After much gnashing of teeth during early rounds on the 2013 Formula One calendar about the excessive tire degradation intentionally designed into Pirelli’s dry compound F1 offerings, the Italian manufacturer has confirmed they will review their tire compounds after the Bahrain Grand Prix in late April.
Several teams, most notably Red Bull and Mercedes, have loudly expressed displeasure over the wear characteristics that Pirelli, at the behest of F1, built into the 2013 product to increase the role of tire strategy and the number of pit stops per race in an effort to add excitement to the show.
Before their great success in the recent Malaysian Grand Prix, Red Bull and Mercedes claimed the tires were degrading faster on cars exhibiting the most downforce (the opposite of common wisdom on tire wear), in effect penalizing the teams with a superior aerodynamic design for cornering. Both Red Bull and Mercedes had gone so far as to call for a return of Pirelli’s 2012 tire specifications.
Many drivers and other observers have also voiced concerns since preseason testing earlier this year about the excessive tire degradation. They argue [correctly] that the tire situation plays too important a role in determining the outcome of races, overshadowing driving talent and superior car design and placing too much emphasis on tire management.
Red Bull’s Helmut Marko has even floated the idea of an unfair tire advantage for Lotus because Pirelli uses a 2010 Lotus-designed R30 as its test car. “It’s obvious that the Pirelli tyres are designed for this type of car,” he said, as reported on Yallaf1.com. “The Lotus of today has the same DNA.”
A Lotus source, as reported on Yallaf1.com, was quoted in Italy’s La Stampa, “If our car was like 2010, we would be in bad shape.”
Pirelli motorsports director Paul Hembery called Red Bull’s assertions a “conspiracy theory not based on fact.”
Red Bull’s Marko and Mercedes F1 technical director Toto Wolff had both claimed before the Malaysian Grand Prix, which their respective teams dominated, that Pirelli had agreed to change compounds for the Bahrain race on April 21.
Potential changes to the current tire compounds could come about only if immediate safety concerns exist and all 11 teams would have to sign off on such revisions. Red Bull and Mercedes claim their complaints are based on safety concerns, but unanimity seems a long way off.
Ferrari and Lotus, two teams far less dissatisfied with the new Pirelli rubber, have stated unequivocally that no safety issues exist and would veto any such proposal for compound change at this stage.
Stefano Domenicali, Ferrari principal, is quoted in Yallaf1.com as saying, “Pirelli cannot change something without the agreement of the teams unless there is an imminent safety risk. It makes no sense to panic after two races,” he added.
On March 28, Hembery seemed to rule out any changes called for by the pressure brought by Mercedes’ and Red Bull’s positions.
“If we did,” he told Spain’s AS newspaper as reported on Yallaf1.com, “and we ended up favouring one team, we could have the championship over by Monza. This is Formula 1; everyone trying to gain advantage over the others. If you have the whole paddock against you, then you have to take action.”
But Hembery’s position now seems to have softened a bit. Yallaf1.com is reporting that he told Spain’s Marca newspaper, “It’s still early, but after the fourth race, Bahrain, we will review the compounds.”
It is unknown what possible changes, if any, could result from the “review” or if the re-evaluation of the tire situation is merely intended to ease the pressure imposed by the sport’s more vocal detractors.
Pirelli is currently in negotiation with FIA and F1 to extend its contract beyond 2013 as the series’ sole tire supplier.
For certain, the 2013 F1 season is not running low on riveting subplots.