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Pirelli have admitted that a 4-stop strategy is too many stops for a Formula One race and most of Sunday’s runners did just that. Even a few 3-stop strategies were changed on the fly to a 4-stop tactic to stay within tow of Ferrari’s blistering pace.  Now Pirelli seem keen to take a longer, in-depth look at their tire compounds and could have a new 2013 version for Silverstone.

Pirelli boss Paul Hembery didn’t stop there. The head of Pirelli motor port even leveled a finger at one team in particular telling the press:

“It’s rather bizarre,” Hembery added: “We’re only doing what we’ve done for the last two years and we don’t understand why you’re [the press] so excited.

“Unless you all want us to give Red Bull the tyres to win the championship. It’s pretty clear. If we did that, there would be one team that would benefit and it would be them.

“You have to bear in mind, if we make a change, we have a lot of teams who would be against it and one maybe for,” he added.

“I know if we make a change, I am going to have the podium people today in Spain aren’t going to be happy and then you’re going to be at Silverstone telling me we have given the championship to Red Bull. It’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

It’s an interesting statement if you were a conspiracy theorist because Red Bull have ruled the roost for three years on the trot and this year they’ve seemed to have gotten it wrong in the way they manage the new, higher degrading and more sensitive tire compounds for 2013. One can almsot sense Hembery’s desire to keep Red Bull from getting a more complimentary tire to their RB9 chassis by singling them our in his commentary. That may, with all deference to Hembery, be born more from the pressure Red Bull is bringing to bear on the situation rather than a desire to see Red Bull out of the lead for a change.

The fact is, no matter how difficult Red Bull are finding the 2013 Pirelli compounds and construction, Mercedes is faring far worse but I’ve not read Hembery claiming a change in tires would hand the title to the Mercedes team. Paul seems to squarely be suggesting that Red Bull are the team complaining the most and if you were looking to mix things up a bit in Formula One, keeping the energy drink maker off the boil would be exactly what you want. As for Red Bull’s position, team boss Christian Horner isn’t quite as direct regarding Pirelli’s abilities or the teams desire to have a better tire:

“I think it’s too confusing for the fans,” Horner said.

“When we’re saying to Sebastian Vettel, you’re racing Kimi Raikkonen for position, but you’re not and don’t fight him, that’s not great.

“Pirelli are a capable company and they can get on top of it, but it’s a bit too much at the moment.”

Horner comes at the argument from a fan’s perspective of improving the value of the sport and making it less confusing over tires that are too aggressive. Horner’s opinion is not the sound of one hand clapping, however, as many drivers were bemoaning the performance of the Pirelli tire in Spain this weekend. Is this conspiracy theories at their worst? Suggesting that Pirelli have managed to bring a tire to the 2013 season that is more complimentary to Ferrari, Lotus and perhaps Force India while offering consternation to a team who have dominated the sport for long enough?

It very well may be conspiracy nonsense but keep in mind that the 2009 season saw a device called a dual diffuser that, quite honestly, skirted the rules so much it was all but banned until the F1 bosses saw that Brawn GP and Williams were the only teams to show up for the first race in Australia with the device and were clearly head and shoulders above the long-established big teams. This made for good drama and a good story line. It worked and Brawn GP secured the world championship after amassing enough points in the time it took the other teams to finally redesign their chassis’s and field a dual diffuser car. For the balance of the season they played defense and guarded an insurmountable points lead giving Jenson Button the Driver’s Championship and the team the Constructor’s Championship.

This brings us full circle back to the team that seems to be suffering the most from qualifying to the race. Mercedes  struggled from the front row to finish mid-field and driver Nico Rosberg was 70 seconds behind Spanish Grand Prix winner Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari. This didn’t include the first stint as Alonso remained behind Rosberg for the opening laps. Is it fair to change the tire compounds to accomodate teams such as Mercedes and Red Bull? Perhaps not says Lotus F1’s team boss Eric Boullier:

“People should ask the right questions. The question is not the tyres. If our car can do it, it is because we did something to our car to enable it to do it.”

Asked if he felt it would be fair if Pirelli made changes to the tyres, Boullier said: “In some ways it’s not fair, but we have to deal with it. Everyone has the same tyres.”

While making a tire that experiences a high level of degradation has arguably increased the entertainment value of F1, it has also stepped on the tail of safety with multiple delaminations that Pirelli insist are due to debris cutting the tire. That most likely is true but in the past, the tire has deflated, not completely delaminated with the air pressure still in the tire. This could be a very dangerous scenario and Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne was the latest recipient of the odd tire behavior in Sunday’s race.

