Throughout recent years in Formula 1, tyres have become an imperative factor to a driver and teams’ success in the sport. Gone are the days where tyre suppliers simply supplied the rubber, and the drivers then pushed for 90% of the race as they strove for greatness. Now a driver is lucky if he can push for 10% of the race, with the rest spent conserving his tyres.
Since Pirelli took over the job of Formula 1’s sole tyre supplier from Japanese company Bridgestone in 2011, the word “tyres” has been used almost as much as the word “qualifying” or “race”. Particularly from 2012 onwards, Pirelli’s tyre range began to cause much confusion within the world of Formula 1. In a bid to spice up the action after Sebastian Vettel’s Championship dominance in 2011, Pirelli constructed tyres that were purely designed to wear quicker and present the teams’ and drivers’ with the conundrum of making the tyres last throughout a Grand Prix with their limit throughout a race weekend.
Admittedly this caused a rather exciting and unpredictable start to the 2012 season, with seven different winners out of the first seven races including the likes of Pastor Maldonado and Nico Rosberg. However, many throughout the paddock including seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher were bluntly negative towards the tyre supplier, stating that the tyres made Formula 1 like racing on “raw eggs” as the drivers’ failed to push to their limits in a bid to conserve their tyres.
In my opinion, this conundrum with Pirelli’s tyres highlights the curse of modern Formula 1. I myself am stuck between a rock and a hard place, with the tyres clearly creating excitement throughout a race weekend, yet clearly preventing the kind of racing you expect. Take qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix last weekend for instance, where no driver took to the track at the start of Q1 for over five minutes. This was reminiscent of the old days of one-hour qualifying back in the 1990s when you had to wait five or ten minutes before a Minardi or Forti would eventually venture onto the track to clear the rubbish off of the racing line.
Nowadays it’s purely for tyre conservation reasons, as the majority of the grid do not want to use up any more sets of tyres than required to qualify for the race. Some drivers blatantly don’t see pole position as the goal anymore, with some during qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix deciding not to set a timed lap in Q3. This allowed them to start the race on the tyre compound of their choice, namely the medium tyre, as the soft tyre in question simply shredded itself after only a handful of laps.
This is surely a curse to Formula 1, as it’s no question that the race was going to be an intriguing and exciting spectacle. However, the qualifying session was a complete contradiction, as the drivers were forced to either eat up their valuable tyres and qualify well or hardly run at all and save the tyres for the race. Now surely the easiest remedy to this ongoing curse is for Pirelli to supply the sport with qualifying-spec tyres, which would enable the drivers to shred tyres in a bid to secure pole [therefore fulfilling to whole meaning of qualifying by allowing us to see who is fastest] before being forced to utilize the two compounds for the race.
Yes, the use of strategy and tactics during qualifying has been a part of Formula 1 and motor sport as a whole for decades. Beforehand it used to be fuel loads which dictated the qualifying order, with some drivers opting for a low fuel load and therefore qualifying better than their Championship rival who elected for the high fuel setup. However, this particular art was abolished when re-fueling during the race was stopped in 2010. This initially saw very little pit stops during the race, before Pirelli’s troublesome tyres brought back the necessity for more pit stops during the race. At the Australian Grand Prix in 2010, only a combined 28 pit stops were carried out during the race in comparison to 53 during this year’s race.
Irregardless of whether the fans like or dislike the new face of Formula 1, the negativity surrounding the tyres has increased immensely with Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton in particular slamming Pirelli’s choice of tyres for the Chinese Grand Prix. Whereas Mark Webber has now likened Formula 1 to WWE [World Wrestling Entertainment Series], Lewis Hamilton simply believes Pirelli brought the wrong tyres to the event. However, last year Pirelli brought the same compounds to the Shanghai International Circuit, showcasing the higher amount of tyre wear this year.
“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.” Explained Mark Webber after qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix. “Sutil tried that [racing] in Melbourne and Pirelli said that there were indications that the race fell apart for him because he tried to race people. 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.”
This comment alone highlights to severity of the direction in which Formula 1 is heading, with the majority of the drivers in unanimous agreement that Pirelli’s tyres simply begin to degrade too easily this season. Tyre wear is always an enjoyable factor in Formula 1, however the rate in which this year’s P Zero tyres wear out is simply detracting from the racing spectacle of Formula 1, and is now regarded as the curse of modern Formula 1.
Picture Copyright © Pirelli