Since Pirelli entered Formula One, the subject of tyres has never been far from the mainstream topics of discussion.
Following a 20 year absence from the sport, Pirelli were appointed in 2011 as the sole tyre supplier, beating competition from both Michelin and Cooper Avon.
It was thought prior to the appointment that both Michelin and Pirelli would demand the wheel sizes be increased from 13 inches to 18 inches, though when Pirelli emerged as the victors from the bidding process – the 13 inch wheels were set to remain.
The spectacle that was the 2010 Canadian GP with its many pit stops was the source of inspiration which became Pirelli’s brief on the kind of tyres Formula One wanted. 2-3 pit stop races for tyre changes was believed would improve the spectacle of an F1 event so Pirelli’s task was to deliver tyres that forced this upon the teams.
Given the wide range of temperatures each F1 event may encounter, together with vastly differing levels of abrasion the different kind of asphalt used by the tracks deliver – add to this the impact of aero and mechanical aspects of the car designs on tyre wear – and we see the task for Pirelli is not simple.
Yet in 2013, despite the redesign of the tyres following Silverstone there were 2.3 pit stops per driver per race. This fell to 2.02 in 2014 and for 2015 it is currently 1.67 stops per driver on average over the first nine events of the year.
Of course the complaints particularly by Red Bull in 2013 and the exploding tyres in Silverstone put Pirelli on the back foot. The with the advent of the new V6 Hybrid Turbo engines with their huge increase in torque due in 2014, Paul Hembery was candid stating Pirelli would not be the ‘F1 story’ of 2014 and the tyres would be ‘bullet proof’.
There are differing views on degrading tyres, many F1 fans believe the sport should be uber competitive and not artificially restrained in any way. However, there is the balance to be struck and excitement and entertainment are part of that consideration.
Back in the 1980’s and 90’s there was less restriction in the technical design regulations for the F1 cars and tyres were built to last. Yet as the F1 world moves onwards and upwards in its pursuit of ever improving reliability – the corresponding sacrifice is one where unpredictability diminishes more and more.
The unpredictability sport throws up is often described as better than the wildest fancies of a Hollywood script writer. The more predictable a sporting outcome becomes, the less excitement the fans have in watching the event.
This is the conundrum F1 faces with its range of current dilemmas for 2017.
Romain Grosjean has spoken out on the issue of tyres in Formula One. “It’s very different from two or three years ago where your driving style could influence the way you degrade your tyres, right now it doesn’t change much,” said the Frenchman.
“I did prefer it when we had to think about it and when we could change the way it was degrading.
“That means if you took it a little bit slowly at the beginning of the race then you had an advantage over some of the other people, and you could try to go for an overtaking manoeuvre.
“I believe it creates overtaking chances, because there’s a grip level and if the guy in front of you has a big snap it gives you an advantage.
“Right now if the guy in front of you has a snap you usually have the same one so you don’t get the advantage anymore.
“Everyone is always on the limit of them [the tyres] and when you follow another car you don’t really get that advantage anymore.”
Grosjean explains how when Pirelli were forced to change the construction of their compounds in 2013, everything changed.
“Austria was a good example. I was behind [Sergio] Perez at the beginning of the race, I was on super-softs and he was on softs, so I had an advantage over grip, but I couldn’t overtake him because every time I was trying to push to get closer I was overheating my tyres and was losing grip, so I couldn’t overtake.
“That’s probably why we can try to concentrate and focus to try and make it easier to get closer to the car in front of you.
“In 2012 and 2013 when they [the tyres] were degrading, they were getting into that bad shape of losing grip and the guy behind could take an advantage over it.
“Right now it stays quite consistent, but over the lap if you go over a certain window then you just lose the grip and when you follow another car you lose downforce, so you slide even more and lose the grip, making overtaking harder.”
TJ13 communicated our concerns to Pirelli following the Australian GP. The response implied the picture would change as the F1 circus moved to different circuits. Yet this has not happened. Such is the desperate state of Pirelli’s failure to hit their brief, they have selected tyres for Monza this year which are a step softer than anything they have taken before.
Paul Hembery now accepts the criticism. He tells SKY, “We are not where we need to be this year and it is true that the requirement is for two or three [pit-stops per race.
“So we are not quite hitting the mark, but then we have no testing ability. We have zero testing ability so it is okay to sometimes ask us to do things, but we also need the ability to do our job”.
A significant problem in Formula One is the lack of joined up thinking. Reducing testing time has been a mantra over recent years in an attempt to control the amount of money spent. Yet, for a tyre manufacturer like Pirelli, this makes their task nigh on impossible.
“We are looking to make changes next year to get back to two or three stops”, Hembery promises. “but we also need to have an agreement in place to allow us to do the testing to give us better information so we can ensure that happens.”
Whether a section of the fans like it or not, the excitement of the F1 spectacle will now forever be a concern to those running the sport. The reason is simple, technical boring races are not so marketable.
The purity of the days when open car designs allowed smaller teams to win, where unreliability caused the favourite to DNF in spectacular flames and when the races were flat out sprints from start to finish appear to be gone for ever.
And this is why Pirelli will most likely win out in their battle with Michelin for another three years contract to supply F1 with tyres.