The obsession with the allegedly ‘too fragile’ Pirelli 2013 tyres – much of which is stoked up by irresponsible sniping and disinformation from certain teams whose car designs are at present too hard on the tyres – caused tempers to wear thin today.
Certain media commentators suggested after FP3 that the failure Lewis Hamilton had on his rear tyre was due to the nature of this seasons tyre. Speculation was stirred as to whether it was indeed safe for the teams to send their drivers out until the answer to what caused Lewis’ problem was known.
Paul Hembery rebuked one well known F1 commentator on Twitter for suggesting the failure may have been due to a new production technique Pirelli were using saying the suggestion was “Rubbish”.
To be fair, Paul Hembery must have the patience of a saint because the number of times he has been grilled over the issue of the 2013 tyres probably feels like 3 months of Chinese water torture. He gave a most sanguine and eloquent summary of the issue yesterday.
It’s lengthy but I feel worth publishing in its entirety.
Q: “Pirelli made the decision to change the tyre compounds from soft and hard to medium and hard [for Bahrain], can you explain why that was?”
PH: “Yes, it was done on the Sunday night after the Malaysian race. Malaysia obviously being similar in some respects, from a tyre point of view, to here in some respects: very hot, very abrasive. We felt that both had worked well there and that was the right thing to do coming here”.
Q: “Given the level of opinion on the tyres and the racing this year, do you think the introduction of softer compounds has been an aggressive step just a little bit too far?”
PH: “It depends what you’re looking at. If you look at it with three different winners in three races, three world champions, then it’s been pretty good. Melbourne was probably one of the more exciting Melbournes that we’ve seen for many a year.
We almost have this conversation every year: we’ve had it the first two years we’ve been here, and then as we get through the season, the teams – obviously there are very talented engineers in all the teams – and they master the challenges given to them and going beyond certainly mid-season then you’ll find these sorts of discussions die away”.
Q: “If you’re looking at it from the Saturday afternoon and a lack of action in the early part of the qualifying sessions and then on the Sunday with drivers having to pit after two, three or four laps. Is that what you would have wanted as a tyre supplier?”
PH: “Well, pitting two or three laps in is no different than pitting two or three laps from the end, we’ve seen that as well many, many times in the past, so it’s just doing it the other way around. It really doesn’t change that much. As long as you’ve got a core product that will give a racing tyre and gives what we were asked to achieve, which is two to three pitstops.
I think there was only one time in the past where we felt it went too far and that was Turkey I guess, in 2011 when we were at four stops. That was too many. I think you’ll find the average over this season will be just over two pitstops average so from that point of view, we’re happy.
In terms of qualifying, last year was probably a good year for qualifying because the cars were very close together in performance. We often saw 16 cars within a second in Q2 – that’s maybe pushed out a little bit this year, there’s been some strong development from the cars at the front and we’re starting to see a little bit of strategy coming into play for Q3 that we saw in 2011.
It’s early days, one event like that, let’s see what happens going through the season. But if it’s only on the odd occasion then it’s probably not an issue. There are different points of view: some people will say that adds a strategy element to the Q3, and people are generally really interested in who’s got pole position and maybe the first three places.
Obviously last race we had three ex-world champions in the first three with less than a few tenths between them, so that was good from that point of view. And you could probably say as well a couple of cars starting on a different choice gave us quite an interesting finish with Sebastian coming flying through at the end. And probably if he hadn’t had the traffic he might well have even got a better result.
So it’s a game of opinions. Ultimately we’ll do what the sport asks us to do, of course, and if we do feel together that the qualifying is not working I’m sure we’ll all find a solution together”.
The ‘honourable gentleman’
In the UK debating chamber in the houses of parliament there was a practice used until quite recently where to avoid time wasting and prevent intolerable repetition. When a certain question was asked of the Prime Minister at the dispatch box they responded in a form of words which was always exactly the same. “I refer the honourable gentleman to the answer I gave a moment ago”. (There are slight variations for the pedantic amongst us which include ‘right honourable’ instead of honourable and ‘lady’ instead of gentleman).
I think Paul should now be entitled to use this standard phrase in reference to THE most comprehensive comment he could give on the matter – cited above.
Never mind. My own instinctive suspicion was that Mercedes have a problem with their suspension being rather fragile. And indeed there were initially grave concerns within the team as this was not the first time they have suffered such a failure so early in the year.
A huge gash
It has now transpired that Giedo Van Der Garde was following Hamilton and he returned to the pit lane with a huge 10 inch gash in one of his rear tyres which Paul Hembery described as, “a very aggressive cut that could only have come from a bit of metal.”
The assumption is that Hamilton’s tyre suffered the same fate and yet, “It didn’t deflate the tyre as the structural part was still intact and… it has sent it into a massive overheat and we are trying to look at the telemetry to understand it,” added Hembery.
“We have a lab here, so we have some idea and can see some patches of overheating on the tread that has caused it to go well over 200C, which is rare and strange.
We will go out and look as our guys always do a track walk,but we are not overly concerned as it’s just one of those racing things.”
A Fragile ‘Fric’?
Interesting we’ve heard nothing from Mercedes on the matter. It wouldn’t be unreasonable if they were to admit some wrecking ball had torn through the gear box, brakes and the suspension on Lewis’ W04 but apparently this most obvious of culprit has taken a very long time to be declared guilty by the boys from Brackley.
Will races become processional?
So the driver’s FIA press conference and the team Princpals’ press conference and then again much of the talk today has again been about Pirelli tyres. I hope when we get to Korea and Vettel or Alonso are one stopping – just because the regulations say they must – and further they are leading a Formula 1 processional race we remember these early races and all the tyre talk nonsense we’ve had to endure.
This hope is most likely in vain because this debate occurred at the start of last season and the season before. Yet there is a chink of light that the closing races of the season may not be so dull based upon the precedent set by Pirelli opting to change tyres already declared Bahrain.
Had they done this in 2012 we may have seen more interesting races in the end of season run in. They can now argue that such changes are based upon the brief that teams should be making 2 or 3 stops – not more, or even less.
Pirelli’s phantom contract
In conclusion, Martin Brundle mentioned in commentary that he had some inside information that Pirelli had signed a new 5 year contract to supply F1. He claimed someone who should know had told him. This news 9 hours later has strangely not been confirmed. It is strange considering the inference was that one of the decision makers had leaked to Brundle it was a done deal.
If it wasn’t Pirelli, who could the source have been?