Pirelli has been under a lot of pressure this season, and indeed every season since it returned to the sport. This pressure, though, hasn’t stemmed from the company’s inability to build tires properly, but from the teams’ fluctuating reactions to its tires.
Two recent races in Italy and in Korea have shed further light onto this situation, one in which completely different views of Pirelli’s tires are made clear from the same people.
Much of the media was yawning during the Italian Grand Prix for its lack of strategic variation. The preferred strategy was, of course, a one-stop, for the medium and hard compounds brought to the race made it a relatively easy task. But Pirelli came under fire, as it did during the latter half of the 2012 season, for being too conservative in its approach to the race. Those criticizing, however, seem to have failed to take into account the fire and fury Pirelli endured during and after the British Grand Prix this year, when multiple, violent tire explosions plagued the race.
In Korea, Pirelli was scrutinized for precisely the opposite reason. The supersoft and medium compound tires offered a variety of strategy options between what tires to start on and whether a two or three-stop strategy worked best.
Drivers like Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber couldn’t have been more displeased with the tire choices for that weekend, as they both complained that the supersoft tire would not even last a whole lap during qualifying.
In response, Pirelli Motorsport boss, Paul Hembrey, suggested Alonso and Webber take a few lessons from Sebastian Vettel on how to work the tires, because he wasn’t experiencing any issues. Hembrey later apologized for his statements, but his rebuttals do make a lot of sense.
The tires are as durable as you make them. Yes, they have their limits, but degradation can be managed with the careful application of patience. That isn’t to say Alonso and Webber are impatient, but there is a sense that they are either unwilling, or perhaps incapable, of truly succeeding in the Pirelli era.
Hembrey pointed out his frustration at the Korea disputes today. “We’ve come off the back of Monza where everyone moaned that they were falling asleep because it was a one-stop race and nobody knew what to write about”, said Hembrey of the recent criticism. “So you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t sometimes” he continued. “I just wish people would let us know what they want.”
Ironically, Ferrari and Fernando Alonso discovered a brilliant solution to the problem during the Spanish Grand Prix this season. The Scuderia put the Spaniard on a four-stop strategy. This allowed him to push for the entire race and, eventually, win. This strategy came received a lot of criticism from fans saying that four-stops was entirely too many for one race. They seem to forget that in 2011, a time when a four-stop strategy should have been much more shocking, Sebastian Vettel employed a four-stop strategy to win the very same race. No one complained then.
Pirelli has been doing everything right since 2011. It is the teams who, for some unknown and increasingly frustrating reason, make Pirelli’s life, and our enjoyment of the sport, much more difficult. When the teams decide whether they want tires with degradation, many pitstops and lots of tire conservation or whether they want durable tires, easy strategy and boring races, then Pirelli will finally get the break they deserve, because at least there will be a desired direction for them to take.