Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Formula 1 tyres 2013 - Love 'em or hate 'em? - Views up and down the paddock.

Gary Anderson
Pirelli re-entered Formula 1 in 2011 after the sole tyre supplier Bridgestone pulled out of the sport in 2010. The brief given to Pirelli was to make the tyres less durable to ensure more pitstops during a race, and to make the racing more unpredictable. The compounds have gotten softer every year since 2011 and 2012 saw seven different winners in the first seven races.

We are now in 2013 and the compounds have been made softer yet again, with higher degradation and we have had three different winners at the first three races of the year. We have had a minimum of 2 pitstops per race per car, and China saw a majority of the drivers on a three stop strategy. Completing the race on one pitstop is virtually impossible now. We did not know if Vettel was going to overtake Hamilton or not up until they crossed the finishing line. Aren't Pirelli delivering on exactly what they were asked to do? Have they maybe gone a little too far this year?

After China, Pirelli's motorsport director Paul Hembery said: “It was degradation, rather than actual wear, that dictated the strategy but we still saw consistent lap times from the medium compound, even on a long run of 15 laps or more. 

Christian Horner
"Once more we saw a very wide variety of race strategies, with Button and Vettel opting to run on the soft tyres at the end. This gave us a thrilling finish, with a battle for the final podium place between Hamilton and Vettel that went all the way to the chequered flag.”

Many team bosses have been very critical of this years tyres and as can be expected it is the teams that are suffering the most with these tyres that are making the most noise. Red Bull, Mercedes and McLaren seem to be losing more than Ferrari and Lotus. Ferrari and Lotus are of the view that all teams have the same tyres and the challenge is to make them work while going the quickest you possibly can.

Christian Horner, boss at Red bull said, “I don’t think it’s great for all the drivers to be cruising around at 70 percent for large percentages of the race. They want to push and drive as hard as they can. They don’t want to drive percentages. Pirelli are a very capable company and I’m sure they’ll get that resolved hopefully quickly

“The tyres are the dominating factor at the moment,” said Horner. "We are seeing that qualifying is paying less of a premium than trying to preserve the tyres…a quick car abuses the tyre more, and the tyres can’t cope with that. So obviously we have to adapt our approach and set up and the way that we operate the car to ensure we get more out of the tyres.”

Before the race in China, Red Bull’s Mark Webber, who started from the pit lane and failed to finish the race, said: “It will all look good in the first five or six laps, having everyone fighting, but it’s a little bit WWF at the moment. Whatever fuel load you have got in the car, if you race people, you are in trouble. So just don’t race, put the tyre on and just try and get home.”

Speaking about the soft tyres ahead of the race, Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg said: “With those tyres it is more of a question of how many corners you are going to get to, rather than laps!”

Meanwhile Mercedes non-executive chairman Niki Lauda told the APA news agency: “You have to wonder if it’s necessary for the tyres to be so on the limit, when everyone has to go in the box just after starting a race. It’s so complicated, especially for the spectators.”
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh, who had quite a frustrating race in China, saw his driver Button forced to let drivers through rather than defend his position in China so that he could make their strategy work, said: “It’s quite excruciating, trying to save tyres non-stop from start to finish. It seems to go on forever. It feels painful, and however bad it is for me, it must be a lot worse if you have to drive like that.”
Martin Whitmarsh

"I prefer it when Formula One is a sprint from stop to stop. I’d much rather, from a personal perspective, where you have tyres and you pull out and go for it flat out. Then, when they are worn out, you jump on another set and go flat out. I hate it when my drivers are out there and you know they are driving at nine tenths. But my job and the team’s job is to maximise the opportunity of scoring points and that’s why we did it. I would like more durable tyres that we can absolutely attack on flat out.” ,he added.

Button, who led the race momentarily before going on to finish fifth, added: “It was quite a strange race: there was no point fighting because that was the quickest way to the end. One lock-up, one trip over the marbles and the tyres would have been gone so our strategy wouldn’t have worked and it was a very tight strategy.

“It was so difficult, I would radio in and say ‘Can I fight them?’ They’d come back and say ‘Yes, fight, fight!’ And then ten seconds later ‘No, you need to look after the tyres and get to our target lap.’ You don’t want to look like you’re not fighting but for us the best thing to do was to have clean air and not destroy the tyres. It’s not the most exciting way to go racing but we got 10 points because we did that.”

Former Williams, McLaren and Red Bull driver and BBC commentator David Coulthard said: “I’m reluctant to end up being the guy who says: ‘Shut up and get on with it.’ But it’s difficult for me to understand why tyres are supposed to be a more fundamental part of the overall success of a team than they were before.”

On another note are Lotus and Ferrari who do not have too much of a problem with this year's Pirelli's. They are from a school of thought that everyone have the same tyres to deal with and the challenge is to make the most of it and come out on top at the end of each race.

Lotus technical director James Allison had earlier said, “Certain teams are keen for a switch back to last year’s rubber but teams will always push for what’s in their best interest. We feel the current tyres make for entertaining racing, but then we would say that as our car tends to prosper when the tyres are tender.

Kimi Raikkonen won in Melbourne and finished second in China, so Allison said Lotus obviously wants the status quo to remain.

“I think you can push on these tyres, but it’s never perfect,” said Kimi. “You cannot always push 100%.”

“I think they are very good in qualifying and have good grip, so it’s up to you and you have to look after them a bit more in the race.”

“It’s not really any different from last year – at least for us anyway – so I don’t really understand why people are complaining.”

Before getting to China, Ferrari principal Stefano Domenicali was quoted as saying: “Pirelli cannot change something without the agreement of the teams unless there is an imminent safety risk. It makes no sense to panic after two races,”

While Fernando Alonso stormed to his first victory of the season, Felipe Massa struggled with graining and only finished sixth: “I had amazing graining on the front tyres and after that I was just getting slower and slower because the graining was increasing at the front,” he said. “In the second stint I started to have a lot of graining and I was a bit scared it was too much.”

Former team boss and BBC expert Eddie Jordan is supportive of the new range of Pirelli tyres. “What Pirelli have served up is unpredictability and unpredictability gives excitement – and that’s what we got in China,” he said. “I didn’t know for sure whether Vettel could pass Hamilton or not. The intrigue went right through the race and that’s what we want.”

Former Jordan Technical Director Gary Anderson agreed, “In terms of the tyres themselves, I think they make teams think harder,” he told the BBC. “Some make it work and some don’t. There’s nothing wrong with that. You have to drive the car within its limits and the tyres are part of the car. If Pirelli had gone to China with the medium tyre and the hard rather than the medium and soft, the most critical tyre would have done 25 laps. So it would have been a one-stop race. Is that what people want?”

Olivier Panis pointed out the safety concern that came to light in China with Jenson Button. “Now it is a safety problem. We saw Button’s tyre burst because of a flat spot, but it’s important not to have failures like this when you are going 300. That’s what scares me; the safety. There is degradation and yes it’s the same for everyone but we have to be careful it does not go too far,” Panis told RMC Sport.

Pirelli has decided to rethink their compounds on offer for Bahrain after seeing the levels of degradation on the soft compound and after the issue of safety came up after China, Pirelli are seriously considering changing the compounds for the 2013 Formula 1 championship. What do you think of the 2013 rubber?

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