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Pirelli caught in crossfire as F1 team factions go to war
Posted By: James Allen  |  17 May 2013   |  4:32 pm GMT  |  451 comments

[Updated]In the aftermath of the decision by Pirelli to make some changes to the 2013 tyres from round 7 in Canada onwards, there has been a backlash from those teams whose cars were working well on the tyres.

Lotus boss Eric Boullier and now Ferrari’s Horse Whisperer column have attacked the change and Red Bull in particular for lobbying behind the scenes and in the media for a change in tyres.

Pirelli is caught in the middle and whatever changes it makes from here onwards it will be perceived by some fans as having affected the outcome of the championship.

However last night the FIA indicated that any changes to the specification could only be made for safety reasons, not sporting ones as it entered the debate for the first time. Teams are due to learn in Monaco what the essence of the changes will be and the indications are that they will be relatively minor.

Pirelli is at fault for going too far with the 2013 tyres and for making them a larger talking point than the personalities in the sport. People tune into F1 because of personalities; it’s about Prost vs Senna, Alonso vs Vettel, not about hard versus medium.

The mistake of this season was in moving the centre of pressure too far towards a technical topic and away from the world’s best drivers expressing themselves on the race track. That imbalance has turned many fans off and this been recognised at the top.

However the essential truth to remember when sifting through the messages coming from the teams is that F1 teams will only ever speak out of self interest.

For example, as the Horse Whisperer pointed out, Red Bull won the 2011 Spanish Grand Prix with four stops and made no complaints at all. On Sunday they tried to do three, were forced to make a fourth at the wrong moment and ended up missing the podium. A volley of complaint ensued from Red Bull and especially from the owner, Dietrich Mateschitz, that F1 2013 is not real racing.

Lotus' satirical tweet aimed at Red Bull

Likewise Boullier and Ferrari are desperate to keep the 2013 tyres as they are because they have engineered themselves an advantage.

It was the same in 2009 when some teams thought of the double diffuser and the ones who didn’t tried to ban it, or 2010 with McLaren’s F Duct, which received similar treatment.

The difference here is that the argument involves a third party, Pirelli, and is much easier to target a third party than it is to face up to one’s own problems.

Arguably Pirelli made a tactical mistake when announcing the changes this week; rather than discuss a desire to cut the ideal number of stops down to two or three, which panders to the lobbyists, perhaps Pirelli should have focussed on the need to solve the delamination problem which we have seen in the last two races on Ferrari, Mercedes, Force India and Toro Rosso cars.

The priority in making a change from Canada onwards is to ensure that the tread block stays on the tyre in all situations; whether the problem is caused by debris cutting the tyres, overheating or manufacturing issues. That has to be solved in this raft of changes.

But beyond that the task is to produce tyres that are slightly more durable, but maintain the same shape and profile as the original 2013 tyres and perform in a similar way, so as not to handicap teams like Ferrari and Lotus that had found clever engineering solutions.

This is likely to be the outcome; tyres that are no so significantly different. But as the subject of tyres is so little understood by most of the media and many fans, the truth is likely to get lost amid claim and counter-claim.

Whatever the outcome and the changes, there will be complaints and factions who believe that it has decided the championship.

The reality is that until the new tyres go onto the cars in Montreal, it will be impossible to say who has won and lost with the changes. In all probability what will happen is that the engineering solutions of Ferrari, Lotus and Force India will continue to work, but the wider operating window of the tyres and increased durability will mean a reduction in the margin of deficit Red Bull and others suffer. It will being them closer together, but with the tyre-friendly teams still at an advantage.

But we will have to wait and see.

Despite their mistakes, one has a twinge of sympathy with Pirelli for being caught out with this year’s tyres by not having adequate test facilities, as the teams cannot organise themselves sufficiently well to provide a test car for them to work with.

Last year they reluctantly agreed to allow a 2010 Renault to be used to test 2013 tyres and then when Lotus turned up this year with a car that was engineered to work well on its tyres, there were complaints that Enstone had benefitted from the tests.

Now we have such an absence of trust between teams that there is no test car.

The only workable solution is to have an extra day or two after certain Grands Prix where teams can run development tyres and the process can become functional again.

