Why Monaco is Vital to Formula One’s Survival

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Formula One is at a crossroads, and has been for the past few years. The line between the authenticity and artificiality of racing is growing more and more murky, as the sport tries at great pains to please both hardcore, dedicated fans and casual observers. The former calls out for the restoration of the good old days when going to a Formula One race meant observing an overwhelming display of skill, endurance and mental tenacity. These days, those very fans cringe when they see races in which veterans of the sport are heard on the radio asking if they should be racing a particular driver. The strategies which must be deployed to be successful in Grand Prix racing are geared, say the hardcore fans, towards creating a spectacle rather than a pure sporting event.

Who is to blame for the direction in which the sport has turned in recent years? Directly, one could blame Pirelli, the tire manufacturer challenged to improve the abhorred “spectacle”. The notion of getting back to Formula One’s roots is central to the push to retain the sport’s classic venues, many of which have come under immense pressure from tracks in Asia, the Middle East and North and South America. Spa, Silverstone, Nurburgring, Monza, and Monaco. These are the five oldest tracks on the calendar. In their various guises, these venues have provided the foundation upon which one of the most popular spectator sports in the world has grown. And indeed it has grown. Too much, perhaps? Many will argue yes, but their antiquated sentiments would have been short lived, as the tracks outside of Europe are integral to the revenue aspect of running the sport and thus, the existence of the historic venues of which many of us hold precious memories.

Many will argue that the measures taken to increase the fanbase of the sport has only promoted the ‘spectacle’ of Formula One. The introduction of artificial overtaking aids which, on paper, look like technological innovations, only serve to underscore the artificiality of the sport. I personally am not thrilled that DRS has had such a major effect on global perception of Formula One, but I do understand that its presence is integral to the very existence of the sport. Without its introduction in 2011, the sport was in serious danger of losing a large portion of its following. Two years on, we all share varying levels of contempt for the device, and we know call upon the sport to do more to appease our mounting desires. We really are a greedy bunch, us Formula One fans. None of us will ever be truly happy with the direction of the sport. Perhaps it is a good thing, though. Our dissatisfaction, while in the moment frustrating, helps underscore the sport’s desire to constantly improve itself.

What does this have to do with Monaco, though?

It is, on the whole, the most anticipated Grand Prix of the season. We laud drivers’ abilities to navigate the tight confines of the concrete barriers nestled in between the egos of billionaires and their plastic girlfriends. We also gawk at the extravagance of the whole event. The Monaco Grand Prix is fixated somewhere that should be at the height of economic woes, it should be working flat out to put its citizens back to work and jumpstarting their economy. These worries could be on another planet, for all the principality cares. The parties, the events, the corporate shoulder-rubbing, they all teeter the line between mere extravagance and utter waste. Yet, year in year out, the money keeps pouring in and the people keep enjoying themselves.

There is no other race like it to match its combination of extravagance, excitement, enthusiasm and utter pointlessness. That is right. The Monaco Grand Prix is pointless. At first glance.

In the build up to any modern-era Monaco Grand Prix, the news outlets are awash with soundbites from all the teams, their drivers, directors, owners and important faculty speaking of the roots to which the sport returns with every visit to the principality. If the sport stems from these ‘roots’, as they were, then does that not mean that the very foundation of Grand Prix racing is centered upon the notion of a spectacle?

The Monaco Grand Prix has been on the calendar ever since the very first Formula One race in 1950. Therefore, spectacles have been a part of the sport since its inception. Why then, do we get all hot and bothered about a spectacle today? Yes, the definition of a spectacle has changed somewhat; the spectacle isn’t about the extravagance as much as it is about making lots of teams competitive and the racing enthralling, but the fact of the matter remains. F1 is, and will always be, a show, a performance. The reason we keep watching the sport it because it is exciting. Would we still be watching Formula One if Ferrari were continuing its dominance of the sport that began in 2000? I wouldn’t be. We love the sport, no matter how little or how much of it we comprehend, because it changes itself. It enacts changes to make it different than it was before, so no one team can truly dominate for too long. Would Red Bull walk away with the championship if the current regulations were lessened? You bet they would. And would you still be watching? A lot of you would have turned the TV off long before you read this.

