Although the 2013 F1 season looked promising with the introduction of the all-new Pirelli tires, it only took a few races to see that an ingredient or two were missing from the melting pot.
Okay, so the Pirelli rubber added excitement in the form of the unknown degradation window and longevity before they suddenly ‘went off’, but it became all too apparent teams were ordering their drivers to look after the tires. This isn’t in any way unusual; however, when you have to nurse the rubber to the point of letting another car breeze past without putting up a fight, the whole meaning of the word ‘race’ is lost.
The Pirellis are also delicate and prone to either puncture or delamination, as Lewis Hamilton found out in Bahrain when his tire exploded after picking up a piece of debris. This fast delamination damaged his Mercedes‘ suspension and subsequently created a gearbox problem, which demoted him five grid places.
The final shootout in qualifying was also affected, as any teams in the bottom 10 who thought it unrealistic to finish higher than seventh or eighth on the grid remained in the pits, saving their tires for the race.
In Barcelona, a frustrated Lewis Hamilton fought with Pastor Maldonado for 13th place, eventually losing out.
“Now I’ve been overtaken by a Williams,” Hamilton moaned over the team radio. Later, when asked to preserve his tires, the driver dejectedly said that he “can’t go any slower.” This is not only frustrating to watch as a fan, but it must be totally demoralizing for a driver.
After an unprecedented 80 stops in Barcelona with teams having to make four stops instead of a planned three, the 1997 F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve summed it up perfectly: “At this rate, F1 is going to become a pit-stop contest with a few race laps thrown in.”
The defining moment of Pirelli’s vulnerability also came in Barcelona, when Red Bull ordered defending champion and current championship leader Sebastian Vettel to not race a looming Kimi Raikkonen as he was on another strategy. Again, how frustrating for a driver with the innate instincts to win?
We can’t put all the blame on Pirelli though, as they did conform to the FIA’s demands and produced what was asked of them. Responding to strong criticism and the need of something more durable, Pirelli has confirmed its intention to provide drivers with two sets of ‘experimental’ tires for the Friday practice at the Canadian GP in Montreal.
They also intend them to be used in races from Silverstone and on, so keep your fingers crossed that Pirelli finds that special ingredient needed to enable the racers to actually race. After all, F1 is at the pinnacle of racing technology, so shouldn’t these cars be pushed to their limits?