The president of F1’s tyre supplier Pirelli has responded to Mercedes’ boss Toto Wolff’s line that the reason why Ferrari is able to master the tyres and Mercedes cannot is an “Italian mystery”.
Mercedes lost the Monaco Grand Prix badly, not even sending a driver up to the podium for only the fourth time since the start of 2014 and afterwards Wolff made a mischievous comment about the way Ferrari is always able to find the right operating window for the tyres. This was a particular problem in Monaco last weekend for many teams as the tyres were too hard for the track and its surface, which meant that getting the front and rear tyres to the right temperature was a problem for many.
Then in the race, the etiquette around blue flags for backmarker traffic meant that both backmarkers and leaders slowed and that was all it needed for the tyres to fall out of their operating window. It was hard to bring them back.
Ferrari has had the edge in this area all season and we saw Mercedes struggle on the supersoft tyres in Bahrain, for example. Wolff claimed on Sunday night that they have yet to do a race where both Mercedes cars have the tyres within their ideal range at the same time, implying that Mercedes is trying different set ups across the two cars to scrabble for answers on some tracks.
Tronchetti Provera went on Italian TV yesterday and had the following to say about Wolff’s comments:
“The tyres are the same for everyone. Perhaps Mercedes, have been used to lots of success and now face an uphill task, but they will come back. However, with engineers that have worked like a team, Ferrari has done something that no-one expected. You have to give them credit and you have to be satisfied by the work of an Italian team.”
This comes back to the debate we had last season about the seriousness with which the top three teams took the 2017 tyre testing programme with mule cars, based on old designs with higher downforce to simulate 2017 levels.
Most of that work on Mercedes’ side was done by Pascal Wehrlein, while Sebastian Vettel took responsibility for the bulk of the work on Ferrari’s side. He also paid several visits to Pirelli, which is within the rules. The drivers were not told what tyres or details of compounds and constructions they were using, but a driver of Vettel’s experience and feel would have gained a lot of intelligence from these tests on the directions for 2017 and would have been able to work with Ferrari’s engineers to address what kind of set ups would be needed to work the tyres in their ideal operating range.
“It was a very serious piece of work on the part of Vettel and Ferrari,” said Provera. “Vettel was always ready with humilty, to test when others were ‘not available’ and the results are the fruit of a lot of passionate work from a team that is totally focussed on winning.”
The implication is clear; Mercedes became complacent in 2016 after years of domination and didn’t take the tyre development test work seriously enough, when it has turned out to be mission critical to race outcomes in 2017. When the Mercedes is working the tyres within their operating window it is very fast, as we have seen in several races this season.
In this respect Vettel is like Michael Schumacher, who transformed Ferrari for a decade from 1996 to 2006, through hard work in detailed areas, especially looking for areas that other teams were not taking care of. Schumacher went much further, stacking the odds in his favour wherever he could in the ‘intangible’ areas of racing with relationships with the tyre suppliers and the governing body and other stakeholders that could influence outcomes.
But in the current era, it’s clear that Vettel has learned from him and is leading from the cockpit at Ferrari.
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