Under Pressure! – Hall On F1

There’s no such thing as bad publicity, or so the saying goes. Certainly this applies for the likes of Paddy Power and Ryanair. When it comes to Pirelli it would be easy to think that a similar philosophy applied.  It would nearly have to when they walk away battered and bruised post Formula 1 weekend.

“What is it this weekend? Those new tyre pressures we introduced almost cost the race winner and Championship leader his win, resulting in prolonged exposure and Social Media discussion”

“Fantastic! It’s not two blow outs in a weekend but I LIKE IT!”

“Oh, and Michelin even had a laugh! Michelin! Put the cigars away!”

Michelin Tweet

We’ve not forgotten Indianapolis 2005 though. You know, that race where Michelin shod teams pitted on mass, meaning only Ferrari, Jordan & Minardi took part in the race. Great for Tiago Monteiro and Jordan. (3rd) Farcical for all concerned. At times it seems like Pirelli are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Work to the mandate that they were given when they first came into the sport (A tyre that degenerates as opposed to disintegrates) and they are criticised for having a tyre that fell off a performance cliff with little to no warning. Arrive at a circuit with two compounds that allow drivers to run a one stop race and they are labelled boring or conservative. Caught between a rock and a hard place. Bernie Ecclestone has stated that Pirelli have given what they were asked when it’s come to tyre degeneration, but drivers bemoan the need to nurse tyres rather than drive at full attack.

In 2013, with the quicker Red Bull and Mercedes teams fighting against Ferrari and Lotus making tyres last longer we seemed set for another fantastic season. Ultimately the fiasco that was Silverstone that year saw Hamilton, Massa & Perez suffer spectacular tyre failures which would ultimately lock in a Red Bull domination for the second half of the season as Pirelli first introduced a Kevlar belt (Replacing steel) and then reverted to 2012 compounds.

In the wake of serious pressure from the teams, Pirelli always maintained that the biggest issue that season was rear tyres being swapped over and tyres being run outside of the recommended pressures and cambers. Despite the changes made, Pirelli were adamant that the tyres alone were not the problem stating that their construction “Does not compromise driver safety in any way if use in the correct manner”.

Once again Pirelli finds itself using similar terminology to defend its position. This time, following the tyre failures of Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel during the Belgain Grand Prix weekend. The Ferrari driver making his point quite clear “Things like that are not allowed to happen, full stop. If it happens 200 metres earlier, I am not standing here now. I don’t know what else needs to happen.”

Having received scathing criticism from the drivers Pirelli hit back, blaming external sources such as:
1) Overly long tyre stints “The events at Spa can be put down to external factors, linked with the prolonged use of the tyres on one of the most severe tracks of the championship”
2) Excessive track debris “We need to find a standardised way of cleaning circuits. I know it’s something the FIA are looking at.”

Then came the race itself. An utterly dominant display from Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes. Except, while Kimi was busy making the race interesting, furrowed brows and worried looks appeared on the Mercedes pitlane. Ferrari and Mercedes had both had their cars tyre pressures checked on the grid before the race. Ferrari were above the minimum PSI set out by Pirelli. Both Mercedes cars were below, on the left rear. Hamilton 0.3psi. Rosberg 1.1psi.

It seemed a dominant display would be for nothing as new measures, introduced post Spa, would claim their first victim.

Except they didn’t. Both Toto Wolff and Paddy Lowe straight batted questions from the media immediately after the race. They were adamant that Mercedes had done nothing wrong. In fact Lowe stated that they had set the recommended tyre pressure in front of a Pirelli representative. Extenuating circumstances then for the irregularity? It would appear so and statement was released as such.

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Common sense, or highlighting a flawed system for tyre checks? Williams were adamant that rules had been broken and a penalty should be enforced, so why wasn’t it? Rules are rules, no? Except going back to Paddy Lowe’s reaction following the race there are more questions than answers found.

Paddy Lowe claimed, and the statement from the FIA Stewards subsequently copper fastened, the tyres were correct at the time of fitting while they were in their tyre blankets. This is confirmed as being the reason the team was not disqualified. So why take the test on the grid without the tyre warmers in place. This is where the F1 and GP2 infringements differ. Alexander Rossi highlighted his qualifying penalty under similar circumstances, but the GP2 cars don’t use tyre warmers so the situation is different. If you set the pressures in tyre blankets, with tyre pressures staggered due to the right hand nature of Monza, then surely you would expect to find the left hand tyres under regulation if you let the temperatures drop before testing them again. It’s almost like somebody wanted to catch a team running under pressure but were then outmanoeuvred by Mercedes.

If it was meant as a way to make the teams sit up and take notice of tyre pressures, it certainly worked. Especially if you were sat in the number 44 for the last few laps of the race. What should have been a comfortable race win for Mercedes turned out to be the hardest they fought for a win all season. Even if it wasn’t the case and the tests were on safety ground rather than being seen to take a stance against low tyre pressures then why set up a system of checks that are then unenforceable, and if the team showed data that proved that they had followed procedure and not interfered with the tyres prior to the race then why bother testing teams on the grid?
It’s all a bit odd. Especially after the drivers effectively had a gagging order put in place telling them to speak directly to Pirelli and not subject the beleaguered tyre manufacturer to any more bad publicity.

It looks even worse when placed in the context of engine regulations this season. The Token System. While tyre pressure regulations would appear to be set with a handy get out of jail free card there is no such flexibility when it comes to powertrains. The most competitive part of the weekend at Monza? The race to the back of the grid following the extensive penalty list:
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22. Button McLaren Honda 5 place penalty
14. Alonso McLaren Honda 10 place penalty
55. Sainz STR Renault 10 place penalty
26. Kvyat Red Bull Renault 35 place penalty
3. Ricciardo Red Bull Renault 50 place penalty

That’s 110 place combined penalties for the teams with powertrain infringements. No discussion required. No grey areas. Both the tyre pressures and the power unit elements were items either detected or changed prior to the start of the race. So why have one issue take hours to resolve after the chequered flag has fallen? Consistency. Transparency. It’s something that Formula 1 doesn’t do very well, and in times of relentless Social Media scrutiny, it continues to frustrate.

In a time where Formula 1 needs to be seen to do things in the right way,  both their gagging of drivers and inconsistency in enforcement do nothing but put Pirelli and the sport under more pressure. Whatever the reasons for the events of the weekend, one thing is clear. Changes are needed- and fast if Formula 1 is to move away from the off track drama that was Monza.

Until the next time,

David Hall.

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