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GP Week : Issue 183
22 GPWEEK.com // 22 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: OPINION Tyres – that’s all Formula One seems to be talking about these days. They’re plain-looking, black and round, and not nearly as glamorous as all of that exquisite-looking, wind tunnel- honed carbon-fibre bodywork. Yet, they seem to be defining the racing. Everyone loved it at the beginning, when Pirelli arrived with fast-fading tyres intended to spice up the action on track, forcing teams to stop multiple times, keeping team tacticians on their toes and reintroducing the strategic element to racing in an era where mid-race refueling is banned. Everyone loved the unpredictability last year generated – seven different winners from the first seven races – as long as it didn’t get too much and the natural order of the big teams doing the lion’s share of the winning was eventually restored, which of course it was. But this year, Pirelli seem to be taking the heat for tyres that fall apart too quickly even though it’s the best drivers and the best teams doing all the winning. The Italian firm has tweaked its tyres every year since they entered the sport and the tyres this year are designed to degrade even faster. This was most clearly illustrated at the Chinese Grand Prix where Pirelli’s soft tyre fell apart after just a handful of laps. The criticism only continued to mount, not helped by a slew of tyre failures, until things came to a head following the Spanish Grand Prix. Several drivers – including race winner Fernando Alonso – opted for a four-stop strategy, which some felt was one stop too many. The loudest complaints came from Red Bull, who won the 2011 Spanish Grand Prix with a four-stop strategy, but only managed a P4 finish in 2013. Red Bull have been using the media to pressure Pirelli into tweaking their tyres, but have yet to file any formal requests for change with the Italian supplier. Team owner Dietrich Mateschitz lashed out at Pirelli in the Barcelona aftermath. “Under the circumstances, we can neither get the best out of our car nor our drivers,” Mateschitz told Austrian journalists. “If we would make the best of our car we would have to stop eight or 10 times during a race, depending on the track. This is a competition in tyre management. Real racing looks different.” Following the Spanish Grand Prix, Pirelli acknowledged that four stops was perhaps excessive, and said they would alter the tyres in time for the Canadian Grand Prix. Their main concern is preventing the dramatic delaminations seen in Bahrain and Spain, even though the delaminations are safer, albeit visually more dramatic, than a traditional deflation. Pirelli’s announcement prompted criticism from Ferrari and Lotus amid concerns that the changes to the tyres would take away at least some of the advantage held by those two teams and hand it to Red Bull. “Just imagine for a moment that, because a football team can't run as fast as its opponent, the dimensions of the pitch are changed at half time!” Lotus team principal Eric Boullier said. “That there are changes to come can be seen as somewhat frustrating, and I hope they are not too extreme. It's clear that Pirelli have found themselves in a difficult situation and under pressure from different quarters.” Ferrari blogger the Horse Whisperer, also got in on the act: “Voices have been raised to underline the fact that various teams, some of whom got to the podium and others who were quite a way off, made four pit stops in the recent Spanish Grand Prix, making the race hard to follow. It’s a shame that these worthy souls kept quiet two years ago when, at the very same Catalunya Circuit and on the Istanbul track, five of the six drivers who got to those two podiums made exactly the same number of pit stops as did Alonso and Massa last Sunday in the Spanish Grand Prix.” The FIA waded into the debate last week, saying that any changes to the tyres would only be allowed on safety grounds, meaning tweaks aimed at reducing degradation and the number of pit stops will not be permitted. And that is exactly how it should be. I am no fan of drivers driving to a lap time delta, not pushing to the limit and not defending their position against a rival for fear of destroying their rubber. Yes, a line has to be drawn somewhere. But tweaking the tyres mid-season at the risk of shaking up the competitive order is not the answer. There has always been a limiting factor in Formula One. This year it’s the tyres. They are the same for everybody and the team that deserves to win is the team that has designed the car best able to cope with that limiting factor. At the end of the day, one thing you don’t want is fans questioning whether the driver and team crowned world champion deserve it at all. OPINION ABHISHEK TAKLE Contributing Writer TYRED OF ALL THE DRAMA