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Tim Goodchild

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Tyred Out

Posted: 16/06/2012 21:28

Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso, Nico Rosberg, Sebastien Vettel, Pastor Maldonado, Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton have each won a race this year, and we are only seven races into the 2012 Formula 1 World Championship. It is unheard of in the sport and this is history in the making. But all are not happy it seems - so much so that in the past week both Peter Sauber and Martin Whitmarsh, team managers of Sauber and McLaren respectively have had to openly state that this is brilliant for the sport as a spectacle fending off the naysayers. 

Some critics have said F1 has become a lottery, and that anyone can win. Granted, there have been five different manufacturers winning - but all have a winning pedigree. It is more a freak occurrence that we have had seven different winners consecutively - I very much doubt there will be 20 different winning drivers by the time the season is out.

The competition is undoubtedly closer this year, but a lot of that is down to the tyres which maybe hiding some of the performance advantages across the cars on the grid. Now, I am a huge fan of the Pirelli tyre and the random element they have now brought into the sport - but more on that later. Those that don't like F1 this year are clinging on to an F1 of old, and of tradition...time for a history lesson...

F1 is known to have racing eras, namely by drivers who have dominated the sport: Fangio, Graham Hill, Stewart, Lauda, Prost, Senna, Schumacher. During the years when these drivers were racing, the opposition would be forever trying all manner of things to beat the defining drivers of the sport. The most recent era, the Schumacher years of 1994 through to 2006: seven world championships and 91 race wins to his name (in his career so far). The rule makers changed the points system, qualifying format, technical regulations to halt the Schumacher domination but each time they fundamentally failed. Since Schumacher's departure from he sport at the end of 2006, we have had 4 different world champions, and even with his return to the sport in 2010, there is a question over whether we will have domination of the Schumacher order again. This is why I feel there are critics of the sport today. They are holding on to how F1 was, and the fear of change is worrying some purists. I say that is rubbish and we should embrace this new look F1.  

Those that do not follow the ins and outs of F1 have said on numerous occasions that F1 is unfair: the same team always wins. Red Bull Racing won 12 of 19 races as recently as last year. There have been calls in the past that all teams should have identical cars, so we would find out the true "best" driver in the world - but that isn't what Formula 1 is about. It is the culmination of technology and driver combined, from different manufacturers and the best engineers to build cars unlike anything else on four-wheels on the planet. 

So, I go back to my earlier point: tyres. Before Pirelli came into the sport, the supplier to F1 was Bridgestone. They were an engineer's dream. They provided tyres that could last a set distance, and everyone knew how they would degrade during a race. Pirelli on the other hand came in with one intent: to spice up the action. Now, we arrive at the race track on a Friday for practice ahead of the Grand Prix on Sunday not really knowing how the tyres will perform, and which car/driver will come out on top. There are such huge variations in the tyre compounds and degradation rates that it is causing all manner of headaches in the technical departments of the F1 teams. The simple solution is for Pirelli to produce a more durable and predictable tyre. Which I am sure a lot of teams would want, but I sincerely hope this doesn't happen. You need to have new technologies or factors in a sport to allow for variation. Therefore the challenge has been laid down: the first team to find a way of best understanding Pirelli rubber will win the championship - simple!

I was having a conversation with a friend recently who is recently getting into F1 and said to me that he would rather see a driver go all out, as fast as he can for the the whole race - having to manage tyres and go at a certain speed is not what F1 should be about. I completely disagree. These are the best 24 drivers in the world. Deal with it. If you want to watch gas-guzzling speed, go watch IndyCar. 

So...I would like to see F1 in its current form remain. The last 15 laps of the Canadian Grand Prix is testament to this.  Tyre management may not be what F1 has been known for, but then F1 is a commercial gold mine. Only 24 drivers can race a car at speeds of F1, but any driver of any car can learn to manage their tyres, and in an ecomical climate where new tyres for your road car are an expense, it may be worthwhile to take a leaf out of Lewis Hamilton's book. 

 

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