Remember that when Bridgestone and Michelin were competing there were three or four days of testing after most Grands Prix. Bridgestone had a test budget of $20 million for Ferrari alone.

The Horse Whisperer sees it like this, “Maybe the brain cells that control memory only operate selectively, depending on the results achieved on track by their owners.

“A classic example of this is the current saga regarding the number of pit stops. Voices have been raised to underline the fact that various teams, some of whom got to the podium and others who were quite a way off, made four pit stops in the recent Spanish Grand Prix, making the race hard to follow.

“It’s a shame that these worthy souls kept quiet two years ago when, at the very same Catalunya Circuit and on the Istanbul track, five of the six drivers who got to those two podiums made exactly the same number of pit stops as did Alonso and (Ferrari’s second driver) Massa last Sunday in the Spanish Grand Prix.

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So there is this suggestion that “the fans are confused” by all the tyre stops (four stops). This is put around by journalists without any sort of empirical evidence, as far as I can tell. Has anyone actually gone out and measured the apparent level of confusion versus the level of non-confusion? No, of course not, because we’re talking about the work of journalists and agenda-driven team bosses rather than those taking an objective view.

One of the greatest races of all time was at Donington Park in 1993. Prost made as many as SEVEN stops, whereas Johnny Herbert did the entire race only stopping once. Nobody was ‘confused’ by the number of pit stops that day, and the technology available to fans to allow them to follow what’s happening was limited to what they could see on the TV or hear described to them on the radio. There are timing apps and suchlike available on the internet or people’s mobile phones, plus team radio and telemetry information supplied to the TV feed by the FIA. There is a surplus of information, so how is it hard to follow?

In short, if Christian Horner is saying, “The fans are confused,” it actually means, “We don’t understand how to make the tyres work.” Sorry about that, Christian, but it’s your team’s job to do a better job. Work on that instead of whingeing. And if the journalists can’t follow what’s going on, step aside and let someone else do your job.


Pity the Horse Whisperer wasn’t around in 2003 when Ferrari spoke to Max Mosley and have him personally intervene which resulted in the Michelin Tyres being declared illegal right at crunch time in the championship. But y’know, short memories and all that. They also seemed to forget that even Alonso was critical of the tyres after Spain.

I’d also challenge the assumption that this move will help Red Bull. Red Bull and Vettel seem to have done pretty well on the current compounds, year to date, hence why they are leading the championship. If anything, changing the tyres will assist Ferrari who (like it or not) haven’t had the pace of the Red Bull over the 5 races competed so far.


I agree that Pirelli had difficulties in securing a car for the tests. That is obvious. However, where they are at fault, I believe, is that they should have announced that they will change the tyres due to safety reasons. Since they didn’t want to announce something in that direction, they led everybody believe that the tyres require too many stops so they are making the changes due to pressure from some teams and fans. This led to a big controversy which is not doing anything good to F1.


Formula 1 should be the simplest “Formula” of motor racing there is.

Put the fastest drivers in the world, in the fastest cars in the world – qualify on Saturday, race on Sunday.

At the moment, we are not seeing the first part of this equation.

colin grayson

red bull are there to advertise their product ; they fully understand how to run a press campaign and the concerted effort to get their advantage back rather than compete on an equal footing is well co-ordinated

they are the masters of the aero game and now aero is not as important as it was with these tyres they have tried everything they can to get their ball back !

the truth of the matter is that it is too much importance of aero that has spoilt F1 , the correct way for the FIA to improve the racing was to make a drastic cut back in aero , not to demand marginal tyres …they have gone a small step towards that for next year , but not nearly enough in my opinion


So you are celebrating the fact that the tyres dominate the result, not a team doing the best they can on their car?

Lol, so how was the American Wrestling match you visited yesterday?


Regarding tire test cars, would it not be beneficial to introduce a rule whereby all teams that score no points in a season are entered into a lottery, and one is selected to provide a test car to the official tire supplier? This would function similarly to other pro sports where last-place teams get the consolation prize of choosing first in the rookie draft.

The clear advantage would then go to a backmarker team, but we could expect this advantage to last only one season while they move up the order a place or two. Over the course of a few seasons, this could go some way to correcting another oft-lamented issue; namely closing the gap between the front and rear of the grid.

