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Are The Regulations – Not The Tyres To Blame?

Once again, tyres are the center of the discussion with teams and drivers looking for solutions.
Thursday, April 4, 2013

April, 4th, 2013 (F1plus/J. Parker).- Oh Pirelli, Pirelli Pirelli! They have come in for some criticism already in 2013. Upon request from our dear old Bernie, the new compounds are softer, faster, but degrade at a rapidly higher rate, taking the 2012 scenario to a much greater degree almost – for some fans this is a complete travesty.

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Now let’s be honest, trying to please everyone in Formula 1 is essentially a useless task, and when it comes to something as influential as the tyres, there will always be disagreements – it is just the nature of the beast so to speak. But is there room for improvements? Can it be that the tyres are actually creating a very good spectacle, but it is infact the regulations on tyre usage/compounds that are spoiling the show?

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It is an interesting thought isn’t it? Something I have been trying to get my head around these past couple of days and thought deserved an article to explore. Whether or not the majority of you guys agree with me is another matter entirely, but that’s why I thought I would share my thought process with you.

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Now for 2013, I like the path Pirelli have taken with the compounds, even if their hands are tied somewhat to the requests of a certain eccentric billionaire. They are upwards of a second faster than a comparable compound of the previous season, yet do in essence last a respectable amount of laps during a stint creating an element of driver conservation which is needed.

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Now the reason we saw such sporadic results in Australia, in my opinion was not down to Pirelli. Potentially yes, the Super Soft tyre for that weekend might have been a bit ambitious, but it was an unpredictable series of events which led to the compound only surviving upwards of 5-10 laps. The air temperature was incredibly cold, the surface was hugely abrasive, and with essentially a green track from the mixed conditions, it led to a “unique” situation.

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For Malaysia, the Medium and hard compounds in my opinion were a rather tentative approach given the previous Grand Prix, however did not pose too many drivers problems. Lewis Hamilton’s issues late on were purely fuel related and the difference between the two compounds was a predictable 0.5 seconds. Drivers, I feel now have managed to adapt their driving styles brilliantly in regards to looking after the fragile Pirelli tyres, with not one on the current grid (bar perhaps Sutil) having major issues due to their own input.

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But this is where my gripes do start to come in, and it all stems down to artificial factors purposely becoming detrimental to a drivers race. Take Qualifying 3 for instance, a driver on a Saturday afternoon works his socks off to get into the top 10 shootout, then sets a competitive lap time, to line up say P9 on the softer compound tyre. However due to him having to start the race on the tyres he qualified on (scrubbed softer compound) he inadvertently has penalised himself for the entire first stint of the Grand Prix, leaving him open for attack from the guys which have started on fresh rubber P11 onwards.

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Of course, we are all more than aware of this issue, and the current flaws in the regulations when it comes to tyre usage, have only enhanced the effects the Pirelli tyres have on Qualifying/Race day – creating a blurry picture somewhat.

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Vettel's tyre at the end of the 2013 Malaysian GP. (getty)

Initially the rule stating you must start the race on the compound you qualify on was brought in by the FIA to encourage strategy fluctuations. The thinking was that certain drivers would opt to start a race on the harder compound tyre, sacrificing Qualifying somewhat for better race pace. However when we look to 2013, the field is so competitive that all drivers in Q3 look to set a fast lap time using the softer compound tyre, meaning the regulation in essence does not have any clout.

The knock on effect of this is purely detrimental, where drivers further down the top 10 face a big penalty in regards to pace during the initial stint – why should a driver’s hard work on a Saturday be undone by an artificial, yet required ruling?

This of course brings me nicely on to the whole subject of the compulsory tyre compounds being used in the race. Now I am sure I will get people disagreeing with me on this subject, however I cannot see the reasoning behind drivers having to use both Pirelli compounds in the race – if they feel it is going to be detrimental to them. Whilst one can argue that it is the same set of cards dealt to everyone, it has certainly, unfairly in my opinion penalised drivers before who have not put a foot wrong the entire race. The starkest proof of this was Adrian Sutil in Melbourne, who had ran a superb race to 5th before his final pitstop on the medium compound tyres.

Of course the compulsory two compound rule meant that the Force India driver had to come in for his final stop and bolt on a set of the Super Soft tyres. With the team slightly underestimating the rate of wear on the compound, the tyres only lasted 5 laps and therefore Sutil lost two positions to both Hamilton and Webber late on in the Grand Prix, he was left to lick his wounds through no fault of his own.

The Solution?

I really am sticking my neck out on the line here, and do expect some mixed views, as stated above, when it comes to something as influential as tyre compound allocation you simply cannot please everyone.

Qualifying

Qualifying is an interesting matter, and one which I think needs a simple fix. The teams are still given their allocation of 6 sets of compounds to use through a Grand Prix weekend, however come Q3 an extra two sets of the softer compound tyre (whatever that might be during the weekend) is allocated to the top 10 to do 2 runs in the 10 minutes. This therefore eliminates the worry of drivers not participating in Q3 and gives the opportunity for all of them to set a competitive laptime.

The twist then lies once the grid has been established, as the top 10 will get free reign from the 6 compounds they are initially allocated at the start of the weekend to choose to start the race from, identical to that of P11 onwards further down the grid. This not only stops drivers having an artificial penalty for reaching Q3, but also means all drivers are free to set a competitive lap time – creating a better spectacle for the fans.

The Race

Getting ready at the grid.

Pirelli have recently come under fire from both RedBull and Mercedes that potentially their team orders in Malaysia stemmed through a worry regarding the tyres. Whilst with Mercedes that is simply not the case, you could argue that RedBull did not want to risk the tyres late on in the race with a team-mate battle. Whilst potentially that situation could not be avoided, the mandatory tyre change and two compound rule does not help matters when it comes to strategy options.

Rather than focus on producing a strategy which could reap huge rewards through being adventurous , teams are forced to worry about squeezing in both tyre compounds during the Grand Prix alongside covering what everyone else is doing up and down the Pitlane. This produces a negative and predictable Grand Prix in many respects, as we all know which tyre compounds teams will choose and when, in the race (depending on what compound is the fastest degrading over the course of the weekend).

By opening up the tyre regulations during a Grand Prix, we would naturally see strategies open up as different tyre compounds suit different drivers and cars individually. At the moment, drivers are forced to use both compounds during a race whether they want to or not, which in my view has become detrimental and led to criticism coming in for the Pirelli tyres, which is I feel unjust.

What It Means

The Pirelli tyres have allowed drivers to produce some magnificent wheel to wheel racing, alongside some scintillating Grand Prix’s. Drivers are forced to conserve their rubber on occasion, but that should be part of an F1 drivers skill set in my opinion. Of course there will always be optimum compounds, and in the past it has been drivers being forced on to the unfavoured compound in a Grand Prix which has led to such dramatic tyre wear and therefore the negative criticism.

Yes there is always room for improvement with tyres, and potentially a slightly less aggressive compound from Pirelli would create a better spectacle on some occasions, with drivers less worried about having to push at only 80% the entire Grand Prix. After all drivers should be rewarded with tyre conservation and still have a tyre left towards the end of a race to push and lean on.

But where the current significant flaws lie is in the regulations, well that is my belief anyway. They are artificially handicapping drivers that are doing well on a Saturday afternoon in Qualifying, and again during a race when both compounds need to be used. It leads to results that potentially do not reflect the true performances of each driver (as see in Melbourne 2013 with Sutil) and therefore I feel they are unnecessary.

But of course, this is a subject that can rage on for months with differing points of view; this is simply one solution – what is your view?

Your Comments

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