By the end of 2006, I was thoroughly fed up with the tyre war. When Michelin left Formula 1 I was glad. This wasn’t because I have anything against the French company, but because I was simply fed up with championships seemingly being decided almost entirely by tyres — literally black boxes. Formula 1 had become a glorified tyre championship.
Two years on, and I’m beginning to wonder if anything actually changed. Even with a single tyre manufacturer, the performance of the teams seems to fluctuate wildly for seemingly little reason. And what is that reason? Tyres of course.
This seems to be the stock excuse that explains just about everything in F1. If Sébastien Bourdais is not performing, it’s the tyres. If Nick Heidfeld is struggling in qualifying, it’s the tyres. If Kimi Räikkönen is trundling around in 6th place, it’s the tyres.
Now Ferrari have been complaining about the compounds that Bridgestone have chosen in recent races, claiming that Bridgestone have tended to edge towards the harder end of the range. Hard tyres, we now know, suit McLaren well, whereas Ferrari prefer softer tyres.
Ferrari’s technical director, Aldo Costa, complained in particular about the compounds that Bridgestone took to Hockenheim — a race that the McLaren of Lewis Hamilton dominated:
I think the last race for us was very difficult for finding the good grip from the tyres, but we were not the only team. Most of the drivers were having, during the race mainly, a lot of problems to find grip.
The tyres were very, very hard, probably too hard for that kind of circuit, especially the hard tyre. There was no wear at all; the tyre just was not working for that kind of circuit. This was valid for us and it was valid as well for most of the teams.
It is a bit rich for Ferrari to be complaining about Bridgestone. The Japanese tyre company has spent the best part of the past decade pandering to the Scuderia’s every need while every other Bridgestone runner was told to suck it. At least Bridgestone are now treating their role as sole tyre supplier to F1 without favouring their old partners any more.
“Basically the Ferrari has more of a tendency to understeer than the McLaren,” Hamashima told autosport.com. “The McLaren is a little bit oversteery. When the tyre has good grip, the car with the oversteer tendency will be quicker over a single lap than a neutral or understeering car.
“But when you think about racing conditions – especially with the temperatures we had at the Hungaroring – then an oversteering car will have heat generating at the rear much higher than the understeering car.
“Looking at Hungary and (Lewis) Hamilton’s car behaviour, after a few laps he struggled with oversteer – so he was making lots of counter-steering movements. On the other hand the Ferrari had a good balance after a few laps.
“That’s why the temperature is making a difference.”
I have learned this year that even with just one tyre manufacturer in F1, tyres still make a huge difference to a team’s performance. You could argue that, when everyone is given the same tyres to use, it is up to the teams to find a way to maximise the performance of the tyres themselves. However, with four compounds for Bridgestone to choose from, the teams simply have to build their cars not knowing which tyres they will end up using most often.
Perhaps F1 could bring in a genuine control tyre, where Bridgestone make just one compound of tyre for all circuits so that the teams will know exactly what to expect all season. However, Bridgestone would be dead against this because they want people to talk about the tyres more often. Also the performance of the tyres would probably vary from team to team depending on the weather conditions and the characteristics of each circuit.
I suppose I should just accept that tyres will always play a huge role in motor racing. With tyres being the only part of the car that really propels the vehicle, their importance ought not to be such a surprise. But I’d even rather be talking about how important silly aerodynamic pieces like shark fins are than talk about these dull, dull, dull tyres.