Of course it’s possible that frontrunning teams may attempt to manipulate their customer teams into this position, but the lottery system should guard against that.

And if all teams score championship points in a given season, then just flip a coin between the bottom two. Also, wouldn’t that be a good thing for fans?

Just trying to solve 2 problems at once.



This is all getting a bit silly. I don’t think I can put it down to uninformed opinions but rather as evidence that the sport is moving fast than people can follow.

So let’s slow down for a bit.

I think most people agree that tyre management isn’t something new. And cars getting more reliable, teams are now able to put more time into understanding tyres than ever people.

From reading the comments here, it seems that most people are frustrated with the fact that teams are unable to push at 100% for a prolonged amount of time during a race. But in reality, in race conditions, teams rarely push 100%. It just isn’t necessary nor smart strategy.

In which you would argue: “well, they are unable to push to a pace that challenges that drivers.”

Again, not true. Though I admit that drivers aren’t quite pushed in terms of raw speed during race conditions, they are still under heavy spells of concentration whereby they are not only managing the pace of their but also managing the constantly changing conditions of the tyre.

But again, the counter-argument from many would be that they feel F1 cars just aren’t being driven to their potential pace. This is an argument I can agree with. Certainly with the Red Bulls, during race conditions they are not going as fast as they should be.

But this is no fault of Pirelli. The teams have had since the final race of last season to understand the tyres. Failure to do so is simply down to the teams. Both Ferrari and Lotus have a good grasp of the tyres while Red Bull and Mercedes are struggling to find a set-up that has an easier on the rubber.

Part of this is down to the qualifying-race compromise. Neither Red Bull nor Mercedes want to squander their qualifying advantage because they know their race-pace is worse than Red Bulls and Mercedes. Therefore, Red Bull see a change in tyre compounds as the easiest way to maintain their qualifying advantage whilst improving their race-pace.

To be honest, I’m not adverse to tyre compound changes. After all, all teams must adapt to the equipment and rules. But a change mid-season is totally unjustified. Hopefully, they make only minor changes just to stop the delamination that’s been prevalent in recent races.

Any time Red Bull spend complaining is just time they could have spent working on the relationship between car and rubber.


All red herring arguments used by Pirelli themselves.

I.e., rewriting F1 history to suit an agenda.

Mike from Colombia

100% agree.

Pirelli advocates argue that F1 has always been like this. Need to look after tyres, endurance racing etc….

For all those purists who don’t like the lack of wheel-to-racing caused by Pirellu – we must be all soft in the head.

There are those that point out to us the similar lap qualifying and race times to last year….as if this would remedy everything.

Fact – when you get a driver being told not to defend because he should concentrate on a lap delta and not destroy his tyres – this is NOT racing.

When you cannot attack another driver in a non-DRS area for fear of destroying your tyres and ruining your entire race – this is NOT racing.

No, let’s concentrate on the pole position time and then overall race time. Now that the pro-Pirelli bunch have pointed this out to me, this will make a world of difference to my take on the next race. I just never got it.

After watching F1 for over 30 years, I cannot think of a darker period. Not even 2005 was this bad.

There is little point following the sport between races now.

Just wait until Saturday afternoon to see who bothers going out to qualify. Then wait for the randomness of the tyre situation on Sunday. Plenty of thrilling 2-second pitstop action.

A joy to see driver’s struggling on tyres and falling backwards. Wonderful sight seeing those Pirelli marbles off line.

After the race we can then hear about not being able to get the tyres working from several drivers. No testing, so very unlikely that the lagging teams will get to catch up.

What a joy. Sunday, as soon as the race finishes, TV goes off and the hope that things will change in 2 weeks starts.


bridgestone and micgilin are professional tyre manufacturing companies but pirelli are mere adventurers.

what happened to the idea of making f1 greener by introducing kers and heat energy recovery systems to improve efficiency? is it greener to have more pit stops?


Are Pirelli even allowed to change composition/ specification/ performance (whatever you want to call it) of the tyres MID-SEASON???

