If Liberty Media thought they’d bought the rights to a sport that was rather dysfunctional, then today may well force them to reappraise the level of chaos and obtusity they face in trying to move F1 forward.
The drivers have perennially complained about Pirelli’s wet weather tyres over the years, such that in 2014 a day was set aside during the Jerez test for wet weather tyre testing.
All looked to be good, the skies were heavy and the teams had arranged for the circuit to be soaked as follows.
picture by TJ13 operative at the 2014 Jerez test
It soon became apparent to all that the tractor which crawled around the 4,428 metres pulling a trailer laden with a water bowser was as effective as the proverbial chocolate fireguard. The track had almost dried before the agricultural vehicle could make it round to start the next lap.
Stung again by driver criticism of the wet tyres performance, Pirelli battled for a wet weather test for their new bigger heavier 2017 tyres. First up, Ferrari had a go, but Sebastian Vettel crashed his hastily welded together mule at Fiorano and so little data was able to be collected.
This failure led to the teams agreeing to today being a wet weather test at the circuit de Catalunya.
Lessons were clearly learned from Jerez 2014, as three 40 foot tankers were out soaking the track for most of the night.
The extra volume of water being dumped for hour after hour on the track clearly made a significant improvement on the 2014 effort. The track lasted almost 90 minutes before a dry line was becoming evident and cars were hunting for damp patches down the straight.
Prior to action commencing, Pirelli did explain their plan for the day. “We want to go through all the conditions, from extreme wet to intermediate to dry in the afternoon,” said Mario Isola. “This is useful to the teams to assess the crossover [point], it’s important for them to define that crossover.
“The tyres are different, so the numbers are not the same, and we believe it is important to give them this opportunity to assess this.”
— Renault Sport F1 (@RenaultSportF1) March 2, 2017
F1’s tyre manufacturer asked teams to consider building wet weather run plans to “assess aquaplaning levels and evaluate degradation over at least five timed laps and switch to intermediates at the earliest opportunity to evaluate the cross-over point and aquaplaning.” Also, to complete long runs on the intermediates and asses the cross-over point to slicks.
Well, Mercedes made it clear what they thought of the endeavour as Lewis stayed put in the garage and the team revealed, “The W08 is still snoozing while we investigate an electrical fault.”
Williams too failed to take to the circuit, though Massa’s parental absentee note was rather more convincing. “Following a thorough inspection overnight some damage to the FW40 chassis was discovered. Therefore, on safety grounds, the team will not run the car today. A second chassis will be prepared at track this afternoon as originally planned, with the team aiming to be back on track for the second test next week starting on Tuesday 7 March.”
Yes indeed, Lance Stroll’s multiple crashes on day three not only add kudos to Max Verstappen’s F1 debut, but have sent the factory in Grove into overdrive to produce new bits the team were not expecting to be forced manufacture.
Force India and Sergio Perez were also clearly allergic to the wet weather, finally deigning to debut on track about 90 minutes into the session. However, by 11:39 local time Sergio was collecting valuable data on how full wet weather tyres perform on an almost completely dry circuit.
— Sahara Force India (@ForceIndiaF1) March 2, 2017
With more than an hour to go until lunch, and just over 150 laps completed by all the participating teams, Kimi Raikkonen had clearly had enough – and set off on slick tyres to begin Ferrari’s testing day proper. He went on to set the fastest time of the morning.
Then Pirelli notified everyone that the track would now be soaked again during the lunch break – this despite saying earlier they would not wet the track after it had dried.
Gary Anderson summed up the wasted track time as follows: “My criticism of this wet test would that be nobody went from wets to intermediates at the time you would in a race, they were all in the garage waiting”, adding, “and it was the same with the change from inters to slicks” Further, “I don’t think the track was wet enough for aquaplaning,” so in effect Pirelli’s goals for the test were almost completely missed.
The stupidity of wasting one eighth of winter testing is lost on no one. If there is to be a proper wet weather test, then the FIA should regulate for it and ensure it is run at a circuit like Paul Ricard where wet weather running can be maintained – even if the sunshine is sub-Saharan. But that would require the FIA to be proactive – so Liberty Media, over to you.
But this of course is not really their problem, is it?
It will be Liberty’s problem when say following a soaking wet Canadian GP – where the race for example has been cancelled or cut significantly short – the driver interviews and media cycle is for days is dominated by negative publicity and heavy criticism of say ‘the inept and failing’ Pirelli wet weather tyres.
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