This is why Monaco is vital to Formula One’s survival, why it is the reason the sport still has fans. We love it dearly, but forget that not only is the location the root of F1, but the spectacle to which the location plays host.

Before you criticize Formula One for being too much of a spectacle and not about true racing, remember that the sport has always been about putting on a show, from the moment the first flag dropped in the tiny principality.

A New Type of Silly Season

It all started pretty much at the opening of the 2013 season with the announcement that Toro Rosso would be swapping their Ferrari engines with more Red Bull-friendly Renault units. The change seems long overdue. The partnership (Toro Rosso-Ferrari) seemed reasonable in the early days of the team’s existence, but once Red Bull made the switch to Renault power, Toro Rosso stuck with Ferrari. The whole paddock has been at relative odds to understand why. It’s not a particularly big deal, to be honest, but nevertheless it was a conundrum that presented a rather awkward contrast to their big brothers at Red Bull.

This announcement, along with Mclaren’s even more recent, and unsurprising, reveal that they will be renewing their storied partnership with Honda, has created a leaking floodgate with Williams the first team to spill out.

While they have most likely been ongoing, talks between Williams and Mercedes were only just confirmed within the last few days. If the combination of Williams and Mercedes doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, don’t worry, because it will be new to everyone.

Why is the change being made, and what does it mean for other teams like Marussia who are in the market for new engines? First off, the Williams-Mercedes partnership conveniently offsets Mclaren’s switch to Honda, so normality resumes there. But what of Toro Rosso’s switch? It is widely known that Renault is keen to reduce the number of teams it supplies to a preferred three, with four its limit. The inclusion of Toro Rosso will make Renault’s grand total of teams four: Red Bull, Lotus, Toro Rosso and Caterham. Manageable, but not ideal. Especially in a time when cost reduction, rather than profit, is the primary form of financial viability.

If Williams are to seal the Mercedes deal, the German company’s 2014 total will be four as well: Mclaren, Mercedes AMG, Force India and Williams. This leaves Ferrari with two teams and Marussia out in the cold.

Cosworth will not be participating in the 2014 campaign, thus leaving their one and only customer, Marussia, without an engine supplier, at least for the moment. When Jules Bianchi signed for the team in the wake of Luiz Razia’s sponsorship woes, red flags immediately went up, as speculation arose around a potential Ferrari engine deal for 2014. This is convenient, as Bianchi is part of Ferrari’s young driver program. They will want to invest in the team to ensure that Jules has all the tools he needs to succeed before he is considered for a future Ferrari drive. It all works out perfectly, right? Not quite.

Mclaren are also heavily invested in the Marussia team, with an extensive technical partnership accounting for all of the simulator work of the Marussia drivers and a significant amount of development correlation. Even though Mclaren are leaving Mercedes at the end of 2014, will Marussia just do one year with Mercedes engines and then move to Honda engines in 2015? Will they stay with Mercedes engines from next year on? Or, will Ferrari step in and supply them with engines themselves? There are a plethora of scenarios, all with massive implications for the sport.

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The race to develop strong engines for next year’s regulations has put a premium on having just the right supplier. Will this place more importance on getting engine contracts than driver contracts? Will some drivers suffer as a result? 2014 will be a big year for the sport, arguably its most pivotal in terms of its future viability. Could 2015 be just as big? We will just have to wait and see!

Please let me know what you think by commenting!

30 years On and Rosberg is back on top

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There isn’t much of a strategy to go over, as Monaco is very limiting in that area, but the race did throw out some surprises primarily in the form of Mercedes’ tire wear, Mclaren’s improved form, Kimi Raikkonen’s crazy day and Ferrari’s rather subdued performance.

We all knew going into the race that Mercedes had a great chance of winning the race, but there was a nagging suspicion that Red Bull, particularly Sebastian Vettel, might just have enough to pull off an upset. In the end, Nico Rosberg was untouchable. In true Vettel style, the Mercedes driver made a lightning start, coming under slight pressure from teammate, Lewis Hamilton, and then pulling away to get out of DRS range. It’s a strategy that works brilliantly in Monaco where track position is at a premium. Once safely in the lead, Nico never looked back. At least until the first safety car.

