Formula 1

Pirelli’s F1 Tyres: Too Unpredictable?

4 Mins read
Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher has been the most vocal in his criticism of Pirelli (Photo Credit: Octane Photographic)

Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher has been the most vocal in his criticism of Pirelli (Photo Credit: Octane Photographic)

It is funny that in a sport so complex, winning races can hinge on getting something simple to work. Maybe it is easy to forget how big a part tyres play in Formula One, particularly since Pirelli took Bridgestone's place. Now on a race day, victory can come down to who simply manages their tyres better.  Now it seems an increasing number of fans and drivers are becoming critical of the Italian tyre company.

The announcement that Bridgestone would be pulling out of the sport came as a shock to some. Since 2006 they had been Formula One's de facto sole tyre supplier. It prompted a frenzy of speculation as to who would replace them. Initially, it appeared as if Michelin would be the chosen choice of many to take over, but after promising to listen to fans' complaints, Pirelli were chosen.

Numerous fans had become bored of Bridgestone, and frustrated with the way they were bringing incredibly durable tyres to races in 2010 which meant a lack of strategy. Bridgestone were rightly fearful of any negative publicity they would receive should drivers or team bosses start criticising their tyres for degrading too quickly, or for being unsafe.

There was one anomaly in 2010 however. The Canadian Grand Prix historically throws up strategy headaches for teams, with the track being very abrasive. This, mixed with the rules that drivers have to use both compounds of tyre on a race day resulted in an incredible race which Hamilton was eventually the victor of. Such was the reaction from fans following the race on how exciting it was, Pirelli was ordered by the teams to produce tyres that would degrade and mean strategy became a big part of Sundays again.

It is a credit to them that they listened and did just that. In the first year of their comeback to F1, Pirelli helped spice up the racing considerably. It was perhaps a little hard to see at times, such was Sebastian Vettel's dominance, but the Pirelli tyres, combined with DRS,  meant more on track overtakes and wheel to wheel action than we had seen in a long time. Towards the end of the year, Pirelli brought tyres that were too conservative and perhaps meant a drop off in excitement – but that was to be expected at circuits that they had previously never raced at.

Nevertheless, Pirelli promised at the end of 2011 that they'd continually try to improve the racing for 2012, and after five races that has shown.  We've had five different winners in five different cars from the first five races – something that has previously never happened in modern Formula One. Only one race – Nico Rosberg's maiden victory in China – has been won by more than twenty seconds.

Despite their attempt to appeal to a broad range of fans, Pirelli is now coming under criticism from some people within the sport, and also outside of it.

The criticism started after Michael Schumacher claimed he didn't enjoy his drive through the field at Bahrain. He started twenty second, but eventually ended up tenth. After the race however, he stated that conserving tyres felt like driving behind the safety car, and questioned whether Pirelli were doing a good job for the teams. More recently, Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz admitted that whilst Formula One has never been more exciting in recent times, he believes that the current Pirelli tyres are making the racing a “lottery”.

So do they have a point?

It is hard to agree with their statements when the racing is as good as it is right now. But it seems many fans are split on how they view Formula One as a sport. Some fans watch it from a technological point of view, and would seemingly be perfectly happy to watch a cleverly designed car win by half a minute or more. They feel frustrated that right now it seems hard to be able to tell who really is the quickest. Certainly, before the Spanish Grand Prix, not many would have bet on Pastor Maldonado winning!

Others meanwhile just want to see an exciting race. It is debateable that the Pirelli tyres and DRS have been designed simply to try and get the casual fan more interested in the sport. It seems to be working.  Despite the shared TV deal in Britain between BBC and Sky, viewing figures have been up on last year. If that is a trend that is being replicated around the world, it would be hard to argue that the new rules are doing damage to the sport's image.

F1 is often claimed to be the pinnacle of motorsport. Surely then, to succeed, you have to be the best in every area. From overtaking and defending, to one lap pace in qualifying, and now in the Pirelli era, managing your tyres through a race distance. It is only inevitable that some drivers will manage to change their driving styles better than others, but still; the best will rise to the top as seen with the fact that the first four drivers in the championship standings are all champions.

In the Bridgestone era, fans complained that the racing was becoming too predictable, and now with Pirelli, some fans claim the racing has been turned into a lottery. It seems whatever the tyres, whatever the compound, some fans will never be happy. But surely we should applaud Pirelli for their on-going work and the part they've played for making F1 one the most unpredictable and exciting forms of motorsport once again.

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F1 correspondent for The Checkered Flag. Follow him on Twitter @JHSingo
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