Wednesday, 3 July 2013

F1: This Tyre Issue is becoming tyresome...

Unfortunately the talking point of the 2013 FIA Formula One World Championship has not been about one driver or one team dominating the season so far. Nor has it been about a car dominating the season because of some new technical innovation that has led to a new team challenging the established order...

This season, the talking point is tyres...

However if Adrian Newey keeps designing Red Bulls for Sebastian Vettel the way he is, the racing being boring will be the next talking point...

Back in 2011, Pirelli took over from Bridgestone as tyre supplier to Formula One. The FIA gave Pirelli a mandate. Make the racing exciting again using the 2010 Canadian Grand Prix as an example.
Now in 2013 that mandate has been tested and pushed all through the season so far and the performance of the tyres has been under close scrutiny. A lot of expectation and hype was made of the four pre season tests. So much in fact that the focus was more on how soon the tyres would hit the "cliff" (the point at which the tyres lose all grip) than on what cars were developed as an evolution from last season.

Now to give some perspective, when I grew up in the 1980's watching F1 tyres were only changed once during the race and that was only if they weren't durable to last the race distance or there was the fear of a puncture. The other defining reason was if the weather conditions changed and the race became a wet race.

Now during the decades, pit stops and tyre strategy became more and more important to taking race wins and this was decided more and more by the type of track surface they raced on or the conditions they raced in. Some track would give little grip and demand high tyre wear whilst other tracks would give lots of grip and demand lower tyre wear.

In 1994 refuelling was re-introduced into F1 and this added further into the equation of tyres and tyre wear due to the fact that a car would start with a heavy fuel load and finish its stint with a lighter fuel load affecting tyre performance. However this would often be confusing as lighter cars had better tyre wear and were faster but with no one knowing exact fuel loads in the cars during the race this didn't give a clear picture.

In 2007 Bridgestone became the sole tyre supplier in F1 and the tactic of using two different compounds during a race was introduced. This stopped competitors using one type of tyre compound in a race different to the others as was employed back in the 1980's when Goodyear supplied compounds named A, B, C and D with each compound being softer than the last. This way using two different compounds during a race meant a compromise on car setup to stay fast with varying levels of grip.

However the racing became boring with little overtaking and certain teams dominating proceedings. So after the introduction of DRS and KERS, the only option left was to use tyres to spice up the show.

Well this year Pirelli has done that...with all the wrong results...

The main issue has been that drivers have wanted to push on their tyres in the race to chase down drivers ahead and pass them. Now this only works when a driver has tyres that give up grip, regardless of whether you have a super-soft, soft, medium or hard compound on the car and regardless of whether that tyre last 10 laps or 40 laps...

But when you have a driver being told in one team "Go Faster" and that driver moaning back "This is as fast as I can go" yet in another team a driver is being told "Slow down, your tyres are critical!"...

Now this defeats the object of drivers getting in their cars on a Sunday lunchtime and racing as hard as they can!!

Whats also happened this season a lot is tyre delaminations. Now up until the British Grand Prix most of these had taken place during friday practice sessions. But last Sunday, 4 drivers suffered tyre delaminations during the race. Hamilton and Massa's tyres let go on or before the Wellington Straight whilst Vergne and Perez's tyre let go on the Hangar Straight at 190mph on the run into Stowe corner.

Now most experts have already split their view as to whether the kerbs at the circuit were responsible or the build structure of the tyre was responsible.

Before I go on I want to make it clear these are my own opinions and thoughts in this blog post.

Previous tyre failures during the season have shown a kevlar belt running under the tyre and with the failures that Hamilton, Ricciardo and Di Resta in practice sessions when the tyre has failed at speed. At Silverstone that kevlar belt was nowhere to be seen with the carcass of the tyre letting go and leaving the car at high speed in four cases.

So somewhere between the Spanish Grand Prix and the British Grand Prix, Pirelli have changed the build of the tyres. Now there was the issue raised of a radical change in the tyres to stop the massive degradation during a race, however Lotus, Ferrari and Force India disagreed with this when the teams were asked for their permission dor this to take place.

Now since that decision was made, the FIA have stepped in and demanded that any changes to the tyres are on safety grounds only...

Well, after the tyre failures at the British Grand Prix, I'd say there are some bloody serious safety concerns!!!

I started writing this blog a few days ago after the race and the situation has since escalated with Pirelli bringing 2012 tyres built to the 2013 process to the Hungarian Grand Prix and the 3 day young driver test is now a fully fledged tyre test for 3 days with the race drivers taking part. There is also the threat of the boycott from the drivers should any similar failures happen in the German Grand Prix.

Now I've read on Twitter and Facebook from other fans that F1 should start using tyres of a similar spec to those used in the FIA World Endurance Championship and at Le Mans. Now those races are 6 hours in duration or 1000kms in length dependent on which comes first.

If thats the next step, then you may as well turn back the clock to 2005 where tyres were made to last for a full race distance of over 200kms which is great until a tyre gives way near the end of the race and cars dont stop unless a tyre lets go. The pitstops were boring unless they stopped for fuel.

Otherwise you had "a garage of 20 men" waiting at each stop.

A great quote from Martin Brundle.

What I suggest is tyres that are durable for 40 laps. Let the drivers push hard on tyres that have plenty of life in them and allow them to chase the driver ahead and fight for position. Let them push hard in the lead and have the fastest cars fight for the win and the podium positions.

After all, thats what F1 is about. The fastest 22 drivers in the world fighting for the world title in the fastest cars.

Anyway lets hope this issue is sorted soon and we can talk about the racing again...

Enjoy the weekend!!



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