The race itself was rather disjointed, with two safety cars and a red flag ruining the all-important groove in which one must immerse themselves to succeed in Monaco. Nevertheless, Nico’s confidence in his car was all he needed to take home a well-deserved home win. Leading every lap, just as his father did 30 years ago, was also a pleasant tonic to what has been a very rough start to the season.

Mclaren was keeping its hopes up before the race. The disappointing result in qualifying put the team in a powerless mindset, and both drivers expected to have hard days on Sunday. Their competitiveness in the race was a relief, with both drivers making up places at the start. Sergio continued his newfound aggressiveness throughout the race, as he hounded Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso and his teammate for position. Most of these moves ended with the Mexican cutting the chicane at the exit of the tunnel, thus requiring him to give the place back, that is if he had completed the pass. Some of his moves were much less than perfect, though. He got himself squeezed into the barrier out of the tunnel by Raikkonen, taking off significant parts of his front wing. Previous moves on Fernando and Jenson were messy to say the least, with the former resulting in Fernando having to cut the chicane himself.

After he lost most of his front wing in the closing laps, Sergio was significantly off the pace. The train that developed behind him was a smorgasbord action, with Jenson getting past Fernando and Adrian Sutil snatching a top-5 position. Sergio eventually had to retire from the race, as the lack of grip resulting from his knocks put him in a bad way. Button eventually came home in 6th, salvaging some of the points Sergio lost for the team in his overzealous driving.

Kimi Raikkonen was in the mix for most of the race, but was taken out of contention by the aforementioned Mclaren driver who made contact with the back of the Lotus in his attempt to overtake. Kimi was relegated back to the pits for a tire change. When he emerged, he let rip a blinding streak of fast laps; enough, actually, to elevate him from 14th to 10th by the flag. This is not the result he was hoping for when, in reality, he was in the fight for the podium. Nevertheless, he was able to keep his points-scoring streak alive, and now lies only one race away from tying Michael Schumacher’s record of 24 races in the points.

For his teammate, Romain Grosjean, things were even worse. His unfortunate situation in qualifying which left him in 13th was out of his control, but left him on the back foot for the race. He never really showed any signs of forward progress, that is until he attempted to pass Daniel Ricciardo. He was right on the Toro Rosso driver’s gearbox coming out of the tunnel, but got his braking all wrong and speared the back of the car violently, taking them both immediately out of the race. This was a poor showing from a driver who desperately needs to revive his reputation. What a difference two races makes.

Ferrari and Fernando Alosno were also in contention for a decent amount of points, but a relative lack of pace in the race saw the two time champion lose ground to the two Mclarens and the Force India of Adrian Sutil. Fernando was at a loss to explain why the Ferrari was less competitive in the race, as practice suggested they would be in the hunt on Sunday. Regardless of this disappointment, the team’s day was really ruined when Fernando had to give back a place to Sergio Perez at the conclusion of the Red Flag period. This was a result of a poor pass by the Mexican on Fernando that resulted in the latter having to cut the chicane at the exit of the tunnel. The stewards deemed the Spaniard had gained an advantage, thus requiring him to concede the position.

Some honorable mentions go to Paul di Resta for finishing 9th after starting 18th and Jean Eric Vergne, who backed up his qualifying pace to take home solid points.

It was an action-packed procession, if there ever was one, and it proved that while Mercedes may have found their mojo this weekend, there is nothing to suggest it should stay.

Look out for “Monaco: The Aftermath” over the next couple of days, where I take a look at the implications of the Monaco Grand Prix and what they hold for the race ahead in Canada.

Mercedes on top yet again

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Starting to become a bit boring, isn’t it? The one lap pace of the Mercedes cars has been proven once again, as Nico Rosberg takes his third pole in a row, and the team’s fourth pole in a row.

None of the previous triumphs in qualifying produced anything remotely close to a win, so the pressure is on the Mercedes duo to finally deliver. Will they be able to? The odds are on yes, as their performance over long runs hasn’t been bad enough to cause concern. In Monaco, that basically means all you have to do is keep the others behind you.

This was perhaps the most hectic qualifying session we’ve seen for a while, as the ebb and flow of rain caused major headaches for everyone up and down the pit lane. The line between dry and intermediate tires was at its blurriest today, and the indecision of some teams caused them to miss out on better qualifying positions. Paul di Resta will be kicking himself for not being able to go out on slicks in the dying moments of Q1, as the pace of his car was more than enough to advance him further. As is the way of Formula One, timing got the best of him and he will be starting way down the order.

