Bungling the tyre row will give F1 a tainted title fight

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Vitaly Petrov, Renault, Istanbul, 2011Last week’s Spanish Grand Prix was the 44th race since Formula One switched tyre suppliers to Pirelli. That marked the start of the era of ‘designed to degrade’ tyres which has shaped the race ever since.

The brief given to Pirelli was strongly influenced by what the sport had seen the year before. With refuelling banned the number of pit stops per race in 2010 had fallen to one at almost every round.

But Canada was a significant exception: most drivers make two pit stops and some had to make three. Pirelli were instructed to design their tyres recreate the unpredictability seen in that race.

The opening races of 2011 ran according to plan. But concerns arose that the tyres would prove too fragile at the more punishing Istanbul and Circuit de Catalunya tracks. Pirelli used the practice sessions for the Turkish race to evaluate a new, harder compound, and duly introduced it at the next race in Spain.

Harder tyres were also provided for testing at the British Grand Prix last year. Pirelli’s stated objective of having two to three pit stops per driver in each race, and revising compounds towards that aim when necessary has been well established. Only in recent weeks has it been allowed to become a serious bone of contention between the teams.

Fernando Alonso’s win on Sunday was the first by a driver this year using a four-stop strategy in a fully dry race. After the race Pirelli did not hesitate to acknowledge that changes were needed to prevent it happening again.

“Our aim is to have between two and three stops at every race, so it?s clear that four is too many,” said motorsport director Paul Hembery, adding: “We?ll be looking to make some changes, in time for Silverstone, to make sure that we maintain our target and solve any issues rapidly.”

This was a reasonable response along well-established lines. If only the reaction had stopped there.

But after spending almost an hour in conversation with Bernie Ecclestone in the Barcelona paddock, Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz told the media that F1 “has nothing to do with racing anymore – this is a competition in tyre management”.

This was retreading a well-worn area of complaint for Red Bull in the season so far. Although the team and one of its drivers are leading the two championships, they believe the aggressive nature of the current tyres is keeping them from exploiting the true potential of their RB9.

Bernie Ecclestone, Paul Hembery, Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona,Ecclestone sided with Mateschitz, telling the Daily Express: “The tyres are wrong, not what we intended when we asked Pirelli to produce something which did a half race.”

Predictably, soon after Ecclestone voiced his frustration a further press release from Pirelli appeared stating the planned changes to the tyres would be brought forward by one race to the Canadian Grand Prix. Hembery described the scope of the changes as being to reduce the number of pit stops – as was previously announced – and to combat the spate of tyre delaminations seen at recent races.

It does not require an excess of cynicism to link Mateschitz’s complaint, Ecclestone’s reaction and Pirelli’s decision to revise their plans. And this is where the problems begin, because now the revisions to the tyres can justifiably be seen as Pirelli not merely sticking to the ‘no more than three stops per race’ plan, but F1′s official tyre manufacturer being leant on to help F1′s top team.

It drew a predictably aggrieved response from Red Bull’s rivals. Lotus team principal Eric Boullier not unreasonably pointed out that “there aren?t many sports where there are such fundamental changes to an essential ingredient part-way through a season”.

And the Horse Whisperer, the anonymous troll of the official Ferrari website, saw its first action of 2013. “These are difficult times for people with poor memories,” it opined, before going on to point out they had won a race using a four-stop strategy as long ago as 2004.

Those with even better memories would point out that Ferrari have no objection to the tyres being changed when it is being done to favour them, as happened at a critical point in the title fight ten years ago. The FIA’s abrupt decision to effectively ban the Michelin tyres of their rivals led to Ferrari and Bridgestone winning the next eight races in a row, and harpooned the contest for the 2003 championships.

Then as now, F1 teams will invariably use all available means to tilt the playing field in their favour. But the integrity of the championship is tainted the moment anyone in a position of power is seen to have responded to their pressure.

On that count F1 has failed in the past week. First Ecclestone weighed in on the side of Red Bull. Now the FIA has struck a blow for Ferrari and Lotus by decreeing Pirelli can only make its changes on safety grounds – to cure the delaminations – and not for performance reasons, despite having been content to let them do so since 2011.

