Amidst the controversy of qualifying tweaks at the start of the 2016 Formula One season, there is one change to the rules the FIA have made that appears, by some small miracle, to be working… and that is the extra tyre allocation now permitted each weekend, along with handing the choice of how many of each compound to bring, to each individual driver.
So far, we have seen a number of different strategies being played out by the teams, even between team-mates, when tyre choices made many weeks prior to the race, can work out perfectly to give a driver the run on his rival. We have seen action and overtaking a plenty in the first two rounds of the season, and that is thanks to the opportunity afforded by the new tyre regulations, bringing the potential to make every race this season, unpredictable.
Under the new rules, Pirelli allocate three sets of tyres to each driver (two sets to be kept available in the race, with one of those to be used), and a set of the softest compound to be set aside for the final part of qualifying (Q3). The remaining ten sets however, are now chosen by each individual driver.
Romain Grosjean has benefited most so far from this new arrangement, particularly at the Bahrain Grand Prix, where the Frenchman secured fifth place overall following an aggressive tyre selection for the Sakhir circuit, benefiting from having an extra set of new super soft tyres at his disposal mid-race, before completing his final stint on a new set of Softs.
After the race, the 29-year old advised: “This is a massive reward. Really, just unbelievable. In the race, I had a good feeling in the car. It was an aggressive strategy, but managing tires has always been my strength in the past. Knowing we had a softer compound for this racetrack was something I liked. The car was set up well for the Supersoft tires and I had a fantastic race. The car has a very good baseline. Everything is working well.”
Williams in comparison faltered in their decision making, going too conservative and trying to make a two stop strategy work with the medium compound tyre. That lost them valuable positions come the end of the race, as Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas were unable to overtake the advancing competition, on fresher, faster rubber. The teams will of course have lessons to be learnt in the early stages of the new system, but once they get on top of those, we could see some interesting scenarios being played out.
For the upcoming round in China, Grosjean has again selected the most attacking tyre strategy, with Massa presumably having learnt from the Oxfordshire based squads Bahrain mistakes, also following the Renault man’s lead, this time around. In 2015, Mercedes were able to score a one-two finish for their drivers at the Chinese Grand Prix by using their supreme pace to perfection on the medium tyre, However, the new rules open up a whole new ball game for the other teams, allowing them the possibility of mounting a serious challenge against the Silver Arrows domination with savvy strategy, and taking away the World champion squads performance advantage.
Implementation of the new tyre rules has given the F1 fan a snippet of what they have been crying out for of late. We now have more unpredictability and intrigue – ‘who will use which tyre, when?’ ‘What tyre choice will this driver use for his next stint?’ are some of the questions we will now all be asking during each race. We have also seen more overtaking as a result of the differing team and driver strategies so far this year. The change has made F1 more exciting (despite being overshadowed somewhat by the qualifying debate), and that was exactly what FOM and Pirelli had in mind when they came up with the idea.
So far results have been encouraging, but whether they can continue in the same vein for the rest of the season is yet to be seen. For once the strategists have got to grips with the different scenarios open to them, and have the data to truly understand their cars from the early races, they will adapt as any person does to the situation and we could find predictability creeping back in. For now, the surprise elements that have emerged from the unknown workability of the 2016 machines (drivers having made their tyre selections for the first few races prior to pre-season testing), will hopefully continue, and then develop into a useful tool to shake up the grid.
For me, the FIA have managed to through a curve ball into the strategy game, and have done so with success…it is just a shame they could not be so on the ball with the rest of their zany propositions!
Let thecheckeredflag.co.uk know what you think about the new regulations – has it worked? Do you find the racing more exciting? Are you able to follow what is happening with relative ease, or do you find the new system complicated? Comment below.