But today, as it has been for some time now, was all about Mercedes. Their dominance throughout practice was questioned slightly, as they failed to produce headline times while the track was wet. But when the conditions were right in Q3, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton dug deep and showed everyone why they should be feared. Again, their hopes in the race are infinitely better than they were in Spain or Bahrain, so do not count them out of winning the race, and expect at least one of them to make a trip to the podium.

Red Bull, as usual, quelled anyone’s pre-qualifying hopes of faliure by locking out the second row. They admitted on more than one occasion that they were worried about their qualifying pace. It wasn’t enough to dispel the two Mercedes but it was enough to get them ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso.

I said yesterday that everyone should keep an eye out for Romain Grosjean. He was Mercedes’ nearest challenger for much of the practice sessions, and looked a shoe-in for a top-3 in qualifying. However, another crash in final practice meant the team had just barely enough time to get the Frenchman out in Q1. He immediately showed his skill by going fastest of all on his first flying lap, and he comfortably made it into Q2.

It is as yet unclear as to why he only qualified 13th; his speed in undoubtedly there. Perhaps there was a timing issue and he was unable to cross the line in time for a final lap. Perhaps he locked up in one corner and ruined his chances. I don’t know for sure. What I and everyone else does know, though, is that he has an uphill battle ahead of him if he is to get anywhere near the podium. The one consolation he can take is that he gets to choose his starting tire. Look for a long first stint from him tomorrow in the race.

Mclaren’s day was, on the whole, pretty good. The rain flattered their car, and had it continued, they could have been a threat for the front couple of rows. In the end, the inevitable caught up with them. Both Jenson and Sergio did make it into Q3, thus keeping the team’s trend of having a car in the top-10 for each race this season. As the team said on Thursday, their race pace looks much better than previously expected, so don’t count them out just yet.

Some other names to mention? Felipe Massa will be starting from the back of the field after a crash in the final practice session, while Giedo van der Garde thrilled his team with a commendable 15th place in qualifying. Jean Eric Vergne also made his first career Q3 appearance, and will be starting an advantageous 10th.

The race, on paper, should be fascinating. Will the confines of the principality scupper any chances of a battle for the win? Possibly. But its Monaco. Do we really care?

Anyone’s bet in Monaco

As yet another two practice sessions conclude on the Formula One calendar, we are left with a sense of déjà vu. Two Mercedes cars on top with the Ferraris, lotuses and Red Bull lurking the the shadows. We have gotten used to the silver arrows shining on the Fridays and particularly Saturdays this season, only for them to dishearteningly falter on race day. All the signs, however, suggest that this could be the perfect weekend for Mercedes to really shine.

As we all know, overtaking is virtually impossible, and most changes of position are largely the result of crashes. This leaves Mercedes in an advantageous position. Their domination in qualifying gives them the perfect opportunity to hold up the field to a pace that works with their particular tire wear characteristics and potentially take home a hard-fought win.

For all of their struggles in previous weekends, the Mercedes is not a bad car. It’s certainly is not the best, but the fact that they have been so overpowering in qualifying suggests there is a fundamental part of the car that makes them fast. Could their ability to hear their tires quickly contribute to their poor showing on Sunday? Undoubtedly, yes. But this doesn’t mean the problem is unsolvable. They’ve had ample time to solve this issue, as since the team emerged form the ashes of Brawn GP, they have struggled with tire wear, but there are teams who have taken even longer to regain competitiveness. Baring 2012, Williams have struggled to maintain consistent competitiveness.

So not all hope is lost for the team. Things are clearly much more positive for the silver arrows this weekend. The streets of the prosperous principality offer a very smooth platform on which their toe drivers can control the issues that currently plague them. All they need to worry about is locking out the front row. If they do that, I personally can see a Mercedes 1-2 come Sunday.

This is not a guarantee. Their tire wear is still not the best of the field, even on this unique track. The Ferraris look fast and consistent and the Red Bulls, as usual, are keeping their arms close to their chest but hint at a one-lap pace deficit.

