Alonso Wins Big In China, But It’s The Tires That Steal The Show!
“Do you like the old-style F1 or the new tyre-dominated F1 best?” Raikkonen: “Makes no difference. This is what we have and you’d better like it or do something else.” I got this wonderfully deadpan delivered Kimi-ism from Andrew Benson’s twitter feed after the race, which at least gave me a smile as I sadly realized that “the tires” were going to sabotage any conversation about the great drives from Fernando, Raikkonen and Hamilton. Of course TIRES would be the talking point for the next week and probably throughout the race weekend in Bahrain, and so fingers to keyboard to get in my POV, although I’d really rather be telling you what an awesome drive Fernando had.
No need to go into the details of the race, that is what all the real websites and journalists are for. Vettel and Red Bull didn’t have their usual “gives you wings” pace that generally results in beating the crap out of everyone on Sunday, so they qualified mid-pack but still came up with a strategy that almost worked. Mark Webber had a disastrous race due to a combination of driver error and an uncharacteristic pit stop issue. I guess when you are going for sub-two second pit service (or the stop is unscheduled) there are bound to be a few hiccups. So Red Bull effectively took themselves out of the GP of China and somehow we are to believe it is Pirelli’s fault.
Mercedes, another one of the finger pointers at Pirelli, finished with one car on the podium and one car in the garage. Hamilton qualified on pole but could not match Ferrari’s early pace when they were both on the same soft tires. Was this down to the tires or is the Ferrari just faster? I would say the latter until proven otherwise. Rosberg just didn’t seem to have the pace that Lewis did and then a broken anti-roll bar put him out of the race anyway. Was that Pirelli’s fault?
It never ceases to amaze me how much complaining goes on in F1. I say that lovingly because I do a lot of it myself, but in this case it is not as though Red Bull, Mercedes and McLaren were given tires that were a different spec from what Ferrari, Lotus or anyone else for that matter received. It is not as though there hasn’t been several opportunities to collect the data from them. Here is a simple fact: Everyone is given the same opportunity and information to develop their chassis any way they like in any direction (as long as it comply’s with the sporting regs of course).
Ferrari over the last few years has been better on its tire wear with full tanks then in qualy trim. So has Lotus. That is a design choice that it would appear they [Ferrari] have taken and continued to follow. Ditto for Lotus. Throw Sauber into that group as well. And now all of a sudden because of Red Bull’s design decisions the tires are not good? Really, I didn’t hear too much complaining in Australia, and yes there were issues with the tires in Malaysia, but it was still a Red Bull 1-2.
The most common complaint as far as I can tell is that racing is not racing anymore, that drivers are not going flat out start to finish. That everyone is more concerned about preserving the tires than racing hard, that there is some kind of shadow racing going on. Not to pick a fight with anyone but come on, really? No racing happened on Sunday? I think we saw a lot of incredible racing on Sunday.
Instead of tires, lets talk about fuel for a minute. When a driver uses up most of his fuel during his first two stints he goes into fuel saving mode. Now he loses some of his weapons; he can’t drive flat out, he can’t attack the car in front, he’s vulnerable to attack because he can’t use all the available engine power. Is he now driving the car at 70% of his ability? I don’t think most people would say so, its just a way of racing that requires different skills. So is tire-saving mode so very different than fuel-saving mode?
Yes, drivers have to look after the tires in a more comprehensive way now but that is part of the package, and it was FIA-mandated to spice up racing. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the whole reason for requiring different compounds was because racing was so “I need 20 espressos just to make it to the trophy presentation” boring and usually ended being a single file parade with Schumacher leading. We can’t have it both ways folks! While there were great battles between Schumacher and Haikkonen from that era, I think racing is so much better and more interesting in its current form.
And by the way, all this complaining sounds remarkably like arguments from the not-too-distant past against the introduction of DRS. I can still remember Jacques Villenueve insisting that the pass (the essential thing that makes Formula 1 so bad-ass, so exciting, so sweet) is now faked or engineered and why should the faster car in front be penalized? Never mind that he was not even piloting an F1 car at the time. And he may even have a point. Whatever the case, this issue has seemingly gone away. For the record, DRS was also instituted to spice up racing.
It is true that new strategies must now be considered for a Grand Prix, but is this a bad thing? Or is it just adding to the complexity and excitement of racing, just as all sports evolve over time? We already have KERS, DRS, all the buttons and adjustments that the drivers have to manage, in addition to shifting some unimaginable number of times while driving on the edge of a car’s ability. Add in the skillful art of driving super fast in a way that does not punish the tires as much as the next guy, this is just another part of being a GP driver in the modern age.
I’m not completely disagreeing with anything that has been said, although I think comparing Formula 1 to the WWF (Mr. Webber) is overstating the issue somewhat. I’m all for debating rule and policy changes, but when it drifts into stating or implying that the best teams are not on the podium because of these tire issues, you’ve gone too far. Seems to me the teams that made the podium were the ones that performed the best that Sunday, and they all had the same rules, same tires, same opportunity.
So maybe Pirelli tweaked their soft tires too much (by the way the other two tires used in by far the majority of the race laps seemed just fine but no one is talking about those tires). We’re just three races in but there is already a whole bunch of not so nice talking (whining?) up and down the pit wall from all sides: Drivers, Team Principals, and the Fans. Niki Lauda, a great racer, an expert on all things F1, has all but called for Pirelli to be tied and quartered on this issue. He may single-handedly bully Pirelli into changing their tire compounds. Maybe a little adjustment is in order. Or maybe not. As (only) Kimi would say, “This is what we have & you’d better like it or do something else.”