Talking Heads: Too much of a good thing?
Going head-to-head as we discuss whether F1 is losing its grip...
Last Updated: 26/04/12 12:52pm
So what's got us talking today?
The Pirellis tyres and the influence they are exerting this season...
Ahh, yes, aren't they great? All this unpredictability, varied racing, lights-to-flag excitement, different winners in every race...
Wait a minute, buster. That's not quite what people are saying now. Bahrain seems to have marked a sea-change in the how the Pirellis are perceived and people are now concerned that tyres are dictating the type of racing we're seeing.
Which people exactly?
Well, Michael Schumacher for starters.
What's he said?
That the tyres should "last a bit longer" and that, because the degradation is so rapid, the field is now "cruising around like we have a safety car".
Sour grapes, surely. Isn't he just a lone voice?
Far from it. Judging by the amount of public support Michael's complaints have generated, he's anything but lonely in being concerned that F1 has swung too far towards being about preservation rather than pace...
Wait a second. You've got to do better than that. Schumacher has a lot of die-hard fans and if he announced the earth was flat then some people would say he's right.
Ok, if you want another voice to authority questioning whether tyres have become too important, try this from Martin Brundle: "Pirelli have done a great job for F1 and judging by audience figures and comments the fans love this style of unpredictable racing. But it does become confusing when we have drivers popping up out of the blue with a fast but unrepeatable lap time in a session, and fancied runners simply disappearing backwards in the race. We need to see pure skill, speed and pace win through too, and not simply just applaud those who could tiptoe the best or find the right set-up sweetspot on the day."
So the problem is that F1 has become too varied?
In a way, yes. Look at the way Kimi Raikkonen suddenly tumbled through the field in China and then, a week later, was able to charge through the field in Bahrain because he held back an extra set of tyres but could only make one shot at taking the lead because he needed to look after his rubber. There's too much protection, not enough pushing.
Protection is a skill
Yes, but so is pushing, and the Pirellis are seemingly outlawing that skill right now.
What are the drivers saying?
Nothing on record, but according to Martin, Michael's concern that the drivers can no longer 'push the cars near their limits' was shared with him on the flight home 'by a world champion and a multiple race winner'.
Oooh, any ideas who they could be?
Now's neither the time nor the place for that. The question is what F1 can do about the Pirellis.
Well, isn't it all Pirelli's fault?
No, that's the awkward thing. All Pirelli have done is fulfill their remit which was to provide more varied racing and divorce F1 from the Bridgestone era when cars could race flat-out throughout and the racing tended to be, well, a bit flat as a consequence. They've been asked to provide tyres that 'drop off' and they are doing just that.
Except they are dropping off too much?
Quite so. The drop-off is so sharp that it's better to lose twenty seconds or so taking a pit-stop than it is to continue trundling around. Hence drivers are making protection, in order to avoid that drop-off, their priority rather than pace.
Hardly F1 is it?
Sorry to contradict you, but endurance has always been a large factor in F1. Engines have to be protected, brakes have to be cooled etc etc. The issue at hand his season is that there's too much emphasis on protecting the tyres - the rewards of conservation currently far outweigh the rewards possible for risk-taking.
But we're seeing plenty of overtaking at least...
Actually one of the ironies of the season is that when the Pirellis drop off they leave so much debris on the track - the marbles, we hear referenced to in commentary - that drivers are being deterred from leaving the racing line and making an attack.
So what can be done?
Well, the issue will become a little less obvious when the teams are able to finally understand what makes the tyres tick. Part of the grumble at the moment is that the teams are still struggling to fathom why the tyres work well on some occasions and don't on others.
We need some sunshine!
Don't we always. But once the tyres are understood, the teams won't need to be quite so wary of them and we expect a little more risk. Hopefully.
And if that doesn't work?
One option would be to request that there are at least two steps between the tyres Pirelli select for a grand prix - a hard and a super-soft, for instance, rather than a soft and a medium compound. With a large performance differential between the two compounds even prior to the inevitable degradation, there will be scope for drivers to be rewarded for pushing whilst others are protecting. Whether that will cure the fundamental problem with the Pirellis remains to be seen, however.
That they can be protected. Although they do degrade if they are pushed too far, they don't necessarily degrade from mileage. Put a car in clean air and don't push it, the tyres will last a long course.
So what does F1 need then?
What the sport really needs to give the racing a push is for the tyres to start degrading after a reasonably well set number of laps. Then there would be a potentially-rewarding reason for drivers to push whilst those drivers who are skilled at protecting their rubber can perhaps make them last one or two more laps.
And what makes them degrade now?
That's what the teams are still struggling to work out. But one of the least racey elements to the Pirellis is that they start drop off far more quickly when one car is following another. In other words, racers are being punished for racing.
A shame you're too busy working on a website to tell Pirelli all this then...
Isn't that an old joke about taxi drivers?
Well they do say the old jokes are the best
And now the tyred ones.