Isn’t it funny how when you add one person into the mix, the whole atmosphere and feeling of an event can be altered? Having played mental chess during the team principal’s press conference in Barcelona, it appears by asking a certain Mr. Alain Prost to participate we had a whole different event.
Granted tyres were a significant part of the discussion, but even David Croft who played MC and questioner appeared to have discovered a degree of gravitas which was a great improvement. Yet Alain added a touch of respect and class to proceedings which made a refreshing change.
Background to the case
So the tyre debate which began to boil in race 2 Sepang has shifted and developed. All the noise was originally about whether the tyres were allowing the cars to be raced flat out or whether the drivers were tootling around at substantially less than full pace.
Worthy of note I guess is that considering it was such a breeze to drive at 80% or whatever the number anyone chose to invent, lets not forget a certain Mr. Vettel was so busy in the cockpit he failed to hear or ‘understand’ a team order – a reason he himself gave.
Then we heard it was all too confusing for Mr. Lauda to understand where a modern F1 race was up to this then became something bemoaned by certain TV networks’ commentators and finally we heard the mantra, 4 stops was too much for us the public to comprehend.
As an aside, I posted last week an ‘in race betting’ chart from during the race in Barcelona, which showed those placing money and cashing bets in during the race clearly understood it was between Alonso and Raikkonen from very early on. Hey Ho, who are we to argue with the experts.
Pirelli then said there were too many stops and they would go off and change the tyres. The problem was this is against the sporting regulations. Grounds of safety or by unanimity of the teams were the only grounds by which the tyres could be altered.
The case for change
So today, having meandered all over the place, the tyre debate is now quite tightly defined. To speak for the prosecution, first, Mr. Paul Hembery.
“Well, obviously there’s a lot of different opinion, quite divided, among fans, commentators, teams and you’re never going to please everyone. That’s one of the challenges you have but from our point of view it’s the same for everybody, they have exactly the same tyres to work with and somebody’s going to end up winning on a Sunday.
From Canada? Well, we’re still finalising the ultimate details for Canada. We’re trying to minimise the changes, for sporting equity reasons of course. We want to resolve the delaminations that we’ve seen, that have occurred when we’ve picked up debris. That, from a tyre maker of course is something that we’ve wanted to solve. It doesn’t look good.
The tyres have stayed inflated but it still doesn’t look good from an image point of view. So that’s where we’re at. We’re trying to finalise that, working with the teams. We’ve had good collaboration. Of course, some people might want something different and again you’re not going to please everybody but we have to do what’s correct for the sport and what’s correct for Pirelli.
We set out this year for two to three pit stops over the season, we probably will average that still, we will get some races like Barcelona which was won this time with four stops. It was won two years ago by Red Bull with four stops so it’s not exceptional but I guess as commentators it’s harder to follow, it keeps you awake, you don’t have your afternoon snooze any more, and that’s one of the difficulties. It will be easier here for you”.
Order. Order in court (one in the eye for David Croft, MC and Sky race commentator).
Next up is Mr. Christian Horner
“I think we’ve been pretty consistent throughout the year really. The tyres, on occasion, have been a bit too marginal. That includes races we’ve won at in Malaysia and Bahrain. I think it’s good that Pirelli are looking at it. I think the most important and most fundamental thing is from a safety perspective, if you do have a delamination, if you have a big chunk of rubber, you don’t want that to hit a car component or worst case a driver.
So, there are safety issues that I know some of the drivers are concerned about. Hopefully, Pirelli are a very capable company. I think they know what they need to do and hopefully that can be resolved very quickly”.
Christian consistent? Mmm. Short memory methinks. The prosecution rests and so begins the case for the defense. Call Mr. Gerard Lopez
The Case for No Change
“Yeah, we’ve echoed the safety issues and said that whatever needs to be done on safety grounds is obviously fine with us, we’re not going to go against that. As far as the tyres being marginal goes, we’ve found them to be quite consistent. But then again – different cars, different drivers, different styles… they work for us. So we’re actually quite happy with the way they are”.
The court thanks you for being so succinct Mr. Lopez. Next up, Bob, builder of fast cars, Fearnly
“I think Pirelli have done a good job. Fundamentally we’re looking to try to average out at two to three stops per race and I think if you take the extremes in any 20-race series you’re going to have some that might do four and some that might do one. But overall were going to achieve the objective. I agree with Paul, it’s the same for everybody.
I think some of the teams will have put in resource perhaps this time year to start looking at how they’re going to develop their car, what suspension programme they’re going to put in to optimise the tyres, other teams will continued to work on aero.
That’s the choice of the teams at the end of the day and you’ve got to deliver what you think is the most competitive package. But there are four points of contact on a track, it doesn’t matter how much else you do, you’ve got to make the tyres work”.
So, proposers of change are Christian Horner, Franz Tost and Paul Hembery (but just about). For them it is a matter of safety and Pirelli’s image.
Against are Gerard Lopez, Bob Fearnley and Alain Prost – whose comments whilst benign – fundamentally support the status quo.who claim they were smart in their design choices.
The inference from Bob, builder of fast cars, is that they were smart and invested 2012 time and effort into a design that worked hard on mechanical issues, whilst others pursued and aero path ie Red Bull.
Horner’s argument is based upon rubber flying from a delaminated tyre as being dangerous. This may damage the car or a driver. The car damage is a moot point because we all remember cars limping around back to the pits with a deflated tyre – the 2013 construction prevents this and therefore has been beneficial.
Pirelli are still advocating this is not dangerous but bad for the Pirelli image. What will the FIA decide? Who knows whether Monsieur Todt will try and keep everyone happy and allow minimal change or see this as a black and white issue and rule on the letter of the law.
Alain Prost was interesting as a non-partizan observer and someone who is a great in the F1 panacea.
“I think in the past and very recently it’s been very [much] criticised for not having a show or indecision. We should [feel] very lucky that we have these kind of races. In the last few years, we have the decision only in the last grand prix.
Obviously, also think about next year when we have the new engine coming we will talk maybe a little bit more about the engine, the technology, about being much closer to the product of the automotive industry. But we still need to keep the show also. We need to keep the indecision so it’s going to be even better balanced but at the moment I wouldn’t criticize what we have today”.
Alain was asked how hard he had to push in his day, and how drivers having to ‘manage resources’ compared to 2013.
“I think it’s difficult to compare, obviously, because today the cars are so advanced; normally the driver can push 100 percent in normal conditions. The tyres this year are very soft which makes it a little bit different. In our time, if you want to compare, we had to take care of the brakes and gearbox and fuel consumption and obviously also tyres because sometimes we had to be careful of the tyres, but the regulations were also very different and at one stage we had three types of rubber and we could make changes and I very often ran hard tyres on the left and soft tyres on the front. I even raced in Las Vegas in ’81 with qualifying tyres on the front, but that means we cannot compare, but that also proves that you need to adapt yourself, as a driver, as an engineer, to the regulations and obviously we’re experiencing complaints this year… in fact it’s not that different compared to last year, except that you maybe don’t want to see some rubber on the track and having accidents. But apart from that, you just have to adapt to the situation, drivers or engineers. It’s typically Formula One.
What a number of the participants were agreed upon was in 2014, tyres will not be the hot topic of conversation.
Paul Hembery: “There’s going to be enough going on for the teams next year. So I think it’s a year where we’ll be stepping back: zero degradation, no pit stops and they can do all the talking (chuckle)”.
Bob, BoFC agreed: “Yeah, I think that we won’t be having discussions about tyres next year, it will be a completely different programme”.
So enjoy the tyre debate while it lasts folks 2014 will see countless arguments over engine technology and testing.