Pirelli are an easy target, but F1 is better off because of them

It’s extremely easy to complain about Pirelli tyres and how they’ve influenced the state of Formula 1 in recent years. I can’t go onto a single F1 forum, comment board or Twitter feed without seeing at least one resenting comment on how they’re “ruining” the sport.

It’s clear that many fans are angered by Pirelli’s approach – by creating tyres that deliberately generate extra pit stops, they were always going to come under fire at some point. But the complaints against them are becoming increasingly irritating, and I’m starting to feel that their detractors are missing the point.

Look back to Spanish Grands Prix several years ago, as recent as 2009. There was absolutely no on-track action, as every single position change was managed through the pit stops. It’s not a recent thing either – the 1999 Spanish Grand Prix saw ONE overtake in the entirely of the race. Just one.

Pirelli have completely revolutionised the way F1 races, and for the better. Fernando Alonso may have jumped Sebastian Vettel in the stops, but it wasn’t completely necessary, seeing as how easily he and Vettel soon dispatched with Nico Rosberg. Overtaking is finally possible in tracks like the Circuit de Catalunya for the first time in years, and it has benefited the sport massively.

Nevertheless, the argument that the tyres are “artificial” won’t go away. More worryingly, even some drivers complain that they’re only pushing at 90% during the race, conserving tyres instead of pushing as hard as possible. Vettel was the clearest example of this today, not even opposing several drivers and letting them past.

However, it’s important to remember that the winning driver did none of this. Fernando Alonso pushed as hard as he needed to, utilised a 4-stop strategy without breaking a sweat, and reaped the rewards. It’s quite clear nowadays that the drivers that win races and the drivers that sit around and complain about the tyres are mutually exclusive. I’m looking at you, Webber.

The best drivers will win races regardless of the circumstances. Alonso knows this, and so does Kimi Raikkonen. Both drivers have proven to be excellent at mixing tyre management with searing pace, ignoring delta times (target lap times) and just focusing at the job in hand. Their efforts have been rewarded, and we will see more of this as the year goes on.

But at the same time, complaints about Pirelli still won’t go away. An excellent article by Will Buxton today demonstrates why this doesn’t matter:

Formula 1 loves a villain and this year Pirelli has been cast into this pantomime 
role. But, as I explained at the end of the Spanish Grand Prix in my final thought 
on the NBC Sports Network, the job of a Formula 1 team is to design a car around 
the variables which are unchangeable. Hermann Tilke used to get the blame for 
ruining the show for his apparently dreadful circuit design. But is it not the job 
of the teams to design a car for the circuits on which the championship races? Of 
course it is. Just as it is the job of the teams to design a car that maximizes 
the tyres on which it runs.

What Ferrari showed in Barcelona was that yes you may have to make more pitstops 
than we’ve seen in the past, but that it is possible to push from the moment the 
lights go out to the moment that the flag falls. That so much of the press is 
decrying the race shows, I believe, a disappointing cynicism. Pirelli has become 
too easy a target.

But should we blame Pirelli for simply doing what they’ve been asked to do and 
make the tyres less durable? Or should we blame the teams who have seemingly got 
themselves into the rut of a blame culture that hides the true fact that some have 
not designed a car capable of maximizing one of the unchangeable variables that 
has defined the history of the sport?

I’m looking forward to the next batch of F1 races, and the challenges they will hold. I can only hope that the drivers and other fans do so as well.

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