I think it’s a bit of a sweeping statement to say that the tyres are “unquestionably” the biggest influence on racing this year. In fact, I’d definitely question it.
For a start, Monaca is a good comparison, since the super soft tyre was the same tyre they used last year. A tyre which last year nobody had any issues with. It’s also worth looking at the qualifying times and race durations for the races this year compared to previous years, where you will notice something interesting – that the pole times are broadly similar, and the race durations are also about the same. Meaning that the pace of these tyres is not as compromised as people are making out. At most, it’s a case of a few seconds over the duration of the race. Hardly the two or three seconds a lap people are suggesting. In fact, when you think about it, most people managed a one stop strategy in Monaco on the super soft, while the car is at its heaviest. A set of tyres which can do that, is a durable set of tyres, especially when the pace is good, which it was.
No, I would suggest that actually the biggest influence on racing this year, has actually been the banning of blown diffusers. This has had the effect of significantly closing the gap between the teams. There is a situation now where being half a second off the pace in qualifying may put you out in Q2. The result being that qualifying is now far more dependent on individual performance, which has mixed up the grid significantly. It has also put more pressure on those at the front to maintain their lead, and to maximise strategy, leading to some interesting blunders from teams and drivers, where in the past the leading teams could generally play to whatever strategy they chose and still comfortably win or at least get on the podium. Even the slowest cars are finishing just one lap down by the end of the race, which is practically unheard of.
As well as closing the pack, banning the blown diffusor has also had the effect of significantly reducing the cars’ stability mid-corner, which means that the cars are now more prone to generating higher slip angles and wheelspin; two things which are guaranteed to significantly reduce the life span of your tyres. Again, this doesn’t point to a problem with the tyres, it points to the banning of the blown diffuser as being the culprit for higher levels of tyre degredation as the drivers struggle to find the best balance to extract the maximum performance.
There is clearly a reason why the drivers don’t feel like they’re driving to the limit, but the times being set in the race don’t seem to suggest that they’re really that far off. It seems to me that with the banning of the diffuser, the pace has naturally dropped off a little, and the characteristics of the cars have fundamentally changed. In such a way, that the car feels to the driver like it has a potential which is significantly higher than the race pace, however if the driver actually tries to achieve this potential, they simply over-drive the car and damage the tyres while not gaining any performance advantage. I’m sure it must be frustrating having to hold off the throttle that little bit longer in the corner, and being unable to attack the corners like they could last year, however these changes aren’t because of the tyres, but rather because the cars have a fundamentally different balance this year caused by the banning of blown diffusors.
To compound the problem, where in previous years the teams would have used ballast to help bring some balance back to the cars, the weight ratios of the cars are set and can’t be altered, meaning that this characteristic is pretty much fixed for now. The best thing the drivers can do is stop moaning about tyres, and acknowledge that the best way for them to win races is to learn to drive their slightly unbalanced cars, and hope that the engineers can come up with something a little bit more driveable next year.