The team to keep your eyes on, however, is Lotus. They always seem to emerge from the shadows of others’ misfortune to snag great results each weekend. Not counting Australia, they haven’t had the best race car for the weekend, but remain in the fight thanks to their relentless consistency and ideal tire consumption. Keep a particularly keen eye on Romain Grosjean. He showed particularly well in FP1 where the “green” surface offers up many confusing variables. He was demonstrating prodigious pace in FP2 before a slight mistake cost him the rest of his practice session. The 11 laps he did complete, though, highlight the Frenchman’s innate ability to eke out every last bit of a car’s potential in the tight confines of the principality.

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Those are the front runners. From my (at the moment of writing) limited knowledge of everyone’s problems and successes during the practice sessions, it seems Mclaren have managed to make a slight step forward. They were disappointed their upgrade package in Spain failed to make much if a dent in their performance pitfalls, and subsequently went into Monaco with the mindset of more damage limitation. Particular concern was placed on Mclaren’s performance in slow corners and over bumps, fundamental characteristics of the Monaco circuit.

It was a shaky start for them, but both Jensin and Checo managed to eke out some marginal improvements throughout both practice sessions. Jenson was particularly surprised with the car’s long run pace, but less so with the one-lap pace. The latter will be heavily emphasized in the final practice session.

Monaco specialist, Pastor Maldonado, showed extremely promising signs in the first practice session, putting the recalcitrant Williams in 6th spot. Normality returned, however, in FP2 with the car’s fundamental issues relegating him back to 14th. Don’t count him out on making a surprise appearance in Q3, though.

Will the race be boring? It’s not fun to admit, but probably. Like the sculpted and lifted faces of the Monegasque women, underneath the glitz and glamour lies just another race, but one which will remain integral to the sport for as long as it is around.

Jack Harvey: Life as a Racing Driver (part 3)

Sorry for the long break between installments, but it’s been a busy couple of weeks.

With the first two installments, we got an intimate look into what life is like as an up and coming racing driver. We were able to understand the vast complexities that come with trying to race, get an education and balance the two effectively. But what does the future hold? That’s a tough question to ask any racing driver because they often don’t really know.

Nothing, other than uncertainty, is ever guaranteed in this sport, so speculation on the future needs to be done with an air of caution.

“I don’t know what the plans are for next season”. It’s that simple, really. In this business and at Jack’s stage of his career, it’s dangerous to make long-term plans. Even with the security of the RSF’s backing, Jack remains largely in the dark about what the future brings. He should be used to that, however, as most of the opportunities Jack has taken advantage of have been surprised all their own, allowing him to advance his career further than he has ever expected.

“It’s better to see how we start this [season] and see how we get on and then start focusing in next season.” Ha ha perspective on the realities of racing are very refreshing. He brings up a point that I’m sure is overlooked many times in the lives of young racing drivers. When your career is on the up, it’s all too easy to start planning ahead. Who could blame you? You’ve been successful so far, what makes it dangerous to plan ahead? It’s sound logic, but racing logic has a whole face of its own, and it differs vastly, in many ways, from the realities of everyday life. “If you jump the fun wondering about the future, you’re missing what you’re actually doing,” says Jack of his future. His reservations are completely understandable. The present is the most important thing. There is no point in planning for the future if what you’re doing now is below par. Jack understands this and applies this to everything he does. Perhaps it’s for he best that he doesn’t know his future plans.

Inevitably, the conversation turns to the unavoidable topic that plights every young racing driver: sponsorship. Jack’s situation is unique in that the RSF is not sponsorship. At least not monetarily. The RSF provides sponsorship in that they have faith in his abilities, and because the RSF is so reputable, Jack can take some consolation that his future has a relatively defined path. The RSF provides drivers with similar backing to the Red Bull young driver program. Both of these programs offer their drivers backing in the form of their reputations. Instead of making their drivers rely on personally attaining monetary backing, these foundations pay for their careers under the assumption they will achieve on a very high level in whichever category they happen to be in. It’s a nice arrangement these days. As any driver will tell you, getting sponsorship is becoming increasingly difficult to do, so having the backing by a foundation like the TSF, Jack is very lucky.