There’s clearly no unanimous decision amongst the teams to do so, it’s not a safety issue, there’s no other technical problem, other than the fact some teams got it right and other’s didn’t, so how do the rules permit it? And is it fair? Agree it’s not good to hear drivers saying they can’t race flat out but it’s worse when you start changing things mid-season that could artificially change the pecking order of the competition.



When you get bored of F1, would you mind starting some sort of global media empire? Maybe even a college of journalism or something that can help educate others in how journalism and media should interact with the general public, whilst still been informative and entertaining.

Yours is the first page I open in the morning and almost always the last I check before bed!

As for this whole tyre issue, I agree, Pirelli are an easy target being the middle men.

Personally, if I had my way, we’d have young driver testing only on thursdays or early friday morning, a saturday practise and quali session and fresh tyres for all starters on sunday. Take 3 compounds to the race and maybe make the teams nominate 2 that they will race on, or force them to use all 3 in the race.



I’m very keen to follow journalism, especially in the automotive world.



I may well do some educational stuff down the line. I’m very interested in helping young people to get on and get opportunities; proud to be a patron of F1 in Schools for example.


If Pirelli are capable of making a durable tyre they should do it and make it slower over a lap and not degrade like the Bridgestones used to. The aim should be to have a tyre a) that is fastest doing a 1 stop and tyre b) that is fastest doing a 3 stop.

Voila; Ferrari and Red Bull happy, awesome racing due to track position overlap and no need to force teams to use both tyres during race.


Apologies if someone else has already posted this link, but it made me smile.



Agreed. I too thought Ferrari pushed to the limit. They didn’t give a damn to what the rest of field said “Conserve”. I enjoyed the 4 four stops.


Enough already of these confounded tyres I never liked them and even less the rule makers weakness to bow to pressure and change the rules half season. Lets now hope teams that weren’t pushing quite as hard as the others and running a close 2nd can go that little bit harder and win !


I know that this won’t happen, but what they need to do is to bring back refuelling, that was excellent at mixing up the field, creating interesting strategy and at pure racing make 100% perfect tyres (or as close as they can) and then put in the ideas of refuelling, do I go heavy or light, what happens when you mix that with drs? what happens when a heavy car manages to use drs to get past a light car coming through the field? in the past 4 stop strategy’s were unheard of… we need to get back to 2-3 stops…. also teams can tottaly control the amount of fuel they put in the car… taking out the element of artifical randomness which has made recent races so artifical


Interesting, but i don’t think they will bring it back. Incidents like the one in Brazil 2009 with kimi and Heikki in the pit lane will stick to many peoples memories, especially the FIA.

I did like the old refueling days though.


F1 is a game of going backwards and forwards and in Red Bulls case they’re simply not good enough on the tyre front.

It would be utterly disrespectful to the engineers of Lotus and Ferrari if Pirelli alter the life of the tyres. For the demands of this season, they are simply better.

Yes, the Spanish Grand Prix was a bit of a disappointment, but seriously Red Bull, just get on with it and find out yourself how to make the best of the tyres rather than getting Bernie to do it for you!


I think most are missing the point:

The tyres are loosing the treads: safety issue

The tyres are degrading: not a safety issue- build a car that can handle it.

Pirelli needs to make a change, but mot regarding degrading.


HEMBERY confirmed delamination is not a case of security and it’s why there will be minors changes and he hope nobody will object.


So why did they change the hard compound before Spain?


To prevent graining, not degradation.


Bernie now has to make a change to the Pirelli’s – but if it changes the pecking order F1 risks losing it’s credibility…yet again. XD

By the way, is the president of FIA mute? I remember him being a very outspoken man…

Besides, is Pirelli getting anything out of this? F1 may cost them their image. They’ll end up delaminating!

Dear F1, come back to your senses.


Can James (or anybody else) explain why cars have to run at least 2 compounds during the race?

What is the thinking behind that rule? Anybody?