Safety has trumped all pragmatism in F1 before and it will be hard to continue with the tire compounds Pirelli have offered for 2013 if the delamination isn’t solved. Having suggested as much, it will be equally difficult to return to a tire that favors the Red Bull chassis if you are currently enjoying higher TV viewing due to a team other than Red Bull dominating the series yet again. As for Pirelli, they will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t. It’s the difficult position of a sole supplier to Formula One.

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An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry and as a CTO, he focuses on technology integration in commercial workspace design, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.
  • “it will be equally difficult to return to a tire that favors the Red Bull chassis if you are currently enjoying higher TV viewing due to a team other than Red Bull dominating the series yet again”

    except that viewing figures are down. They were for Bahrain, at least. Haven’t seen stats for Spain yet.

  • Jack Flash (Aust)

    None of the F1 cars, from any team on the grid, at any race thusfar in the year; has shown its ultimate performance as far as speed/laptime. Not one, not even for a few laps.

    Every F1 car, without exception, is planning on how to get the maximum laptime performance they can, during the strategic schedule of stints vs tyre compounds they calaculte will get them to the finish line as fast as is achievable. None of which constitutes any driver actually going flat out 100% for any period.

    Even Fernando Alonso, with his consumate race-winning performance in the Ferrari in Barcelona, by his own direct statements – could only go at 90% of car potential, for fear of chewing up his chewing-gum Pirellis. Perhaps Lotus was achieving a 85-90% of car potential sometimes in Barcelona. The other cars in decreasing % of their cars potential down the grid – ALL REGULATED BY THE DEMANDS OF NOT HURTING their eggshell boots. Race after race of tippy-toe tippy toe lapping, with eyes on laptime clocks and temperature monitoring telemetry from the four corners on the car.

    This is not FORMULA 1. This is bullsh$t. JF

    • JF –

      I agree with you here, however Alonso and Massa were definitely pushing a hell of a lot harder than, I’d say, anyone has pushed thus far this year. I thought it telling, too, that during the podium performance of the national anthems Alonso was making the usual driver nods and smiles to various people down below. At one point he held up 4 fingers and made a sly grin. I cannot help but believe Ferrari decided, early on, to do a 4 stopper sprint race to screw with the current strategy we’ve all seen the teams employ thus far this year. It was quite telling when Vettel was told to, “Box, box, box!” at the last second early on in the race as a response to Ferrari’s stop. I was thinking this strategy was backfiring, even, when Alonso had to stop again quite early for a second time after quite a short stint on his first set of Hard compounds.

      Basically, I’m quite over the bitching session about how Formula 1 has turned into something that it shouldn’t be. Yes, I could pontificate for days about all the crap that pisses me off about modern F1, but to see Ferrari pull this kind of strategy, that reminded me somewhat of Schumacher’s 4-stopper at France ’04, and make it work was kind of awesome. It was almost a two finger salute to the whole tire debacle.

      • The strategy Ferrari took was possible largely because of the amount of time Fernando spent ahead of the others. Having a car in one’s immediate vicinity immediately doubles the tyre wear on the cars, if the last 2 years’ tyre patterns are any guide. A car that gets to save lots of tyre wear by being up front will inevitably be able to deploy it later in the stint when the car is more capable of carrying the speed without melting the remaining tyre life away.

        • Perhaps, but I’d wager they had to have planned to do a 4-stopper from the outset in order have such command of the overall pitstop strategy. Furthermore, Massa spent the day in traffic and pulled out a damn solid 3rd place, which would indicate a f-all to nursing the tires.

  • Rapierman

    It doesn’t matter if it’s Red Bull, Ferrari, Lotus, McLaren, Mercedes, or JOE BLOW OFF THE STREET that would end up dominating. All that matters is that the car….and the DRIVER…get to the finish line in one piece. SAFETY is JOB ONE. Always has been, always shall be. If the TIRE isn’t safe, then it doesn’t matter if it’s one stop, two stops, three, four, or UMPTEEN MILIION STOPS. The tire IS NOT SAFE, high degredation or low. To say that the reason not to change is due to favorability of one team over another is BOGUS, a strawman. Pirelli and FOM know better than to pull that crap on the fan. There is no excuse for stupidity, and this tire issue is stupidity at its worst. They need to fix it now, and they need to do it as if their lives depended on it.

    • Benalf

      What you said would be right if the tires are suffering sudden blow ups. It’s a delamination of the road-contact layers what we saw in the last two races, and the tires remains inflated for a reasonable amount of time. That’s a consequence of the internal construction of the 2013 tires; Pirelli switched from Kevlar to steel to increase shape rigidity and contact area so the tires don’t loss all its rubber at the shoulders. Is it good? NO. The change in tire specs Pirelli announce today will solve it? It depends. If the move back to the kevlar layers, probably yes. However, what would you say to those teams who spend months of design of the 2013 cars based on the mechanical and geometrical specs of the 2013 tires that from Canada on, they will race on 2012 spec tires?