But what makes Formula One teams sit up and take notice? A little bit of green won’t do any harm at all, but at the heart of Formula One, despite what anyone else says on the subject, are results. This is precisely the answer I get from Jack when I ask him the question posed above and I’m not particularly surprised. If there is anything I’ve learned from this conversation, it is that Jack is focused on results. Above anything else, he pinpoints his targets and sets about the best way from him to achieve them.

Personally, I worry for the drivers like Jack who run the risk of falling out of the spotlight because of a lack of sponsorship. It’s becoming a vital part of running a Formula One team these days, as we all know, but if there is a heavily sponsored driver who does just as well as Jack this season, who will get the eventual call up to F1? “It’s tough at the minute” says Jack of his F1 chances. “I think anyone who said there wasn’t a worry [of missing out on a drive] would be kidding themselves. Ultimately, there is not a lot we can do to really change that apart from trying to beat them.”

As I’ve said before, Jacks perspective on not only racing, but on the realities of life, is very refreshing. He knows what he needs to do to succeed, but knows that there is they chance it might not work out. If you think about it, this mindset could be worth more than any amount of money.

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A Bunch of (Red) Bull

These past few days have done a lot to characterize the top Formula One teams. Lotus and Ferrari seem to be level-headed pragmatists, Mercedes are desperate, and, controversy alert, Red Bull are lazy.

Curious as to why? Just take a look at the press releases following not only the Spanish Grand Prix, but the announcement that Pirelli had conceded to the complaints voiced in those post-race press releases. Both will reveal the underlying situations of all the top teams in Formula One.

Mercedes have been at a loss to explain their inability to even remotely conserve the tires since they failed to win in China. They have quietly but frantically scrambled to come to grips (forgive the pun) with the most integral element to going fast in contemporary Formula One. What makes their situation more devastating is that at a track they dominated at last season (China), they failed to stay on par with Ferrari, Lotus and Red Bull. Their problem stems, just as it has for the past 4 years, from their rear tire usage. The camber they use on the rear tires is good for qualifying, as we all know, but through acceleration on the straights, while much grip is generated, the camber fails to flatten completely, thus chewing up the tires much faster than normal. This is exacerbated by the power of their Mercedes engine which is known as the toughest of the three main engines on tire usage. All of these factors combine to make for a truly awful experience at each race.

Ferrari, Lotus and Red Bull have had relatively smooth campaigns so far. They all have won at least one race each and currently occupy the top three positions in both championships. So, why have Red Bull taken such a radically different stance on Pirelli’s 2013 tires?

As we saw in Spain, the top three teams filled the top 5 spots at the end of the race (Grosjean retired), but it was Lotus and Ferrari who ended up moving up the most spots. Red Bull experienced mixed fortunes, with Webber coming home 5th from 8th on the grid and Vettel coming home 4th from 3rd on the grid. Not a bad result, you might say. But the anger with which the team condemned the tires was staggering.

For the first time over a race weekend this season, Red Bull were not among the fastest two teams over long stints on Friday. This was the trigger that set off Red Bull’s outrage towards the tires, with the three-time champions’ concern over tire life taking many throughout the paddock by surprise. Further fueling the fire of discontent was Red Bull’s inability to pull off the same 3-stop strategy as Lotus, thus resigning them to a final unplanned stop in the closing stages of the race.

But why was this most recent spat of criticism enough to push Pirelli over the brink of opposition? Why did they break under Red Bull’s pressure now rather that under Mercedes’s pressure earlier in the season? The conspiracy theorists will have a field day with that one. Left wing theories have suggested a Ferrari/Bridgestone-esque relationship between Red Bull and Pirelli. It certainly makes the teams’s complete and utter dominance in 2011 easier to digest, and also can help to explain Red Bull’s late season form in 2012 just as the teams were “getting and handle” of Pirelli’s crop of rubber for that year. I will not for a second suggest these contain a minutia of truth, but these types of conspiracies certainly occupy a large part of our psyche, and when given the opportunity to let it run wild, it will do so to an alarming extent.

Back to reality, though, and we are still left with a fuming world championship team. It is hard to sympathize with them, however, as they lead both championships after five races. Even if both of these leads were reduced slightly at the last race, Red Bull’s displeasure took a sharp turn for the worse, with slight annoyance transforming into unwarranted outrage just days after the Spanish Grand Prix, and it seemed to be just the start of a long and miserable spiral if Pirelli were to sit idly on the sidelines.

