I loved the Grand Prix last Sunday. Contrary to popular sentiment, I felt it was a brilliant demonstration of how the tires really don’t control the sport. It is up to the teams to make the best of what has been provided. This has always been the way of Formula One yet we are just now starting to not like it.
Ferrari, in particular, showed all of us in commanding fashion that the tires are not bigger than them. They planned for a 4-stop strategy, rather than reluctantly switching over to one once a 3-stop became impossible. This strategic brilliance allowed the red cars to not only push for the whole race, but allowed for assurance that the plan would work. They were quietly confident of their long-run pace on Friday and, along with Lotus, were certain that they had the fastest car for the race. They completely rewrote the scrip on how to race in Formula One in 2013. Fernando in particular was taking out immense chunks of time compared to his German rival from Red Bull throughout each stint. While he was not driving at qualifying speed the whole race, he was comparatively rapid compared to everyone who had to conserve.
Having four stops in this race seemed to upset many people. I find this hard to sympathize with. Their anger stems from a hatred of Pirelli, not the hate of pitstops themselves, and that will only be an unending cycle of hatred. It has been thrown around for the past 3 months this season, but Pirelli are only doing what has been asked of them, by both the FIA and the fans. The 2010 Canadian Grand Prix has been used as a benchmark for what races should be like: lots of pitstops that help shake up the order and create uncertainty over who will win the race. But now that this happens each and every race, the fickle fan no longer wants uncertainty. He apparently wants to go back to the era of Formula One defined by processions with little to no passing.
When SKYF1 showed a “Classic” F1 race from Malaysia during the build-up to the one on Sunday, I was appalled at our standards for a classic race. It was the 2007 Malaysian Grand Prix and from what I saw (I had to turn off the race because I was genuinely bored and upset that this was considered a classic race), there was no strategy being employed, the tires were not a factor and even fuel saving went unmentioned. I figured, surely, this would be the variable that set the winners apart from the losers.
This brings us back to the Spanish Grand Prix this past Sunday. The tired debate of whether Pirelli should alter the tires for the rest of the season was brought up, as the established order was disturbed slightly. A lot of the concern over the tires stems from Red Bull’s stubborn ways. They have been very vocal about the tires and how they are not suited to their car. They cite their immense downforce as the cause of their troubles with the rubber. They say they can’t run as long throughout stints for the fear of their downforce destroying the tires. This, frankly, is the most pathetic excuse I have heard yet. Apparently no one has told them that they can reduce the downforce of their car. It seems to be working for other teams like Lotus and Ferrari who have a downforce deficit. Their argument is also baseless from the very fact that they lead both championships. No one is going to take them seriously in their concerns over the tires. They will need to have a truly terrible, disaster of a race for anyone to really sit up and take notice.
Mercedes, however, can make a strong argument for the need to make changes to the current crop of tires. Admittedly, their embarrassing slump from 1st and 2nd on the grid to 6th and 12th at the flag was unfortunate, but it highlights a problem with their car rather than the Pirelli tires. Formula One has always been about adapting to fixed variables meant to improve the spectacle of the sport.
The old “racing driver’s excuses” seem to carry much more baggage with them, as they reveal an almost lazy quality in many of the teams these days. Ferrari was very brave to opt for a 4-stop race on Sunday. While it is four seconds faster than a 3-stop strategy, you run the risk of hitting traffic at the end of the race. How then, did Fernando manage to win by 9.3 seconds over the 3-stopping Raikkonen? Most of this lies in the team’s decision to push for the whole race, along with incredibly executed race craft from Fernando.
The laziness mentioned earlier is unfortunate to bring up, as Formula One is known for having the hardest working personnel in the world. Many give up a large part of the year just to fix and prepare cars that have a huge chance of not making it past the first lap of a race. Red Bull is being lazy, though. The triple World Champions have decided that complaining is more productive than rooting out the source of their problems and fixing it. Even Mercedes, the team hardest hit by the tires this year, is doing more to solve their problems. Their struggle to stay at the front this season has gone on largely fruitless, but they haven’t given up.
The tires are to be changed in time for the upcoming Canadian Grand Prix, most likely thanks to the complaints of Red Bull, so maybe some of the “problems” with the tires will be solved. It is a bit ironic that at the very race the FIA had the brainwave to make tires more of a factor in the sport in 2010, their importance will be reduced in 2013. I, for one, am worried by this. If Pirelli continue to make sacrifices to those complaining teams, a vicious cycle of concession could begin until the sport is reduced to snooze-worthy processions.
For those fans who feel the same way about the tires as Red Bull does, just go and watch the 2007 Malaysian Grand Prix and ask yourself if you want to watch that every two weeks. I certainly wouldn’t want to, and I suspect the same for them. If you are unhappy with the tires and feel complaining is the solution, I suggest you become a Red Bull fan. However, if you know that the only way of ensuring success in the sport is by taking chances, then join me in just enjoying the sport. That is the only way real change will come.