  • MIE

    I think the safety issue of tyres delaminatng rather than puncturing is spurious. Surely if you have to choose one failure mode, delaminating, with air still in the carcass, is safer than a complete blow out?

    There is something very different in the way the teams are loading these tyres: Mercedes were overheating the left rear; Red Bull were overheating the left front; Lotus chose previuosly used tyres for the entire race; Button chose brand new tyres for the whole race.

    However four stops in a race lasting less than two hours is way too many. I would much rather teams had free choice of any of the four compounds available, and weren’t forced to make any stops. At circuits like Barcelona (hard on tyres) we may get three stops winning the race, on tracks like Monaco (hard to pass) we may get a non-stopping car winning, however the option would be there for a team/driver to choose a softer compound and try and win by stopping one or more times.

  • Todd S

    Let’s be realistic. The teams are struggling to understand the tires and the car setups that optimize the tires, but by the time we get to the latter part of the European schedule the engineers will have figured out how to use them properly. And just like last year, the complaining will eventually stop, Vettel will win four straight, and everyone will forget about the tires.

    I agree that the high degrading tires don’t make for exciting racing (after the first 10 laps), but ALL the teams are dealing with the same tires. If the only consideration is that the cars are making too many pit stops, I can’t see why Pirelli need to change them. If it’s a safety concern, absolutely change them. Hembry (and Todd) is right, Pirelli is damned one way or the other.

  • Julian

    I hear the IOC is going to follow F1’s lead.
    Nike have been tasked to develop a running shoe for the next Olympics that will degrade heavily if the competitors try to run too fast. This should produce a close race where the winner will be the guy who can tip-toe down the 100 meter track without his shoes falling to pieces, and we will finally know which athlete is the worlds best at running shoe management.
    However, apparently Usain Bolt is pissed.

    • LOL. Love it!

    • UAN

      It’ll be the delamination that will be most fun to watch, as they race around the corner, Bolt in the lead then boom, the wheels come of his 3-peat…literally :)

      • cconf1

        Yeah … and then they can require a shoe change at 50m to ensure that all runners use both compounds.

    • Jack Flash (Aust)

      LoL. Bravo!
      You get my POTW vote (for what that may be worth). JF

  • Marjan

    I’m reading the comments I can’t believe in my eyes. Safety…safety…safety…Come one people!…What is Motorsport all about?
    Is it a ballet or something? I mean nobody wants to see people hurt ofc but this is too much boring, this is like we all watch a group of primadonas playing project Runway. Where is the action? Where is the fighting at the track? It’s not about tires, it’s not about drivers, safety and bla bla bla…IT’ S ABOUT US! Formula One Fanatics! At the end of the day who brings the profit to the teams? Who is the end customer? Pirelli, Red Bull, MClaren, Ferrari? Why is always everything about them?
    It should be everything about us…If nobody watch TV at the Sunday afternoon will F1 exist???
    Once again, I do not want to see people hurt, but stop making motorsport like a tea party. In this moment only grandmum’s enjoy in this F1 “action”!
    Team orders, strategy…what else???…let them race!!!…let us enjoy in their racing!!!

    • If they were racing, fewer people would be complaining. And no, I do not call a race where even the winner cannot ever exceed 90% of their performance “racing”. It just about qualifies as “testing” – and I don’t generally care who wins a test.

    • Benalf

      That’s why a a multi-tire supplier tender would be ideal for an ideal racing sport…..oh!, I forgot we had one in the mid-2000 and both Ferrari and Renault mastered the use of their Bridgestones and Michelins…..yeah, but now what it counts is the show, so if it is not working for Mr.E and his prodigal son/RBR Pirelli is asked to change the recipe with a quarter of the season completed….screwed those teams who got it right, I want Seb to erase Schumi from the top of the records list. At the end of the day, going back and forth, all the time makes the sport to look stupid

  • Warthog

    Todd, I don’t think we can keep connecting the high-deg compound with the delaminations. I think it was on Fri or Sat of the NBC coverage that they explained the delams were occurring because of a change in the carcass of the tire that was intended to prevent a deflation due to punctures. They made the carcass much stiffer and resistant to losing it’s air pressure, but as a result, the much more flexible tread compound is coming away from the carcass when it’s cut. I think this would have happen whether we were on this year’s compound or last years.

    In contrast to the high-deg, this is something that may actually be blamed on Pirreli. They appear to have had good intentions…perhaps even to increase safety, but it just didn’t work as intended.

  • Scholesy

    Is this not basically an admission that they are trying to make tires that cripple Red Bull?