Having Pirelli come tho F1 at the start of the 2011 season was a blessing to a sport which was recieving criticism for being boring.
While Formula One will never be truly boring, there was a lack of uncertainty that fans enjoy during a Grand Prix weekend by the end of the 2010 season. No one was constantly asking “who will spring a surprise this weekend?”
In 2011, Pirelli was brought in to spice up the racing, make pitstops more prevalent, make tire strategy the priority during the race and create more overtaking. Pirelli made some very good tires for 2011. Much different the Bridgestones of old, the Pirellis were famous for their ability to drop off in pace rapidly. This drop in performance was soon dubbed “the cliff”.
One problem that Pirelli was faced with was the dominance of Red Bull in 2011. Exhaust blowing technology reached its peak that year, with Red Bull leading the way. With the way the team manipulated their exhaust gases, Red Bull were able to create massive amounts of downforce which was integral to their strolls to both championships.
With Red Bull dominating in 2011, the goal of closing the field and making the races more exciting was very difficult to achieve. While many thought the races were more exciting than in previous years, the end results were often very similar, allowing Vettel to walk away with the drivers’ championship.
In 2012, Pirelli had to come up with something special. It’s one thing to supply for one successful year, but replicating that is an entirely different animal. A problem Pirelli had to address was the conservative approach they started to take at the end of the 2011 season.
In 2012, the tires had a flatter surface to allow a more even distribution if the cars’ weight on the tire. This would allow for less sever tire wear. New exhaust regulations for 2012 also closed the field up significantly. The stage was set for a fantastic season of close racing and hard fought battles.
The tires proved to be very tricky to work with, however. It was discovered that each compound had a very narrow operating window, that is, there was a very small margin between having your tires fully on and working, and sliding off the track. What was also discovered, much to the annoyance of all the F1 teams, was that track temperature had a significant effect on how the tires performed and how different teams worked with their tires. One weekend in China, cool temperatures worked in favor of the Mercedes team who went on to win the race, and another weekend in Bahrain, hot temperatures meant Red Bull and Lotus were on top.
The fact that track temperature was making such a huge difference between a team’s performance race to race frustrated many. Up and down the paddock were complaints that the racing was fake and that it was more luck than strategy and speed that got you results. Indeed, Pirelli can be held largely responsible for creating the record seven different winners in the first seven races of the 2012 season.
I personally found all the uncertainty exciting because I hadn’t yet experienced this sort of competitiveness from nearly every team before.
Eventually, the teams got around most of the problems and were able to more consistently extract performance from the tires. However, in the last few races of the season, Pirelli once again resorted to the sort of conservative approach that they were criticized for in 2011. In Korea, India, Austin and Brazil, conservative tire compound choices meant that a majority of the teams opted for one-stop strategies which made the fans less than excited. The races, however, managed to be very exciting thanks to the competitiveness of the field.
In 2013, Pirelli are aiming for even more pitstops during the races to ensure that the battles are not only fought out on track, but in the pits as well. If Pirelli are capable of this, then 2013 is set to be possibly even more thrilling than 2012. That would be some achievement.
One thing I would suggest to Pirelli is for them to not be afraid to take risks. There are no new tracks on the 2013 calendar, so Pirelli know how their tires should work. They know that some tire choices worked and others did not. It would be a shame if Pirelli were to take another conservative approach to the end of the season. If the end of the 2012 season was exciting with conservative tire choices, imagine how exciting it could be with daring tire choices!