Consequences of Pirelli Backing Down
Criticism from certain teams plus growing complaints from some sections of the media and fans have led Pirelli to announce that they will change the tyres from the Canadian Grand Prix onwards. The new range is set to combine elements from the 2012 and 2013 tyres with the aim of having both durability and performance but what will the real consequences of the change be?
The fear (or hope depending on whose side you take) is that those teams that have best mastered the delicate balancing act of managing their tyres, notably Lotus and Ferrari, will lose their advantage. It’s precisely what Red Bull, and to a certain extent Mercedes, have been lobbying for. There is also potential to mix up the midfield too while also tipping the balance in the private battle between Caterham and Marussia towards one or the other.
Red Bull have been particularly vocal about how they haven’t been able to fully exploit the potential of their aerodynamic prowess and the big worry is that the Austrian outfit could disappear into the sunset. It’s almost ironic that after years of fans complaining that F1 should have less reliance on aerodynamic grip and lean more towards mechanical grip that having made a step in that direction, Pirelli could be being pressured in to back tracking by the very same people.
At Mercedes, the effect may not be so obvious and mixed messages have been coming out of the Silver Arrows. Niki Lauda was highly critical of the tyre situation but other members of the team have been more circumspect. It could be that the team has been quietly lobbying in the background, however, I suggest that not for the first time this year, Lauda and the rest of Mercedes have been on completely different wavelengths. Consider that in Spain, Nico Rosberg only three-stopped – hardly the sign of a team struggling to look after its tyres. It seems that Mercedes’ problems are much more complex than simply a tyre issue, as illustrated by their strong qualifying and late race pace. Consequently, tyre changes may not be any benefit to Mercedes – the recent tweak to the hard tyre probably played against them. This is because they have one of the most underdeveloped coanda exhausts of the front runners and therefore Mercedes’ qualifying performance has been based more on improved mechanical grip rather than aerodynamic.
On the other hand, there is a good argument that having adapted to the 2013 tyres the quickest, Lotus and Ferrari may adapt to the new range just as quickly and Red Bull may get more than they bargained for. After all, it wasn’t until half-way through 2012 that Red Bull started to show their form.
However, modifying the tyres will not be straightforward – for starters it is far from simple as going back to the 2012 tyres. Pirelli increased the weight of the tyres for this season, with the cars undergoing a corresponding increase in the minimum weight – those weights are now locked into Formula One’s regulations. Moreover, changing the shape of the tyre is problematic as all the teams have designed their aerodynamics around the current tyres.
Spain provided a particularly telling example of the challenge faced in changing the tyres when a new development hard tyre proved to be almost 2.5 seconds off the pace, with very poor warm up. Now Pirelli are being expected to turn up in Canada with new tyres that will do the job straight off with no testing, even free practice in the next race isn’t an option given the peculiar demands of Monaco. Two weeks later, they’ll be at Silverstone – an entirely different circuit in terms of tyre demands. If some people think the current tyres are bad, it’s nothing compared to what could potentially turn up at a Grand Prix near you this June.
The ultimate consequence may yet concern the continued participation of Pirelli in Formula One as, having delivered what Formula One asked for and then being berated for it, you couldn’t blame them for considering whether they really want to refresh their contract with the sport. It’s a big issue because if there is one thing Formula One could do with in 2014 as it introduces new powertrains, it is continuity in tyre supplier in order to provide as smooth a transfer as possible.
Whatever the consequences though, it is clear that fundamental changes part way through a season should have been avoided.
In a season were teams are weighing up when to switch focus to next year’s car and the major rule changes it will face, we may just find 2013 written off sooner than we ever imagined.
Credit: Pirelli Tyres