During the 2015 season, there was a good idea emerging from the paddock; an idea which incredibly found consensus within the F1 strategy group; an idea that would without question spice up the on track action by creating a little chaos at times.
For the majority of its history, unpredictability has always played a significant role in Formula One. Though in the modern era with budgets growing exponentially and reliability drastically improved, this aspect of racing has been forgotten. The modern F1 fan mistrusts any suggestion designed to increase unpredictability, believing this perverts the purity of the racing spectacle on offer.
This idea which found unanimous favour amongst the teams, Bernie and the FIA, was proposed by Force India and suggested the teams – instead of Pirelli – be able to each select two of the four Pirelli dry compounds for each race weekend. Pat Symonds reveals, “there was a real chance that it could introduce a bit of chaos, because there were definitely a number of ways to approach the problem”.
However, Pirelli were unhappy with the idea, and predictably responded initially with expressions of concern over safety. “If you start opening up choices this is what will happen,” claimed Pirelli’s commercial director Paul Hembery in May 2015. “Firstly, the top teams will centralise around the same choices because they use the same ideas and data we would be using. Then there would be some people that would want to risk a little more, and then there would be some people who would want to be a little reckless.
“That means they would be taking a product into a situation that would create a safety problem, and if there is a safety problem then we cannot accept that risk, so it is impossible.”
Clearly bitter over the criticism Pirelli received for creating unpredictability in 2013, Hembery concluded, “We did our bit and were chastised for it by a number of people”.
Pat Symonds believes Pirelli overreacted as he explains. “We’re quite responsible adults and I actually quite like getting points in races and trying to win them. We could turn the engines right up and blow them apart in the first race but we don’t. We could design cars that really aren’t strong enough, but we don’t.
“We are quite good at what we do. I think it’s a little bit disingenuous to suggest that [teams would have made dangerous tyre choices].”
The Pirelli concerns over safety did though hold sway, despite the obvious nature of such an objection which is usually deployed in F1 by someone not in possession of a Ferrari veto.
However, the idea was a good idea and so Pirelli were forced to play ball. Now in 2016 some F1 teams will be running different tyre compounds during race weekends this year.
But to get from idea A to actual regulation B was apparently a tortuous process and the final rules governing this new idea are convoluted beyond comprehension – for even some of the experienced TV pundits.
Pat Symonds believes this was a missed opportunity by Pirelli and the final version of the new tyre rules for 2016 will not really change very much on track. He likens it to events which occurred in 2003 when the new regulations forced the teams to start on the fuel load left in the tank after qualifying.
“We analysed it and decided that what we had to do is think of qualifying as being the first lap of the race,” Symonds remembers how the unfancied Renault team delivered both their cars on the front row of the grid at the second race of the season. “I remember all of the wise guys like Ron Dennis saying ‘oh, they’re just showboating”, Symonds recalls, but Alonso went on to claim an unexpected podium third place.
“At the next race, most of them were into it and down the line, everyone’s doing it and then it’s gone. It doesn’t take long for people to figure out what to do,” Symonds concludes.
The challenge for the teams in 2016 is a little different than in 2003. They will be locked into the tyre choices for the first four flyaway races before they even run a test lap in Barcelona. In fact the teams’ tyre selection for Sochi – race four of the year – must be completed by January 22nd. Then the tyre selection deadline fall from 14 weeks to 8 weeks for events in Europe, which means on the Friday of the Australian GP, the teams will choose their compounds for Barcelona.
It could take up to a third of the season for the teams to understand the new tyre compounds AND be able to then make selections accordingly. Though Symonds observations thereon will probably be not a million miles from reality.