At the end of the British Grand Prix, I said that perhaps the positive thing to take away from Max Verstappen’s win is that he finished just 3s ahead of Lando Norris instead of the 30s he had been finishing ahead of the field earlier in the season.
Now, there is no doubt that many teams have been bringing upgrades to try and increase their performance deficit to Red Bull and the others at the sharp end of the grid. Even red Bull came with new upgrades for this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix.
But there is an interesting comment from Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso that caught my attention.
“We are one-tenth from McLaren, so it’s not as bad as maybe the result looks,” he said. “But yeah, we need to improve, there’s no doubt we made a step backwards in the last few races, and everyone did a step forward.
“Also it is a coincidence that when the new Pirelli tires came in Silverstone there are a couple of teams that are struggling more, and a couple of teams that are very happy with the car now.
“It’s not only us, I think Red Bull has clearly been hit with those tires, they’ve been one-two in every qualifying, one-two in every race, and now they are not even on pole position.
“Checo [Perez] is struggling to be in the top 10. At Silverstone I think Max [Verstappen] was only three seconds in front of Lando [Norris in the race]. So I see things a little bit abnormal since Silverstone.”
“Obviously, we didn’t improve the car much compared to the main competitors. We have every Thursday now the new parts for every team. So it’s very easy now to see which teams are bringing more and more parts to the grand prix.
“But if I look back to Red Bull after being first and second, in every practice, qualifying and race and now I think this weekend in none of the practice, in Silverstone he was only three seconds in front of Lando. I think Red Bull lost performance since Silverstone, that’s a fact.”
It’s an interesting point about the fast-tracked tires that Pirelli brought for the British GP onward as they were originally tires that were to be introduced for 2024. Why bring them forward? According to reports, it was to combat increased downforce levels without increasing minimum pressures. A more robust construction was employed.
How much do these new tires impact a car’s performance? Well, on one hand, tires are everything so the answer is a lot but are they impacting teams like Aston Martin and Red Bull more negatively while improving the performance windows for teams like McLaren and Mercedes?
It’s difficult to know. Some will argue that Fernando is playing games in the press and that he is making excuses for his team’s lack of performance gains wit their upgrades. Others might consider that fast-tracking all-new tires mid-season is an interesting move and we have seen some even more interesting performance changes since Silverstone.
The resurgent McLaren at Silverstone and Hungary qualifying, the qualifying performance of Zho Guanyu in his Alfa Romeo, pole position by Mercedes in Hungary. There have been significant upgrades by teams that have come much closer to Red Bull’s design and perhaps that form of flattery is what has improved the competitiveness of the grid.
It’s hard to say definitively but Alonso clearly feels the series changing the tires mid-season has had an impact. I not one to jump on a conspiracy theory but there is precedent for this in the past with movable floors, J-Dampers, BRIC and other tech that has been addressed to try and balance a season. Would F1 make a significant change due to the constant moaning about Red Bull domination for two seasons? I would certainly hope not.