Pirelli have reacted to Michael Schumacher’s attack on their 2012 tyres, saying that other drivers “were getting on with the job and getting their tyres to work.”
Schumacher suffered a frustrating weekend in Bahrain, with technical problems in qualifying relegating him to the back of the field. He took a tactical gearbox change, which moved him back to 22nd place and although he made a great start and had all new sets of tyres for the race, he only managed to finish 10th.
“The main thing I feel unhappy about is everyone has to drive well below a driver’s, and in particular, the car’s limits to maintain the tyres,” he said after the race.
“I just question whether the tyres should play such a big importance, or whether they should last a bit longer, and that you can drive at normal racing car speed and not cruise around like we have a safety car. I’m not happy about the situation, let’s see what happens in future. If it was a one-off car issue, you could say it’s up to us to deal with it.”
There is some debate among fans about this subject, with fans of hard charging drivers like Lewis Hamilton unhappy that their drivers aren’t able to show what they can do while smoother drivers, who can manage the tyres, are profiting.
It’s an interesting one; F1 has always been about managing tyres as the races are 300 kilometres, so there is an endurance aspect to it, rather than a sprint. However in the Bridgestone era the tyres would last a whole race if required with almost no degradation and the racing clearly suffered.
What makes the 2012 situation so interesting is that the tyres have an operating window that is quite hard to hit, which is why we have seen different teams hitting the sweet spot at different times. In Malaysia, for example Sauber were strong, in China Mercedes flew and in Bahrain Lotus had arguably the best set up for the tyres and Red Bull also managed the race to perfection.
The key thing is not the wear; the Pirelli tyres could last a whole race, it’s the degradation. This means the amount of laptime lost with each lap that passes. The tyres get slower and slower until the lap time is uncompetitive and you have to pit for a new set of tyres as continuing on them makes no sense. This opens up different strategies as some car/driver packages can get the tyres to last longer than others and there is also the tactic of saving new sets of tyres by doing less in qualifying, as Raikkonen and Di Resta did to great effect this weekend.
Schumacher’s heyday was the era of flat out sprints on Bridgestone tyres, when Ferrari had a testing budget from the Japanese manufacturer of over $20 million and so did hundreds of thousands of testing miles. Cost cutting measures introduced in 2008 have put paid to that.
“I’m disappointed to hear those comments from someone of Michael’s experience, ” said Pirelli motorsport boss Paul Hembery. “Others were getting on with the job and getting their tyres to work. His comments during winter testing were that he was very happy with the tyres, and now he seems to have changed his tune.”
While fans are divided, F1 insiders are, on the whole, excited by the 2012 style of racing, believing that the racing is entertaining and the key point is that tyres are the same for everyone.
It is hard for the top teams, who aren’t able to test under the current restrictions and so find that less well funded teams are close to them on performance. In the past they would test constantly, develop new parts that would pull them well clear of the midfield and have the ideal set ups for maximising tyre performance at every event. The races became processional and predictable. The field has closed up and it’s making it much harder for the top teams to make a break and get the results.
F1 should be about excellence, the best of the best. But it’s hard for the cream to rise to the top this season. We’ve had four different winners and three different pole sitters in four races. The top teams will inevitably pull away over the season, because of their resources, but the current structure is making for exciting races, with cliffhanger endings. Tyre management has always been as important a skill as having raw pace in F1.
What do you think?