For a while now, I have wanted to see the end of the tyre war in Formula 1.
When Bridgestone first entered Formula 1, joining Goodyear in 1997, I was quite excited about it. Another variable; can’t be a bad thing, right? And it wasn’t at first. But since Michelin entered the fray Formula 1 has become little more than a glorified tyre championship. Basically, if the Bridgestone is a good tyre Ferrari will run away with it; if the Michelin is better then Ferrari will have a fight on their hands.
Because of this tyre manufacturers have gone to extreme lengths to make their tyres the fastest. Nowadays the majority of major accidents are caused by tyre failures. In the past it was punctures, but this year delamination is the problem. I’m not an expert, but I think that basically means that the tyres are failing not because they’ve run over a piece of debris, but because they’ve been pushed too hard, in conditions that are too hot (and this year’s Formula 1 races have tended to be a few degrees hotter than the norm).
Tyres are pivotal because they seem to fail when the car is at its fastest — see Räikkönen’s massive failure at Nürburgring and Ralf Schumacher’s accident at Indianapolis on Friday. Because of this all attempts ought to be made to make sure that the tyres are as safe as they possibly could be. Instead, tyres appear to be today’s F1 cars’ biggest liabilities. With sturdy tyres today’s Formula 1 cars would be safer and more reliable than they’ve ever been. Instead, the sport seems to get more dangerous by the race.
It’s all compounded by the current rules which state that only one set of tyres can be used over qualifying and the race. It’s supposed to be a cost-cutting measure. But it’s a funny kind of cost-cutting measure that destroys so many expensive cars.
Now the teams have arrived at Indianapolis to find that the Michelin tyres are unsafe for the circuit. The situation in the Saturday practice sessions was farcical, with most Michelin runners avoiding the banked curve by going through the pitlane, therefore never completing a lap. Although McLaren say they’re happy enough. BAR do aswell, although Jenson Button complained about a lack of grip — despite qualifying third. The Renault drivers are happy enough, but their engineers are not. Toyota are definitely not happy — it is, after all, their cars that crashed on Friday — but they weren’t shy of sticking their car on pole today.
Michelin themselves, though, seem adament that those tyres are not suitable for a full race distance, and are trying to fly out a whole new set of tyres. Martin Brundle pointed out in his commentary today that that would break about five different regulations. Cars are not supposed to change tyres between qualifying and the race. And if they were to change the tyres the cars would end up racing on unknown tyres, and the teams will have to take a guess as to how to set up their cars. Not exactly the safest of scenarios either.
The sport’s politicians will be talking it over this evening. But at the moment, we are looking at a situation whereby Michelin-shod teams will threaten to pull out of the race (leaving a thoroughly ridiculous situation whereby only Ferrari, Jordan and Minardi would race — not exactly competitive, is it?) unless they can be allowed to cheat. We might even see a temporary makeshift rule change overnight. The Michelin teams might be sent to the back of the grid or given some other kind of penalty. Who knows? Bernie says he’s 100% certain that there will be twenty cars on the grid tomorrow — but who can tell with Bernie?
Once again, Formula 1 finds itself in a farcical situation in the one place it doesn’t need to — the USA, where the public is still sceptical about Formula 1.
Every week I support the idea of a control tyre more and more. Ditch the tyre war to get rid of all this nonsense. This, along with a return to slicks, has been proposed by the FIA in their suggested regulations for 2008. As this month’s issue of F1 Racing notes, “Gone will be those well-worn excuses of, ‘Our tyre never works well at this circuit.'”
Amongst the FIA’s other proposals for 2008 are to “ditch all the ugly winglets, flips, flaps and bargeboards that clutter up the bodywork… F1 cars will look ‘proper’ once more.” But I like today’s Formula 1 cars. Winglets and flaps and sculpted chassis are what differentiate Formula 1 from pissy series like IndyCars or Formula 3 (not that Jordan seem to have noticed, ho ho!). Plus, sponsors hate them because they twist their logos beyond recognition — I wouldn’t actually be surprised if this propsed rule was more for the sake of sponsors than for the sake of racing.
I can’t say I have a major problem with the other proposals though. There’s been talk of a standardised ECU for ages, in order to get rid of launch control and traction control once and for all. It would be good to finally see it. The idea of standardised brakes and gearboxes seems a bit odd to me though. Why do you need a standard gearbox? I really am flummoxed by that.
Incidentally, I would also scrap the rule whereby an engine has to last for two races. At first the endurance aspect was interesting. But as the season has gone on it’s become clear that it is no longer Formula 1 racing. Endurance is fine, but this isn’t rallying. Now Formula 1 drivers are always having to keep an eye on looking after their tyres and engines instead of pushing to the limit like they should be doing.