In 2011, Pirelli took over from Bridgestone as the chief tyre supplier for Formula 1 and immediately set about polarising the opinions of drivers, teams and fans alike.
Formula 1 had asked Pirelli to create a tyre that would grain quickly in order to improve the races by creating different strategies and in theory, change the rules altogether. No longer was it as advantageous to create the fastest possible car, because if it didn’t look after its tyres, the car would drop off a cliff at the end of the race, and cost the teams and drivers valuable positions in the finishing order.
The move came as Formula 1 was struggling to improve the racing spectacle on a regular basis, and ideas such as water sprinklers were discussed by Formula 1’s strategy group in an attempt to improve the spectacle.
Fast forward three years and we have had one of the most intriguing starts to a season in decades. The 2014 rule changes have gone some way to spicing up the racing, despite the early dominance of Mercedes, the Bahrain GP for example will almost certainly go down as a modern classic with the likes of the 2011 Canadian GP and the 2008 Brazilian GP.
With such excitement surrounding the new season, why do we need to restrain the drivers and cars that the Manufacturers have worked so hard to develop this year?
Despite the somewhat deja vous feeling to the discussions by Formula 1’s strategy group to make the cars noisier, return sparks and vapor trails to Formula 1 this year, we need look no further than the tyres, the group’s solution to the same argument it was discussing in 2010-11.
The Pirelli’s have outlived their purpose. It was Sergio Perez that put it best when he said that GP2 was embarrassing Formula 1, and while there are a few reasons for this, the overriding one is without doubt the tyres. Mitch Evans set a time of 1m34.141s to claim the fastest lap in the first GP2 race at Barcelona. Marcus Ericsson set the slowest lap in the Formula 1 race, just 0.791s faster than Evans. Formula 1 has always been the absolute in Motor Racing terms, the ultimate test of a driver and team to produce the fastest cars technology will allow. 0.791s ahead of a feeder formula is not reflective of the talent and budgets involved in Formula 1.
The new rules have put Formula 1 on par with any series in the world for the development of new technologies. The car companies involved are developing technologies that will no doubt help the average road car to become more efficient, practical and economical, which in turn makes the sport more viable for the manufacturers. Look at some of the developments Formula 1 has made in the past, monocoque chassis in the 60s, ground effect in the 70s, turbo technology in the 80s, electronic traction control, launch control and active suspension in the 90s, KERS in the 00s and that’s just to name a few.
The New rules will allow the Formula 1 cars to develop and find anywhere in the region of half a second to two seconds depending on which team you believe, and therefore the pace is there in each car for each team to improve if they are willing to develop throughout the season.
In the last rule changes in 2009, Rubens Barrichello recorded a 1m24.783 in the opening Grand Prix at Melbourne. A year later, Sebastian Vettel produced a 1m23.919s in qualifying at the same track. Therefore it would not be unfair going on past experience to expect Formula 1 to be a second quicker next year simply because of the ferocious development war fought by teams throughout the season.
So, despite Formula 1’s recent battle with the noise and visual appearance of the cars, these are issues which inevitably disappear and fade into the background. We will get used to the sound of the new engines in the same way we did the v8s in 2006, and the need for sparks and vapour trails will probably be forgotten. What won’t be forgotten is that the speed of the cars under the new rule changes is being limited by the tyres. we no longer need alternate strategies forced by the graining Pirellis.
The Italian manufacturer has been a loyal servant to the Formula 1 paddock, and the marque has not had an easy ride in the sport. Take the 2013 British GP when the de-laminating tyres nearly forced the race to be red flagged for example. Teams, drivers and the fans called Pirellis involvement in the sport into question. There is no doubt that Pirelli is a fantastic brand, and has come under far too much scrutiny in the past for merely doing as it was employed to do. It delivered on all of the FIA’s criteria when building the tyres, and it is not their fault that the racing the tyres produced is not to the taste of the fans. But from next year onwards, let’s hope Pirelli produces a tyre that is as ambitions and innovative as the cars we have seen this year and more importantly, let’s hope the FIA ALLOW them to.
Credit to Roman Pfeiffer for the featured image