On Jean Todt’s watch the FIA has tended to steer clear of F1 controversies. If its intervention in this debate has come because of Ferrari and Lotus’s complaints then Red Bull only have themselves to blame. How ironic it would be if Mateschitz’s complaints ultimately prevent a change in the tyres that was going to happen anyway and could have been beneficial to Red Bull.

Start, 2013 Spanish Grand Prix, Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona,And while Lotus’s Alan Permane obviously has a side to take in this, it’s hard to disagree with his view that recent history has shown the dangers of overreacting to high tyre degradation races early in the season:

“If you look back at the past couple of years since the start of the Pirelli era, the opening five races have historically featured higher levels of degradation than those seen during the rest of the season; with the exception perhaps of Suzuka.

“With that in mind, any alterations to the tyres should certainly be viewed with a degree of caution, as there is a real possibility that we could end up returning to one stop races; something that frequently occurred towards the end of 2012 as harder allocations were introduced. That?s surely something that nobody wants to see.

“Of course, it?s understandable that a repeat of the four stop scenario in Barcelona is not desirable, but along with Bahrain this represented perhaps the toughest challenge of the year. As we encounter circuits with lower demands on the rubber, and as teams start to get on top of this year’s compounds, I?m certain that we would have naturally seen fewer stops anyway.”

F1′s response to the Spanish Grand Prix has been knee-jerk and risks tainting the battle for championships. The sport would be better off pretending the last week of reaction and over-reaction hadn’t happened, and telling Pirelli to go back to the measured and reasonable response they came up with on Sunday evening.

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119 comments on Bungling the tyre row will give F1 a tainted title fight

  1. Dizzy said on 18th May 2013, 16:38

    The FIA’s abrupt decision to effectively ban the Michelin tyres of their rivals led to Ferrari and Bridgestone winning the next eight races in a row, and harpooned the contest for the 2003 championships.

    Small correction.

    The In 2003 the Michelin tyres were changed Before Monza, THere were only 3 races to go (Which Ferrari won) & not 8.

    Also worth pointing out that it wasn’t just the changes to the tyre’s that allowed Ferrari to win those 3 races.
    Ferrari traditionally went well at Monza at that time & it was a fairly close fight between Schumi & Montoya in the race, Pit Strategy & lapped traffic gained Schumi an advantage in that race.
    It rained at Indy & the Bridgestone intermediate tyres had always been a better tyre than the Michelin Inters or wets.
    At Suzuka temperatures were pretty cold & there was some light rain during the race, Again conditions that had always suited the Bridgestone.

    Must also be considered that a big part of Michelin’s Mid-season advantage (Especially in Hungary) came from a Summer long heatwave seen throughout Europe. The Michelin’s had always been exceptionally good tyres in very hot temperatures so that heatwave gave them a decent advantage.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 18th May 2013, 19:21

      Ferrari did win the next eight races after the Michelin rules change; I didn’t say anything about them all being in the same season.

      • anon said on 19th May 2013, 15:01

        Michelin were cheating. They got too greedy. They had a habit of pushing things to the limit with it coming to a heat at Indy 2005. Not to mention their cozy relationship with the Renault team.

        And the whole FIA favouring Ferrari conspiracy doesn’t make much sense. The FIA overhauled the rules after 2002 to stop Ferrari dominating again and then did the same after 2004 to disadvantage Ferrari.

        • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 19th May 2013, 15:38

          Not to mention their cosy relationship with the Renault team

          Is that supposed to be a bad thing? If so I don’t see how its relevant to the topic.

          Michelin were pushing the limits of the rules but not actually breaking them – until the FIA chose to change how they were enforced. I never said anything about it being a “conspiracy” but the effect it had on the end of the 2003 championship and on into 2004 speaks for itself.

          Which is exactly why F1 needs to tread carefully with decisions like this. It should not be seen to be favouring one team or, worse, actually favour one of them with a decision like this which could had be a profound effect on them championship.

          • anon said on 20th May 2013, 7:40

            No, they did break the rules. Pirelli isn’t actually breaking any rules in this instance. Michelin were.

  2. MNM101 (@mnm101) said on 18th May 2013, 16:56

    At this rate i won’t remember anything that happened in races this season, I’m just going to remember tyres tyres tyres, and that just ruins everything

  3. B@rney said on 18th May 2013, 17:15

    Every disinte-Pirelli season has been tainted, why should this one be any different?

