Slicker Than Your Average

By Adam Macdonald

As with 2012 and 2011, the start of the season has been dominated by tyres, and how they respond to fuel, temperature, track surface and many other factors.  However, the tyres have not always behaved in this way.  There was a time, not so long ago, where they didn’t need to be managed quite as much.

Racing on slick tyres was something that was talked about for a long time by the FIA, but only came to fruition in 2009.  This complete shake up of the rules was required following Ferrari dominance from 2000-04.

Pirelli’s Influence

Graining, as seen on the image to the right, has become such an important aspect for every driver.  Some are more ‘gentle’ on them than others.  Jenson Button has been cited as one who manages his tyres well, with Sebastian Vettel in the Red Bull much the same.  However, as we saw in Australia this year and Canada 2012, for Vettel and Button respectively, even this doesn’t work out for them sometimes.

This does raise the concern of whether this is something that is good for the sport.  As a viewer would you prefer to see cars that go at their absolute quickest for 70 odd laps around a circuit or driving a careful and controlled race?

India 2012 was a race where the drivers could go (virtually) flat-out, doing little damage to the tyres.  Whilst Vettel went on to win this race, it didn’t produce many moments of great excitement.  In which case, the short answer would have to be ‘yes’, the new Pirelli tyres are good for the sport.

However, as was seen in pre-season testing, and in particular in Jerez, if these tyres are outside their working range then they are rather useless.  Strategy calls become even more important for races, even leading to panic in some.  The Lotus team were very wary last year after Kimi went from 2nd to 11th in the space of 2 laps in China.

The Changing Face of F1

Formula One drivers have become more concerned with being conservative than being the quickest they can be.  A new breed of driver is required, compared to the early to mid-2000s when it was all about speed (but funnily enough not Scott Speed).

Although, with Pirelli still not having a contract on the table for 2014, one has to wonder if this will be too much change in one go.  Having to understand and fix any teething issues with the new V6s next year could be enough of a job in itself.  The old saying comes to mind; if it’s not broken don’t fix it!

When Change is needed…

Following on from 5 titles in row for Schumacher, the rules were changed so tyres needed to last for a whole race.  The supremacy of the Bridgestone tyres was diminished, as it had allowed Ferrari to win those titles along with the near limitless testing.

Nowadays, with much more strict rules in regards to testing, and the sole tyre supplier to F1 the field is much more even.  However, this still allowed for Red Bull to run away with the 2011 championship.  It should be noted though, that Sebastian Vettel was the only driver to go to the Pirelli factory over the 2010/11 winter.

Following Helmut Marko’s claims that the new tyres affected those with higher down force more, there could be a parallel drawn between the two teams and periods.  Though Ferrari won only the solitary race in the 2005 season, which was the controversial US GP in which only 6 drivers started the race after the formation lap.  Somehow I don’t see that happening this year!

Pre and Post Slicks

Since the return of slick tyres, we have seen some of the best racing in 20 years, and certainly in my lifetime.  As David Coulthard likes to tell us repeatedly during his BBC analysis, we are witnessing a “golden era.”

Having been used since 1998, the grooved tyres bowed out at the end of the 2008 season.  Personally, I feel the racing has improved and has enticed many more fans to the sport, which can only be a good thing.  The allure of more pit stops as well as more overtaking helps attract an audience.

With greater speed and therefore, greater danger and skill required to control the cars, it makes for better racing.  Let’s hope this era can continue long past the engine changes next year, as ultimately, there are very few who want another period of absolute dominance.

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13 responses to “Slicker Than Your Average

  1. Great article Adam. What people appear to be missing is that the drivers could try driving as fast as possible, seeing how far they can get on a set of tyres and then switching to fresh rubber when they go ‘off the cliff’.

    However, the teams have adopted an ultra conservative percentage based approach to racing and in effect are running the races to pre-run simulations and predictive models – these include the likely hood of race pace and safety cars – hence under fueling the cars regularly.

    Even Marko suggested following the Sepang race that the RB team had over estimated the degradation of the tyres, thus almost nullifying their previous complaints about the Pirelli tyres.

    Sepang is the most abrasive circuit on the calendar and so we will see just 2 or 3 stops in China, and by the end of the year we could well be back to the 1 stop processions we saw during a number of the concluding races of 2012.

    PS everyone, I am taking a short but much needed recuperation break this week in the sun, I will be around, but maybe in a reduced capacity. Hope you’re all having a great Easter break…

  2. As a fans since year 1999, I’m ok with the Pirelli tyres, but not with DRS.
    I think the overtaking moves pre-DRS is much more exciting, watching a driver following another laps after laps and finally made a great pass is much more worth watching than today’s DRS pass. I would rather watch one pre-DRS overtaking than 10 DRS overtaking. Sorry for off-topic : )

    p/s: You’ve a great blog! I’ve been following James Allen’s blog and found your blog link from a comment there, and find that your blog is really fresh and offers different perspective.

    • Hi Chris

      Thanks for that – how long have you been coming here? TJ13 readers are pretty good at spreading the word – posting links RELEVANT to discussions going on in other places to attract new readers. (We don’t want to irritate other sites so a good comment with ‘more info here’ or ‘this adds to the debate’ and then a link to here often helps.

          • Basically, whenever you are mentioned by a poster on his blog he denies your existence and says he doesn’t know who you are…….a joke perhaps (as we also don’t know who you are)?

      • I shared your blog links with my friends thru emails and messages, but not on any other blog comments. In fact I seldom participate in blog conversations : )

  3. Hi Adam,

    You say in your last sentence that there are few who want a period of absolute dominance (and I would be the first to agree), but isnt that exactly what we are seeing with Red Bull (after all we are only 2 seasons away from a Ferrari like dominace of the early 2000’s).

    Yes there may be more overtakes because of the tyres, but if the result is the same at the end of the championship, it hasnt really achieved much.

    I would like people not to take this as a slight against Red Bull, as I am not against them, in fact I have no particular preference other than wanting to see great racing with a variety of winners.

    I think its time to adjust the rules to reduce the reliance on aero (and if Red Bull wins again this year it will become an urgent requirement), then we would see a lot more varied racing.

    • People have been saying reduce aero grip for years and see where we are now? Bodywork festooned with bits and pieces and stupid coanda channels, which while significant in the wind tunnel, often mean nothing when surrounded by other cars disturbing the air flow and when snagged by other cars do not seem to make much difference. Get rid of the reliance on aero by writing rules for single plane wings and no sticky-out bits, engines with an excess of power over the mechanical grip and drivers will then earn their money!

    • I don’t think it’s been absolute dominance by RBR over the last 3 years – they could easily have lost the WDC in 2010 and 2012; similarly, McLaren had, by most arguments, the fastest car for the majority of 2012, so they could/should have won the WCC, all other things being equal. We’ve also had a lot of very competitive races over the last 3 years with multiple (deserved) race winners. Contrast that with the the Ferrari/Schumacher years, when they were only rarely challenged.

    • ‘VoteForFingerlessWins’ but not against Red Bull? Slightly contradictory no?

      anyway, I agree with your point. Especially given that RB could have won in 2009 if had not been for the Brawn team getting the jump on the whole field with the double diffuser.

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