There is certainly a large part of me that is enjoying the Formula 1 season so far. Mercedes fighting hard to defend its titles, Ferrari challenging as hard as they can, since the introduction of these set of regulations, and Red Bull winning the Chinese Grand Prix.
While engine development, chassis development and other aspects of the cars are all key factors, it cannot be overlooked as to just how important Pirelli’s contribution to the season has been so far.
Pirelli created all-new compounds and even added two versions to its catalog and the intent was to add more strategy and impact depending on the track and conditions. They have achieved that according to Mercedes chief strategist, James Vowles.
“The tires this year are having an impact,” said Vowles.
“But more so than that there’s a second aspect as well, which is you’ve got three teams – Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull – that all, depending on what tire and what track it is, are able to have different levels of performance to each other.
“And what that’s creating is different cars with different levels of performance depending on what the track temperature is, what the conditions are, and what tire they have fitted to the car.
“As you go to a track and it becomes windy or not windy, or cold or hot, you can see a swing of up to a second in lap times because of those environmental factors.”
No one wants to look a gift horse in the mouth so picking the Pirelli impact apart makes little sense but if I am honest, there is a small part of me that struggles with the idea that the disparity between teams is really determined by the tire compounds chosen. Depending on the track and temperature, no matter what a team does, they may struggle because that’s how that tire on this car at this track with these temps is going to behave.
Sure, that’s been a reality for decades in one sense and that’s perfectly fine, that’s racing. What has me curious is that if the realistic dominance matrix is Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull in that order, like it has been for the past four years, then I am concerned that the gap between these teams is being artificially narrowed due to tires and not cars. You could argue that it is the car because the car has to work with the tires. I get that.
If you’re new to F1, you may not recall the regulation changes that were ushered into the sport to hamper Ferrari’s dominance or the same strategy that was used to slow Red Bull’s dominance. I was no fan of that back then just as I would not be a fan of slowing Mercedes down through crafty tech and regulations.
I am sure that I will be the sound of one hand clapping here and my view won’t be very popular but I just believe that Mercedes should be beaten when another team builds a better car and not when Pirelli out-smart Mercedes through dodgy tires that only work well for them on certain tracks with certain conditions. That’s not fair to Mercedes and this critique is coming from a Ferrari fan no less.
The counter side of may argument is that it’s the same for everyone so deal with it. It’s early days so let’s see how this plays out…I just get touchy when I feel like the racing is impacted by a construct and not by sheer engineering of a superior car.