1. To get people talking about tyres in the Bridgestone days
2. To introduce a strategy element into racing with no refuelling stops


Would be a lot better for the racing without the mandatory stop to run both compounds though.

let team spick the tyres best suited to there car & lets go racing.

its no fun when a team/driver is forced to run a compound there car doesn’t like & great on track fights for position are killed as a result.


i agree with almost everyone one today. it is fascinating to see the gradual sea change in the comments for this post. not sure where all of you fans have been. i felt like a lone voice every time i logged in to the 6 or so website and bloggs to post a comment. but from what i have read here, and i read almost all of the comments they are clear and intelligent and have all come to what i believe is the correct conclusion, at most of them. changing tires mid season whether you believe the original compounds are good or not is just wrong. wrong for the drivers that can adapt, the teams that did a good job, the fans that have no problem with the complexity of the sport, and the sport itself. we can debate in a productive way if pierlli over stepped it’s mandate from the FIA. truth is i am in agreement with peoples opinion that the tires crossed over the line, just not all of the arguments that have been presented that some how F1 is not racing anymore. however what’s done is done. and now we have to wait and see what happens. man this sport is so crazy sometimes. i fell is going to drive me to the nut house…


Sensible comments


Hi James,

Thank you for your blog. Interesting to note from the FIA:

“Tyre specifications will be determined by the FIA no later than 1 September of the previous season,” says Article 12.6.3 of the technical regulations.

“Once determined in this way, the specification of the tyres will not be changed during the Championship season without the agreement of all competing teams.”

This directly contradicts your comments less than a week ago where you proudly proclaimed:

*”Not at all. Pirelli can change if they want to.”*

Which you wrote in response to Brace in your article “Pirelli yields to Pressure” who asked:

“James, can Ferrari and Lotus veto this change of tires? Surely this midseason change would need approval of all teams.”

Now, you also elaborated a little regarding safety, but what I got from your words was that Pirelli could decide for themselves. Can you please elaborate further?


They can make changes, they have done it every year so far.

But these are detailed changes, not entire changes of specification.

Clearly if there is a safety issue – which there is here – they they can make changes


Cheers for the reply James. It appears Pirelli are making real changes; more than what would be required for safety.


How is it a safety issues when only two tires have delaminated, I am confused if eight teams had multiple tires exploding then yes.


Paul and Pirelli, either make a good durable tyre for F1 racing and stop creating all sorts of different compounds and constructions as you wish, or just simply get out of F1.


James, can’t Pirelli be provided with an F1 car from a defunct team e.g. Toyota?


Too slow now, not like a 2013 F1 car


Most hollow title win ever? Schumacher & Ferrari in 03 getting max mosely to make Michelin Change their tyres and handing Ferrari the advantage surely must be up there….


What is shocking most is that Pirelli keep tweeting and saying in interviews how they are stopping RBR from winning a 4th title easily and how happy everyone should be glad about it, by providing these soft low durable tyres that work most against RBR

And you don;t hear F1 ‘fans’ or the media complain about this?

This is blatant competition manipulation. Imagine if they said how they are stopping Ferrari winning a title with these tyres, everyone would go nuts.

This will be a hollow title.


Hembery definitely should not have phrased it like he did, b/c yes, it could be viewed as them (Pirelli) wanting to limit RBR, when instead they should a neutral 3rd party to all the teams.

I don’t question for an instant that Pirelli is playing fair with all teams, but Pirelli also has to do all they can to be seen to be fair. They can’t expect F1 fans to just trust Pirelli to act on their honour.


Do you think that is a news ? Ferrari and MS were also disputed winning further in mid 2000s as that dominance was hurting the fan base and the revenues. That is why Benetton was allowed to use a controversial balance shifting device on Alonso’s car despite being illegal as per technical rules amongst other rule changes which didn’t suit Scuderia.


Paul Hembery just keeps rolling out unhealthy statement, after unhealthy statement.

Pirelli are only getting away with that nonsense, because teams are usually as popular as their drivers and Vettel is largely unlovable, with few fans.

Red Bull must have more than enough legal ammo to sue Pirelli by now. I wonder how a company of that size could have got itself into such a pickle?


Agreed. The speed at which the FIA have stepped in to protect Ferrari (surprise surprice) show that the conspiracy theories regarding Red Bull’s influence and “lobbying” are utterly ridiculous.


That’s not what’s happening here.


The FIA have suddenly decided that changes can only be made for safety.


They were very quiet about this when the hard compound was changed in Spain (and they’re not the only ones). This change had nothing to do with safety.

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