MONACO, May 23, 2013 (AFP) - The Formula One circus descends on Monaco for this weekend's showpiece Grand Prix with tensions running high over tyres and Bernie Ecclestone telling drivers to stop complaining and use their brains to win races.
After a week of squabbling between the teams and tyre supplier Pirelli over the performance of the Italian company's high-degradation tyres, Formula One's veteran commercial rights holder waded in to the debate.
He said: "The easiest thing for Pirelli would be to produce tyres that you put on at the first race of the season and take off at the last. That would be easy, easy.
"I asked Pirelli to make tyres that would not complete 50 per cent of a race -- and that's what they did.
"In the times when Niki Lauda was racing his biggest concern was looking after the gearbox and the brakes -- not the tyres.
"Then we got away from that and the drivers didn't have to think about anything. Now they have to use their brains and start thinking about how to win races again."
Champions Red Bull and struggling McLaren have both called for Pirelli to revise their fast-wearing rubber compounds while Ferrari and Lotus have expressed their satisfaction with leaving things as they are.
Pirelli said they will introduce revised tyres from next month's Canadian Grand Prix, a measure that the sport's ruling body -- the International Motoring Federation (FIA) -- has stressed can only be undertaken for safety reasons.
Ecclestone's comments will add spice to an already hotly-contested scrap for this year's world championship in which defending triple world champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull leads with 89 points ahead of nearest rival Kimi
Raikkonen of Lotus on 85. Two-time champion Fernando Alonso of Ferrari, winner on home soil two weeks ago, is third with 72.
This Sunday's famous race is not only a famous 'blue riband' event in world motor racing, but also an anachronism as the high-tech F1 cars fight on the tight and twisting streets of the Mediterranean principality on a circuit that could not be considered for such hosting duty in the modern age.
But such is the commercial value of the event to the F1 circus, the organisers, the media, the teams and the sport's sponsors with their visiting celebrities that it is arguably the most important of all, even if there is precious little true racing.
The sinuous and narrow circuit may produce the slowest average speed of all, but it remains a fascinating challenge for the drivers, knowing that one mistake and they will hit the unforgiving steel barriers and, almost certainly, be removed from the fray.
For that reason, the teams will use their highest down-force aero configurations and Pirelli, already under fire, will supply their softest
possible tyres to maximise mechanical grip on an often slippery surface.
After their triumphs with Mark Webber in 2010 and 2012 plus Vettel in 2011, the Red Bull team are chasing to make it four in a row, but they will have to improve their qualifying form on a track where eight of the last 10 races have been won from pole position.
That means that in-form qualifying team Mercedes could be hard to beat if they add another pole to their recent hat-trick thanks to Lewis Hamilton in China and Nico Rosberg in Bahrain and Spain.
Since both drivers, like many others, also live in the Mediterranean principality they will be fully committed to grabbing home glory with a
glittering triumph in the calendar's glitziest race.