It’s not easy being Pirelli. In fact, it wouldn’t be easy to be any tire manufacturer that supplies the Formula One series. In many cases you are a hero or a zero and Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix was the latter.
Many consider Sunday’s race a lackluster affair primarily due to a brand new circuit that provided adhesive grip on an otherwise smooth track surface that prompted very little tire degradation. Now that’s an odd combination and one we haven’t see for a while but how could we? The Sochi track has never been raced on before.
Pirelli have taken some heat in recent days over their choice of tire compounds for the race weekend. The medium and soft compounds were used at the circuit and on one hand you can understand the conservative approach into the unknown. On the other hand, a sympathetic track surface perhaps could have been met with a softer tire compound.
Regardless, if Pirelli had brought a soft compound and they fell apart, then they would have been the bane of F1’s existence and damned for being so inept. Pirelli’s Paul Hembery told AUTOSPORT:
“We get criticised whatever we do,” Hembery said
“I think people just have short memories, and that is one of the problems. It puts us in an impossible situation, as you can imagine.
“I am not sure we would have dramatically changed the scenario if we had come here with the super-softs.”
He’s right, they get blamed a lot these days making you wonder where the line for brand awareness and positive brand building crosses with brand equity damage and a low return on investment.
If I’m honest, I felt the tires could have been the softer but that wasn’t my main concern over the weekend. I’m fine with tires that last and are durable for a race. With Nico Rosbreg running 52 laps on a set of medium tires, there is little doubt that the compounds were rigid—if not too rigid by today’s F1 standards.
What had me more concerned is the length and speed of the circuit put teams in a fuel mileage race due to the fuel-flow restriction and that is something I would like for F1 to revisit. I hear fans say that managing fuel is apart of F1 and managing tires is part of F1. Sure, but to a point. Having a driver running low on fuel is one thing, having most of the teams all running low on fuel and dialing back their performance is another.
In the end, Pirelli have done an outstanding job of providing rubber for F1 this year. They’ve done exactly what F1 have asked them to do and the Russian Grand Prix was a first for everyone. Not the most exciting race we’ve had an I’m fine with that. Not every race is a barnburner.
Now we have Felipe Massa outraged over Pirelli’s selection of tire compound for Brazil suggesting that the hard and medium selection has never been needed and could actually be dangerous. For Pirelli’s point, Hembery says they have always taken hard tires to Brazil but they will check again and make changes if needed.
Lighten up Francis
[vsw id=”C6cxNR9ML8k” source=”youtube” width=”600″ height=”400″ autoplay=”no”]
All this to say that Pirelli are damned if they do and damned if they don’t so it’s a difficult spot to be in. Even Fernando Alonso criticized Pirelli’s Russian GP choice. I, for one, am very pleased with what Pirelli have done this year because I felt they tried to hard to place themselves in the tactical element of F1 last year with disastrous results.
It’s a clear case of how people react to a construct when it doesn’t impact racing enough to make the race unnerving. It’s not Pirelli’s fault so much as it is the current format of F1 cars and their inability to race each other in close quarters. These tires are constructs that artificially impact the racing so keep that in mind the next time we have a bullet-proof tire at a race. Durable tires merely exposes some of the challenges these current cars have with respects to downforce levels and performance balances between teams.
What may have been more interesting is if the teams could have pushed at maximum from the start on tires that would last and could be pushed and then see where we were. If the cars had enough fuel to run wide open and had tires that could take it, we may have seen something a little more exciting.