    From 2011 on, drivers only ever have driven as fast as their race engineer will allow, stopping them just short of lapping too fast and stepping on their tyres SELF-DESTRUCT button. That’s not racing, that’s time trialing.

    No, other tyres were not this temperamental, not by half. All previous tyres could recover from a single overheating; the disinte-Pirellis are once and done. So drivers saunter gingerly around the circuit at eight or nine-tenths of their cars’ potential, fearful of treading too close to the “performance cliff” (I wonder if Pirelli have a patent on that device). That’s not racing, that’s tragic.

    And every time any driver or team official publicly speaks the truth of it, Paul Hembery pulls out his hyperbole cudgel and beats them over the head with accusations of wanting to return the sport days of “boring” (his term) processional racing.

    Red Bull complain the loudest but they also are among the most penalized by the tyres (face it, there’s no one on the radar who can build a faster car than Adrian Newey). If a man speaks a truth that is self-serving, does that make it any less true?

    • anon said on 19th May 2013, 15:03

      Red Bull is the third quickest car this year. Lotus will be disadvantaged by the change, but not Ferrari. They’ll maintain their speed advantage over Red Bull.

  4. Tayyib (@m0nzaman) said on 18th May 2013, 17:27

    What annoys me about the current tyres is the drivers drive to a lap time, I’m not saying that F1 has been completely flat out all the time, we have seen teams trying to manage situations in a Grand Prix. Another thing that really bugs me is that it seems that since 2011 the majority of the time were talking about tyres. Either eulogising them or criticising them. We hear on a Friday about tyre deg, we see Saturday with some teams not trying to set a flying lap and Sunday’s seeing some drivers asking if they want to race another driver.

    Although having said that it is unfair to change the construction of the tyre mid season when Lotus and Ferrari have managed to handle the tyres and now the teams that have struggled are being helped to get on more even terms in the race.

    Finally I’ll say this. Did F1 ever really need the Pirelli tyres? Go back to 2010 season and I still maintain to this day it was the best season I ever saw. Yeah we might not have gotten such unpredictibillty overall but we got a handful of brilliant Grand Prix. I dont understand why there seems to be an attitude amongs the media and the casual F1 fan that we need to get 20 or 19 amazing races. In the Premier League you get 6 or 7 brilliant matches out of 10 months of playing every weekend. In 2010 we saw a great Austraillian GP, a class Montreal race (and I dont think that was tyres as much Montreal is always a good race) a dramatic GP at Spa, high pressure and intensity at Monza between Alonso and JB, drama at Korea. Dont forget the dollops of controversy, Turkey, Silverstone and Hockenheim and unbelievable championship battle that went to the wire. The rules were mostly stable barring the double diffuser but only Brawn got it to work seriously well, it probably allowed Ferrari and McLaren to claw their way. Surely in rules is better than funky tyres or a rear wing flap.

  5. Max Jacobson (@vettel1) said on 18th May 2013, 17:28

    To be honest, I think the whole situation was blown way put of proportion because everybody assumed it was Pirelli bowing down to Red Bull despite the fact they acknowledged the problem themselves. I don’t see how the situation is much different from the previous years apart from the fact these tyres are actually worse, so a change is more necessary.

  6. 23kennyboy23 said on 18th May 2013, 18:13

    I’m amazed at the defence of the current situation. to have supposedly pirelli’s hardest tyres degrade that fast is crazy. I think the best approach would have just been to introduce harder ones of the same style but to leave the situation as it was would be nuts. Favouring the fans over principles is something I don’t have a problem with.

  7. liam (@) said on 18th May 2013, 18:27

    If I were Ferrari and Lotus I wouldn’t even bother showing up in Canada. See how that pans out, one across the bow Bernie. suck on that

    The Heart Attack inducing drink company shouldn’t be allowed to dictate nothing. Imagine Man Utd asking for a new referee at half time, do you think the opposing team would carry on the facade.

    Broke Bernie Out, Off to Jail you go, young blood

  8. HCA said on 18th May 2013, 18:29

    I think that Pirelli, The Teams & the FIA need to change the regulations regarding tyres.

