Red Bull, Pirelli spar over tire wear

If you’ve been watching Formula One for some time now, you’ll know that when Mark Webber isn’t happy about something… he says it. The Australian F1 driver did not mince words at this weekend’s practice session for the Malaysian Grand Prix when his Red Bull RB9 chassis experienced high tire degradation.

“The whole category is geared around tyres at the moment,” Webber fumed despite topping the timesheets in the morning session ahead of Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus.

“Everything is around tyres. Tyres, tyres, tyre, tyres, tyres,”

Webber’s teammate, Sebastian Vettel, echoed the sentiment during Friday’s free practice session. The team also experienced a higher amount of degradation in the season-opening race in Australia last weekend:

“It looked pretty okay but it was quite a mess if you look at how long the tyres lasted,” said Vettel.

“Today, tyre wear was pretty severe for everyone, so obviously you drive way under the potential of the car.

“I hope we have enough tyres to survive the race and it is not a lot of fun and that is how it is.”

Pirelli, the sole supplier to Formula 1, has answered back suggesting that everything is going according to plan. The Italian company set out to make a higher degrading tire for 2013 and during winter testing the teams experienced sever graining signaling that the new compounds may have achieved their goal to a fault. Pirelli blamed cool temperatures in winter testing for the amount of graining the tires were experiencing and suggested that the true performance wouldn’t be revealed until the warmer climates in Australia and Malaysia.

It seems the warmer climates have delivered a high degradation tire with the Option compounds lasting only  a handful of laps in Australia. As for the wear-rate in Malaysia, Pirelli is now suggesting that it is the high temperatures and humidity that is prompting the excessive degradation the teams are experiencing. Pirelli boss Paul Hembery said:

“As we expected, we saw quite a high wear rate today, due to the more extreme nature of our 2013 tyres as well as the high temperatures and abrasive track surface,” Hembery said.

“Nonetheless, degradation stayed within our anticipated parameters.”

Hembery eludes to the fact that some teams have just done a better job of building cars that are gentler on the tires:

“We have also seen differences in the way that individual teams use the compounds, with the hard compound lasting 15 laps for some teams and 21 laps or more for others,” said Hembery.

“We’ll be looking at all the data tonight to establish a more precise picture for qualifying and the race.”

Let’s be honest, a higher than normal degradation or wear rate is one thing but tires lasting 5 laps is really nonsensical. Like everything with Formula One, an idea (in this case born from an error in Canada) gives rise to a movement and then pragmatism takes over to extract the very last nuance of a concept into a negative impact to the sport. the pragmatism is so rampant in F1 that the end results can barely be considered when sallying forth with a new concept.

One must also offer a defense of Pirelli. This high-degradation tire concept was not their idea but they politely agreed to work with F1 to create a tire with high wear-rate in order to “spice up the show”. The teams did get on top of the 2012 compounds in due course and made the most of what they could. There is every reason to believe that will happen again and Hembery suggested that the teams always whinge about the tires in the first races and then adapt.

That may be true but the knock-on effect of this is that the teams are now driving to lap times and the series has become an endurance test of tire management. There is nothing wrong with a driver being forced to manage tires, that’s always been the case in F1, but trying to manage a tire that last 5 laps is really odd.

What have we gained when teams are impeded from running at the limits when their tires last 5-7 laps? Is this a good idea? Wasn’t the heat and warm temperatures the optimum operating conditions Pirelli said they needed back in winter testing? Now we have those conditions in Malaysia and Pirelli seem to suggest that the temperatures are too high. So the compounds were designed for 70 degree weather with 10% humidity? Few races on the calendar are ripe with those conditions.

What do you think? Is this simply team whinging? Is Hembery correct that the team always complain and then get on top of the compounds and make it work for the rest of the year? Of do you feel the tire degradation has reached ludicrous proportions?


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