Most people are loving the races this tear so we are looking a bit like spoilt brats by daring to utter this, but that sneaky murmur of F1 fans and drivers alike is getting louder, criticizing Pirelli and the whole new rubber games they brought to Formula One since their 2011 comeback. Hembery seemingly got quite a bit of flack on the Sunday after the Bahrain race as he was on full defensive mode on twitter. That other comeback kid – Schumi even raced the ‘old spec’ Pirellis in his early days – was the first driver to really voice his discontent with the direction Pirelli tyres have taken F1 into after the Bahrain Grand Prix, complaining that F1 racing nowadays does not even come close to pushing to get the maximum out of a car: ‘I had to drive at a pace to manage the tyres to finish with tyres left over’ and the old fox does have a point.
After all, F1 is not an endurance racing event, we have tons of other great series for that. To me F1 is about building the fastest machine possible and gun it around the track as fast as you can get away with without crashing horribly. In more colorful terms, F1 is hanging your balls out of the cockpit stuff as I like to say. Michael also went on with a little rant on how different teams cope differently with these tyres but that is beside the point I wish to make today. David Coulthard’s commentary when discussing Rosberg’s driving in China during one of the onboard shots also stuck into my head. He was talking about how he had to be ever so gentle with the steering and slowly bringing in the throttle, to allow himself to keep hold of the tyres he was on. If it was down to me, I would prefer seeing a driver going balls out to try and build a lead, opposite lock and everything included like in the old days rather than see a guy managing his pace and tyres to ‘cruise’ to the win.
Since they came back Pirelli have done the sport a world of good. While 2010 saw an exciting title battle, it also gave us mostly very boring races. The Bridgestones, soft or hard, could easily last to do a one stopper at the majority of tracks, and genuine on track position changes were few and far between. We must not forget where we are coming from and why we are here today. I want to make clear from the get go that this post is not a rant about Pirelli. As Paul Hembery is saying, the company is just doing what was asked for them. Canada 2010 was the most fun race of the season because the tyres were degrading so quickly, and Pirelli stepped up to the huge task of providing tyres that would have similar performances at every race track. You cannot hold it against Pirelli, they are merely fulfilling a contract, and are doing so very well. However that does not mean we have to agree with what is written in the contract.
The problem of on track passing would have been mitigated in 2010 as well if we had DRS back then. There’d likely still be less passing than with today’s Pirellis, and much of the reduction would be in the passes now being recorded outside of the DRS zones so I am not saying this would have instantly made for great racing. DRS is not the most popular of measures and I am not a huge fan of it either, but as long as F1 does not shackle Newey and puts ever more severe restrictions on aero (yes I am on a crusade to make sure that when cohost Matt graduates, aero is banned in F1) the dirty air problem will persist and make it incredibly hard to pass a modern f1 car fair and square on the track without any ‘artificial’ aids, which the tyres are as well in a way.
I think the problem people are starting to have with Pirelli is that a good or bad weekend is starting to seem very much down to the luck of the draw whether the ambient temperatures suit your car on any given race weekend. We’ve had 4 different winners and many changing faces on the podium this year, and while we love the idea of such a tight grid, we have that niggling doubt that in fact it’s not really due to the car or drivers, but merely due to the team lucking into the right tyre temperatures for their cars. Nevertheless F1 teams have some of the smartest engineers in the world and they probably will get on top of these tyres in the end, so a lot of this argument may become moot by the time we’re halfway through the season.
There is the argument that F1 is and always has been an endurance race. Nowadays we are used to rock solid machinery with very little mechanical failures, but as little as 10 years ago mechanical retirements were rife, and drivers did have to manage perhaps not as much their tyres, but much more their engines, gearboxes, transmissions etc than current F1 drivers have to. A driver like Alain Prost is still today celebrated for his cold, calculating style and he was always a driver who only took what was needed out of the car, not the maximum of what it was capable of at any given time.
This is a fair point, however those constraints were more due to technical limitations and Prost’s own driving style rather than a philosophy enforced upon every team and driver on the grid by delivering them tyres which force a controlled driving style. Those who attack too hard get punished as they cannot make their tyres last the distance. The Senna-Prost battle is a case in point: the calculated driver and the attacking driver both had equal chances to win it and it produced the most epic rivalry in the history of the sport, the tools at their disposal did not limit them to one particular driving style as two different racing philosophies collided spectacularly. With the 2012 Pirellis, everybody has to drive like Alain Prost.
What I would like to see is a combination of keeping the great racing which Pirelli has given us, but add the opportunity for drivers to drive the way they want and Matt raised this very interesting suggestion in the podcast: why not keep the Pirelli philosophy of fast but quickly degrading tyres and bring back refueling? It would allow two different driving styles to go head to head while each driver can play to his own strengths. Take for example the modern day Prost-Senna battle (though with much less animosity between them) between Hamilton and Button. Adding refueling into the mix would allow Button to play his long game, nursing the Pirellis on a heavier fuel load so he can make 1 or more stops less than the competition, while a guy like Hamilton could go for lower fuel loads and attack during the whole Grand Prix. Of course the races do get pretty hectic already with the average 3 pitstop race nowadays, and some might argue refueling would make the racing too difficult too follow.
I do sympathize with that idea as the live timing cocked up during the Bahrain GP so it was the first time in a long while I followed a GP without it and it got really difficult to know what was going on beyond the top 5 – but that’s also just in part due to the poor coverage FOM provides with their feed. There is no reason to think anyone would make many more pitstops than what we are already used to because evidently on lower fuel levels the tyres would degrade less than they do nowadays at the start of a GP on full fuel loads, so we are in fact even likely to see less stops should F1 decide to bring back refueling on the 2012 spec Pirellis. It would also allow really clever strategists to get the upper hand on teams that have an inherently better car, and who doesn’t like some surprises like Perez and Rosberg’s recent successes?
Added to that the idea of bringing back quali tyres, floated by Paul Hembery himself on multiple occasions, we could truly make F1 that ultimate motorsport where finding the absolute limits of grip is key. However it seems some forces within the sport- likely those worried about F1s ‘green’ image – are not too keen on seeing this happen. From a pure racer’s point of view it would be incredible: to have just that one lap’s worth of extremely sticky rubber which would allow you to push the car the its very limit in a balls to the wall shootout with the best in F1. A lot of ink will be spilled and a lot of rubber burned, but F1 needs to keep looking for that perfect formula and I’m starting to think what we have now just isn’t it. Did BackmarkersF1 just find it? Judge for yourself in the comments below…