    Instead of 4 compounds with Pirelli selecting 2, They should expand to 6 dry compounds ranging from Super-Soft to Super-Hard & let each team pick which 2 compounds they wish to run a week or 2 before each Gp. Also ditch the mandatory stop to run both compounds.

    I’d also ditch the ‘we want 2-3 stops’ talk. Just let teams run whatever strategy they wish, If a team wants to try a non-stop strategy they should have this option.

    Teams should not be backed into a corner on strategy based solely off what tyres Pirelli decide to use each race. They should be able to run there own strategy based solely off what they feel is the best tyre compounds for there package.

  9. Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 18th May 2013, 19:57

    I suspect that, once again, the reality of the situation lies somewhere between the two extremes. Teams will naturally push for whatever outcome they think is best for them, and as we have seen in the past, they are not afraid to exaggerate or embellish their problems if they think they can get an advantage out of it. I personally find the whole thing frustrating, and I think it’s a pretty sorry state of affairs when it is easier for teams to make progress by applying pressure to the FIA and Pirelli, than it is for them to make progress by actually doing the work that will bring about an improvement on the track.

    • Funkyf1 (@funkyf1) said on 19th May 2013, 6:57

      +1

      It’s a cop out, one that makes the sport, teams and manufactures look bad.

      • Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 19th May 2013, 11:14

        I’m not saying that Pirelli don’t have a case to answer for. I’d like them to make changes to the tyres, if only to shut everyone up about their durability for half an hour. But the problem is that when they start giving in to individual teams, it only enables those teams to throw their weight around and try to inflict more rule changes upon the sport. It was bad enough when Ferrari had their technical veto (which only really worked when it was secret), but I don’t want to see a sport where ten teams suffer simply because one is upset that their car isn’t as good as they expected.

  10. StefMeister (@stefmeister) said on 18th May 2013, 20:30

    Regardless of the rights or wrongs of it all, Im getting really tyred of hearing about tyres!

  11. maestrointhesky (@maestrointhesky) said on 18th May 2013, 20:39

    The fact that tyre management are dominating the discussion topics surely means that balance is totally wrong The problem is that the tyres can’t accept anywhere near 100% car performance for 1/3, or even 1/4 race distance, which should surely have been part of Pirelli’s remit.

    The problem is by rectifying the problem halfway thought the season inevitably results in farce so I agree that the minimum should be done so as not to disadvantage teams who have designed cars with current tyres in mind.

    After making some initial comments about the poor tyre performance, I’ve been a silent dissenter, begrudgingly watching from a afar now as people seemed to be blind to the fault. I actually feel that Bridgstone actually got closer to getting it right in their final year but in they left because people worked out how to make the tyres last an entire race distance and got criticised for the other extreme. There is a happy medium somewhere in the middle. We do not have it now. It won’t be fully redressed this year but hopefully the mistakes from this season won’t be repeated next year!

  12. Anele (@anele-mbethe) said on 18th May 2013, 20:45

    Weren’t the hard tyres used at the Spanish GP new? there wasnt any major reactions to that.

  13. andae23 (@andae23) said on 18th May 2013, 22:04

    Thanks for putting this into perspective Keith: this whole situation is so confusing. Pirelli is pretty much trapped in a corner: no one likes the tyres, but changing them causes even more outrage. This is definitely a scandal, and for some reason the FIA is being very quiet, which pretty much sums up Jean Todt’s reign so far.

  14. verstappen (@verstappen) said on 18th May 2013, 22:11

    Well played by mateschnitz!
    If Alonso becomes champion everybody will shout Ferrari International Assistance again.

  15. Melchior (@melchior) said on 18th May 2013, 23:56

    I agree with Mateschitz in that ” F1 has nothing to do with racing anymore – this is a competition in tyre management”.
    If drivers can’t push to the maximum the whole race,it ain’t racing!!
    In my opinion,3 Stops and more should be the exception and not the rule,and 2 stops the norm.
    And when teams can’t fully “Go for it” during quali because they have to conserve their stock of tyres,something needs be done.
    What’s the point of Q3 if some drivers only turn one lap and others don’t even put a lap on the board??
    Do i think that changes need to be made to the tyre compounds?Yes i do.
    In past seasons we have seen rule changes that have advantaged some teams and disadvantaged others,so why not now?

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