But this is concession is not a weakness on Pirelli’s part. If anything, Red Bull’s near demand of change provides a glimpse into their own weakness. At the heart of Formula One is adaptability. Speed is a product of a team’s ability to adapt to variables, both changing and unchanging, thus making it a secondary factor to success in the sport. A team’s ability to react to things that suddenly come from under their control is a measure of the team’s depth in ability and quality. The fact that Red Bull won’t, or can’t, adapt to this year’s tires says more about the team than any of their championships do. I’m not saying that Red Bull is a bad team, because clearly they are one of the all-time best, but you get the sense from their recent attitude that they are either incapable of adapting to the tires like Lotus and Ferrari, or they don’t want to.

So, its a measure of laziness then, right? One could look at it this way. Lotus have specifically designed their car to be easy on its tires, for instance. This leaves it with an inherent disadvantage in qualifying, but in the Pirelli era of Formula One this makes it a potent weapon weekend after weekend. They know that tire wear is one of the key variables to master and the precision with which they are able to carry out long stints on high fuel is second to none. Those guys at Enstone haven’t built a car that can consistently do one fewer stop than everyone at each race by accident, and this is what is setting apart the team this season. But are Lotus lazy for just focussing on the tires this year? Far from it. Yes, they have made it clear what they emphasize in terms of performance, but by no means is the car lacking in other departments. They are pioneering the passive-DRS and have perfected their interlinked suspension system. One could say they are the hardest working team in the paddock. But hard work alone does not a championship winning team make, something the Enstone squad knows all too well.

Does this mean Red Bull is lazy then? Like I said earlier, they obviously are not. But their priorities this season seem to suggest a lack of awareness. No one could have predicted that the tires would have had such a huge impact on the racing this season; it was expected to have more of an effect than last season, but the discrepancies of the tires between races have caught out many much more drastically than they would have liked. I personally see all the complaining about the tires utterly pointless. I applaud Pirelli’s efforts to improve the racing, which they have undoubtedly done, and can only feel ignominy towards those who berate them. It seems we as fans can never be happy, and as soon as someone steps up to the plate to satisfy us we tear them down. So when Red Bull depreciate the value of Pirelli’s efforts just as the sport’s fans, I can only shake my head in disappointment. One can only wonder why Red Bull don’t so something other than complain to alleviate some of the pain they endured during the Spanish Grand Prix. Like I said earlier, Lotus have focused their efforts on tire conservation. Similarly, Red Bull have focused their efforts, as they usually do, on aerodynamics. As a result, the copious amounts of downforce they produce have negligible effects on their tire wear. It seems they literally run the tires into the ground.

Is this a problem, though? There was a time when we thought aerodynamics were a too intrusive factor in Formula One’s competitive order. From the ten feet tall rear wings of the early 70’s to the fins and protrusions that characterized Formula One cars of the mid to late 2000’s, aerodynamics have been an unavoidable part of the sport that has had a fundamental effect on who won and who lost. As a result of this breezy takeover, the way a car glides through the air and is consequently sucked into the road is of the utmost importance. For now.

There are rumblings, mostly from Red Bull, that the tires are now more important than aerodynamics. A case could be make for this; with three non-Red Bull wins this season, it would seem that either aerodynamic performance fluctuates like tire consistency, or the tires have a larger effect on race performance than we are used to. The latter is undoubtedly true, especially this season.

Even though Pirelli is not allowed to make changes to the tires that affect their duration, the fact that they conceded in the first place is completely unfair to those who have no problems with the tires. Eric Boullier has taken a nobly pragmatic approach in his response to the developments over the past few days and I wholeheartedly commend him for it.

Red Bull is not lazy. But they have shown a lazy attitude. They have the opportunity to make changes to improve the overall performance of their car, yet they take it upon themselves to displace their problems to an entity wholly un-responsible for solving them. If their downforce is ruining the tires, like the team says, then why don’t they take off downforce? It may seem like a primitive solution to a very complex problem, but if the evidence presented to me and every other fan of the sport, by Red Bull itself, is to be believed, the solution is staring them in the face.