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.

It was all celebration for Alonso, Kimi and Lewis but behind the scenes Pirelli was getting the shaft.

It was all celebration for Alonso, Kimi and Lewis but behind the scenes Pirelli was getting the shaft.

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.

Pirelli's tire line, public enemy number 1 if your Redbull and Mercedes...

Pirelli’s tire line, public enemy number 1 if your Redbull and Mercedes…

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.

Jacque Villenuve in his Williams  FW19 - When Jacque Villenuve in his Williams  FW19 - When tires were a lot more innocent. Those days however are long gone...

Jacque Villenuve in his Williams FW19 – When Jacque Villenuve in his Williams FW19 – When tires were a lot more innocent. Those days however are long gone…

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.”    

-jp-

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12 Comments on “Alonso Wins Big In China, But It’s The Tires That Steal The Show!

  1. I think Kimi is right… It’s the reality right now, so deal with it. My take on it is that some of the teams have been presented with a challenge, a variable, with these tires and some aren’t coping with it too well.

    For those who want Real F1 Racing? The technology is available now where any Grand Prix can be run on simulators. All parameters can be set up in advance – with all the variables removed – to give the precise maximum theoretical performance of any car, driver and circuit combination. Don’t even have to build the cars or have the drivers drive them anymore. No more actual circuits either. Fans can pay to watch the GP on-line. Done.

    • Steve W.
      To your last point, i can see a time when the computers and technology is so sophisticated that we might have an schism in racing. many fans will want the kind of racing they grew up watching i.e race cars with a shifting lever and a clutch. my generation, and then a newer generation with all the tricked out tech stuff. of course this is already happening with historic racing. but it is possible i think there will be an FIA sanctioned championship the cars will be at the cutting egde of materials and chassis design, but not traction control, no launch control, no engine mapping, just the driver and the car, etc. as it is the FIA already gave the eformula which will start in a few years it’s stamp of approval.

      • There was commentary on pitpass.com a few days ago “It was 20 years ago today”.

        http://www.pitpass.com/48771-It-Was-Twenty-Years-Ago-Today

        It’s about the most advanced F1 cars ever built. 20 years ago! That’s approaching a quarter-century. Wonder what we’d have today if the FIA allowed the burgeoning technology back then flourish…

        (don’t know if copied links work here)

      • great article. thanks for the tip. i was not lucky enough to view F1 then with the same kind of enthusiasm that i have for it today, but i remember watching the cars back then and thinking they were so f’n cool. this era that was referenced in the article was for me at the time was a golden age for F1. -jp-

  2. Whatever happens with the tyres there will be debates about them. But no matter how they behave, the cream will rise to the top. Look at last year’s WDC standings (and this year’s for that matter). Great drivers will somehow find a way to handle them.

    But from an entertainment point of view, I think something is wrong. When the likes of Vettel are not bothered to post a time in Q1 for the sake of saving tyres for the race, there should be something wrong. What if one fine day, every one decides to save the tyres for the race? Wouldn’t that be ridiculous? May be they can provide a set of “quali-only” option tyres for Q3. At least we will see a good shoot out for pole.

    • This is a tough one, part of me thinks Vettel and Red Bull should of just bit the bullet and qualified on the softs, end up 4th 5th or 6th and then have a straight forward race on sunday like everyone else. But they chose a different route. fair enough. I think they also used this same strategy last year at Monoco (checking my facts hold on) yes Vettel set no time in Q3 and started 9th, and ended the race in 4th as well. That was of course for different reasons (Adrian Newey had not sorted out the rear end just yet), so I take you point about not getting to see the 3X WDC qualify. No one what to see the top teams not running on the track because of tire issues. As we speak there has been some movement already on the tire issue. Pirelli is going to sub out the soft tire for Bahrain and it will be the mediums and the hards. this decision was taken after Malaysian and before China if the reports that i read are to be believed. So this all could blow over this weekend. If however the Red Bull and Mercedes and I guess Mclaren are still suffering tire wear then what? I’m pretty sure Pirelli will not scrap this years compounds altogether just for Red Bull. Then again, this is F1 and stranger things happen all the time lol.
      p.s. I feel I read somewhere that your idea of a set of Qualifying Tires was floated to all the teams to solve this very problem. The team in their great wisdom rejected it. But I don’t know if that is true. -jp-

    • Here’s a thought – make a rule where if you don’t post a time in Q3 you have to use the exact same tyres that got you into Q3 to start the race on.

      • that is a thought. or at the very least a rule that states you have to post of time with in a certain %. but more than likely the tire issue will be solved in a few races and then we can move on.

  3. Yes you are largely correct and most sane F1 fans hate the politics employed by Red Bull and Merc. As you say it is down to Design Choices, so if they don’t like the tire wear then blame the decisions they have made.
    BTW my information is that the tires and the diffuser interact sharply with a lot of cars losing downforce in corners (and hence higher slip angles > higher degradation rates.

    The point I don’t agree with is DRS. With such complicated aero packages it is a sane way to get a pass and in my view it should leave the way forward to re-implement previously banned aero tricks – the bans were introduced partly because of the difficulty of running in dirty air and hence the difficulty of getting close enough to get a crucial tow. Now the challenge is getting within 1 second in order to get DRS available. One only needs to seethe alacrity of the leader into turn 1 to get 1 second or more before they are in range.

    The cars and tires are very different to the ones JV was used to

    • Rob
      thanks for the comment. not sure which side you are coming down on in regards to DRS. for the record i am neither for or against this device that the formula one group come up with. yes the pass is harder the old way, and may give more credibility, but as you say the advent of so many aero bits started to make it impossible to pass no matter how fast your car was. my point was if you didn’t like it i.e. JV, that issue died down and everyone moved on. cheers , i welcome the interaction. looking forward to a another great race this weekend. -jp-

      • Hi John – thanks – in favor for sure: leaders can no longer cruise in the lead like they did before.
        And yes I am looking forward to another great race and even more debate no doubt!

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