A number of drivers, following early pre-season testing, have been critical of the new Pirelli F1 tires. Last year, it was seen that when Bridgestone brought to a number of race venues super-soft tire compounds that degraded quickly it made for some interesting racing.
When tires degraded quickly, drivers were forced to make more frequent pit stops. Also, performance dropped off quickly once the tires had lost their edge, which created disparities in relative performance between cars. Drivers who knew how to preserve their tires (Jenson Button) often benefited.
As a result, it was determined that short-life span tires were good for the show. The FIA requested that new tire supplier Pirelli provide tires that were generally short-lived for the 2011 season. But not everyone is happy. Ferrari pilot Fernando Alonso reckons that the new tire compounds will favor the middling performers.
Alonso recently told reporters in Madrid, “From what we have seen so far, degradation is very significant, which means we will have races with lots of pit stops. I’m not keen on that because I think this increased uncertainty does not favour the strongest teams.”
Defending world champ Sebastian Vettel echoed the sentiment, saying, “[The tires] degrade too quickly. By lap 16 or 17 they’re falling apart. The problem is that after a certain number of laps the tyre is finished, no matter what the driver does.”
A Pirelli spokesman countered these remarks, however, by saying, “The increased degradation is a feature specifically requested by the teams and the organisers to improve the show. This is an opportunity for the sport, not a problem.”
The real problem, of course, is that modern F1 cars are so aerodynamically efficient that overtaking is generally problematic, to say the least. As a result, the FIA has gotten into the habit of introducing a variety of technical gimmicks to spice up the show. This year, to that end, we’ll see the deployment of KERS (again), adjustable rear wings and tires that are apparently made of paper mache. And El Supremo, Bernie Ecclestone, suspecting that these tweaks might not be enough, also recently suggested that artificial rain be introduced to the proceedings.
Pirelli recently released a statement that supported the latter idea. Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery recently told Autosport, “I thought Bernie Ecclestone’s comments were quite interesting. Straight after our recent successful (wet-weather_ Abu Dhabi test I saw him and said, ‘Why don’t we do an artificial wet race?’ The technology is such that you can wet a circuit with a sprinkler system, so the idea is not as daft as it sounds.”
Of course, the problem with Formula 1 isn’t the gimmicks; it’s the need for gimmicks. Sir Jackie Stewart recently suggested that the trouble with Formula 1 wasn’t even in the cars, it was in the tracks, most of which, in recent years have been designed by Hermann Tilke.
Frankly, I think if the FIA ever got serious about changing the technical regs so that cars relied much more on mechanical grip rather than aero grip, these other assorted rules changes that come and go would be rendered superfluous.