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.
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.