medium and hard tires to Bahrain, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Iirc, last year as the season wore on, Pirelli began bringing harder compound tires (some saying because it favored the struggling Ferrari ;) and the tires became a less defining factor in the races.

  2. cosicave (@cosicave) said on 28th April 2012, 23:03

    A very good article, Keith.
    You’ve highlighted the most important aspects of the situation and demonstrated the implications of alternatives, whilst making good reference to history and what racing is about.

    Of course, Schumacher knows these things too; but we should bear in mind that he has always gone the extra mile to maximise his various advantages – regardless of the implications of his actions and exacting requirements, upon the sport and the spectacle it provides; and it would seem inconsistent not to complain in an effort to minimise what is obviously something he is finding difficulty coming to grips with…

    Schumacher does not say things by accident. Everything he does and says is factored in as part of a calculation. For him, I would suggest this very discussion is not only desirable but was predicted, since it increases the chance of a reaction – even if only slightly – which may offset what he currently perceives as a personal disadvantage.

    History has shown us that if he cannot win under prevailing conditions, he does his utmost to change those conditions…

  3. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 28th April 2012, 23:06

    The mandatory pit-stop rule really ought to be scrapped, like you said Keith, it served a purpose for Bridgestone. It would be fascinating to watch a race without it and see how the various teams deal with any given race. Certain teams would be better suited to certain tyres which when you pit longevity versus speed it would only exaggerate how great the racing is at the moment.

    Fundamentally though, this is a bit of a non-issue for me. I expect F1 drivers to complain when they experience undesirable degradation but I also expect the same drivers will take some pleasure when they race as a result of a chasing driver no longer being able to compete with rubber. Swings and roundabouts basically!

  4. Dizzy said on 29th April 2012, 15:29

    james allen ran an article about schumacher’s comments a week ago & a majority of fans over there agreed with schumacher.
    i’ve seen similar discussed on several other forums with identical results, most fans seemingly dislike the current tyres.

  5. Jan Verboven said on 29th April 2012, 19:50

    You can build the best car, fastest one with reliable engines, optimum aero and Kers. But still the one and only limiting BASIC factor is the TYRE this beautiful machine stands on. And it’s only a little footprint the rubber has on the tarmac. You can develop basically everything right with the car, only to be let down by scrappy tyres with no life in them, with the build in ‘fall of the cliff’ experience. All the millions pumped into the car are virtually lost because these tyres aren’t racing tyres, they are circus tyres. And yes, in the ‘old’ days people came in for tyres and could push the car again up the ladder. And also ‘then’ tyres degraded, but you could get them ‘back to life’, nurturing them for some laps. Not anymore. Now a racer doesn’t have a clue when or why his only contact with the road is self-destructing in a lap or three of pushing. Pirelli has done a bad job – period. Bridgestones were maybe a bit too long-lasting, but now we have the reverse. If you want to see real racing, the very important element of decent tyres (I didn’t say indestructable) should be in the ‘package’. Otherwise you can build a car that is the top of the season only to see it being mediocre (or worse) on racing day. With Pirelli we will not see epic battles again à la Mansell-Senna-Prost ever again.

  6. Rhys Coles (@lightmas) said on 22nd May 2012, 10:17

    I agree with dropping the starting on the tyre you qualified on rule. I guess it does help a little with people out side the top 10 like Kimi in Bahrain. I didnt see anyone complaining about that yet it was partly down to his newer tyres. I dont think removing it will help with people not running in Q3 because they will still want to save tyres.

    As for dropping the rule that forces teams to use both compounds, i dont agree. There isnt a hope in hell of anyone doing it any time soon. Forcing them to use both the prime and option mixes it up. Is it really that fun watching someone who is going backwards quicker than a HRT, e.g Kimi in China this year? Not really…..

    Thankfully these rules arent that important in the Pirelli times however in the BS times they were very important otherwise every driver would have 0 stopped almost every race because the tyres arent that good.

  7. Carlos Fonseca (@carloszfonseca) said on 16th June 2012, 5:56

    I can only partially agree with the writter. First of all, Schumi may be wrong in saying that tyre management is not an important part of F1 racing – it has indeed always been. But he has a good point in saying that nursing tyres should never be a key goal for F1 racers, after all tyres are there to provide drivers with the necessary conditions in order to run faster than anyone else, not to hinder their abilities to a lower level than what they can extract from their cars.

    Secondly, to praise the end of the so called “tyre war” is wrong. Just because 2002 produced a run of wins to Ferrari and Schumi, it does not mean that Michelin was smiling about that, so much so that already in 2003 they were fighting Bridgestone’s with much more “punch”, and that trend continued till they practically forced Bridgestone out, becoming a better rubber than their competitors. I still remember that at some point prior to 2005 Schumi himself said publicly that if Bridgestone did not improve to be at the same level of Michelins, than it would be better to switch tyre makers sooner than later.

    In-race refuelling is also criticized in the article (which is something that I agree with banning) but I feel that the reasoning for the criticism is completely off the mark. It is just plain wrong to claim that it followed other series like Indy for instance, and if you compare the level of jeopardy that having to refuel caused to racers in those years with the jeopardy that Pirelli’s tyres are causing now, you can clearly see that it was far better to force refuelling than to have all the teams suffering just because they cannot figure out how the current tyres will behave during the race. This same thinking is valid for the replacement of grooved tyres for the new slicks, I really would prefer to see grooves still in place than watch Alonso helpless with only 6 laps to go in Canada because of a stupid strategy call.

    Nevertheless, I reckon that racing is far more exciting now than it was ten years ago. The only disagreement that I have with the article is the fact that not only he attempted to misguide the readers with garbage reasoning, but also he seemed to elect a far simpler way of artificially affecting race results (through the Pirelli rubber) compared to the unpredictability that we use to get with refuelling, grooved tyres, multi-brand rubber, and especially the fact that drivers were able to go “up to the limits” with the prior set of regulations.

    All of his other points are agreeable to me.

  8. Juan Pablo Lewin said on 2nd April 2013, 13:13

    My opinion:

    - Mandatory use of qualyfying tyres for top ten: OUT
    - Mandatory use of two compunds: OUT
    - DRS: OUT (fake overtaking)
    - Re-fuelling IN: More strategic options, and who doesn’t miss those backmarkers on pole just for the TV show :-)

    JP

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