Alonso, Webber, Pirelli in tire row

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Ferrari was not happy with the way the tires were performing and their driver was struggling to be competitive. Drivers had learned that their tire supplier was a part of the equation and so any criticism was kept behind closed doors. That is until Michael Schumacher, at the height of frustration, commented publicly about the Goodyear tires.

If memory serves correctly, this prompted an odd exchange from Goodyear’s head of European operation with something gin the neighborhood of, “Who does he think he is? God?”

Goodyear had enough and promptly left the sport after 33 years of supplying teams. They had won titles and races but the new 1998 regulations would see narrower, grooved tires introduced and the Akron, Ohio-based tire maker wasn’t keen on the changes.

As far as Goodyear was concerned, Schumacher was their main protagonist and his criticism had been swallowed for some time but when it was clear that the other teams were much faster on Bridgestone’s, Schumacher felt Goodyear were not doing enough. He was right.

This weekend, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso hit out at Pirelli for their aggressive tire choice for this weekend’s Korean Grand Prix. The Prime and Option tire consisted of medium and medium and super soft respectively. The drivers complained that the Option tire was not lasting long enough and the race even saw the return of another blowout which plagued the British Grand Prix.

On Saturday of the Korean GP race weekend, Alonso felt the tires were too aggressive saying:

“I think the tires are what they are at the moment – and it is a tire that cannot do five kilometres,” said Alonso, who has qualified sixth at Yeongam. “The quality of the tires is on the limit.

“It is the same for everybody and I am sure all the cars, if they pushed 100 per cent from the start of the lap, they would not last 5km. So this is not very helpful, and it is not very nice to drive like this for 95 per cent of the lap.”

“I am not blaming the tires. But they are not good. We all see with our eyes. But it is the same tires for everybody.

“I am sure if we put a tire that could do more than 5km they [Ferrari’s rivals] would be even faster in the last sector as well, so it is a compromise we need to find.”

His comments were met with what would be characterized as an acerbic answer from Pirelli’s motor sport boss Paul Hembery who said:

“I can only suggest he goes to ask the soon-to-be four-times champion how to get the best from the same tires,” Hembery said.

It’s a bit of a cheeky response as Vettel is currently dominating the series but one could almost pick of a hint of “I told you so” in that comment instead of the surface intent that many ascribe to it. At first blush he seems to be throwing Vettel’s domination in Alonso’s face but I suspect Hembery is really reminding Alonso that Pirelli had made a different tire for 2013 and instead of letting the company test and solve the delaminating issues, the FIA, supported by some of the teams, forced the Italian tire maker to revert back to the 2012 construction. At the time, Hembery warned everyone that would listen that this would only play into the hands of Red Bull and is that what the teams wanted?

There is no doubt Hembery’s comment were dripping with frustration because it’s been a tough year for the tire maker but he also knew that a change in tire construction and move away from the steel belted tires of 2013 would only benefit Red Bull and so it has. Hembery later apologized to Alonso and the Spaniard said:

“There is no controversy. We speak with facts and they [Pirelli] just use words. Everybody can see that,” said Alonso after the race.

“These are tires that won’t last a lap, but as we said yesterday, we have zero problems with the performance.

“It’s us who haven’t adapted to these 2012 tires. It’s up to us Ferrari, or the drivers, to improve.

“But the tire marbles are there, and when it rains they have to stop the races, and then Perez has a blowout…

“So we know the tires are on the limit in terms of quality.

“Hembery had not heard this and he made a mistake, and he came to apologize, so we are thankful for that.

“It seemed weird that given the season Pirelli is having they decide to speak out. But he apologized and it’s all good.”

As Mark Webber’s race ended in flames, he was immediately in front of the TV cameras, even before the race was over, stating his position:

“That is how it is. The drivers aren’t super important – it is what other people want,” said Webber after retiring from the race.

“The tires are wearing a lot and they also explode a bit – but that is for Pirelli to sort out.”

McLaren’s Sergio Perez had a big lock-up that flat-spotted the right front tire which ultimately experienced a large blowout. The result was shards of his front wing flying onto the track just ahead of Webber who had to make an additional pit stop for tires and the team were left fitting a set of Option tires as they had no Prime’s left. With the overly aggressive Option tires, Webber was going to be a sitting duck but his clash with Force India’s Adrian Sutil put him out of his misery. Pirelli quickly placed announced that the blowout was due to the flat-spotting of Perez’s tire but Webber predicted that answer:

“Pirelli will put the puncture of Perez down to a lock-up but the reason the drivers are locking up is because there’s no tread left,” said Webber.

The tires are the same for all the teams but Korea was a stark reminder that the intent of the high-degradation tires was to help overtaking yet the delicate nature of the tires means that in dirty air (close behind a competitor) the tires really go off the boil and then you’re stuck. Its not working and Pirelli should be allowed to make a proper tire for F1.It’s pragmatism run amok.

In 2014, the series will be bringing an all-new Energy Recovery System (ERS) to the grid and if you wanted to get creative, why not create a linear energy harvest program that starts the race with minimal energy harvested and available for use but as the race goes on and fuel is burned off, the ERS starts really harvesting the energy and lots of power is then made available for the drivers?

With this type of system, you could go back to multiple tire suppliers or simply allow Pirelli to make a great tire for the series and use the gadgets that Formula 1 likes to brag about as it hurts its own arm from patting its own back. Perhaps with good tires and lots of available power mid-race and on, driving behind other cars would be less of an issue? Maybe.

What do you think? Are the tires fine? Have they outstayed their welcome?

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