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“Fool’s Gold: Thoughts on Pirelli and Formula One”

November 5, 2013

News emerged from Italy today that Pirelli bosses had met with member of the FIA and FOM over the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend to discuss the possibility of mandating two tyre changes in Formula One next season.

I will be quick about this, but will probably fail.

To me, the current sporting formula of endless tyre stops are just a dull reminder of the drab years of refuelling, where a mirage of pitstops disguised itself as great racing, while teams determinately ran almost identical strategies in each race in order to achieve the same result that they got the week before.

In a sense, it doesn’t help that we have been partially brainwashed into thinking the old days were always amazing. Those who rave about the 1979 French Grand Prix and the four-lap battle between Rene Arnoux and Gilles Villeneuve should try to sit through the opening 76 laps… Same for the dreary 1992 Monaco Grand Prix, until Nigel Mansell decided a tyre stop was necessary.
‘Back in the day’, the joy of highlights and magazine-style broadcasts was that the dross was often left on the cutting room floor.

In a sense, it is a shame that the occasional procession is deemed to be the end of the sport. Like football, rugby and all other sports, sometimes a game / race / contest is just not that enthralling.
That’s life, it happens sometimes – but engineering the sport to invent crude excitement at the expense of tension and suspense can be just a dull.

This entire story reminds me of an April’s Day joke played by the BBC and the English FA during one of the Grandstand broadcasts in 1994. In the practical joke, the show reported that from the 1994-95 season onward that the FA would make the goalposts larger in order to make scoring goals easier.
So, they set up a scene at Highbury with specially made goalposts that were about 20ft wide x 12ft high.

For sure, if the goalposts were increased in height and width, then there would naturally be more goals scored, because no goalkeeper could ever psychically reach that high or across. And that would be fantastic, because every match would probably end 7-6 and more goals equals more excitement, right?
They then showed mock interviews with some players, David Seaman and FA top brass during which they all said the idea was wonderful and that they couldn’t wait for the weekly goalfests.

Except it was nonsense. It was a joke and at the end of the sketch, the presenter Bob Wilson did an ol’ “Gotcha!” and the pundits and everyone else involved had a good laugh. No harm, no foul and all that stuff.

After every had a good chuckle, the panel had a brief discussion about what would happen if this came to pass and one of the general themes became “if the goals come too easily, then each play and score becomes less fun and less relevant” and they concluded that it was a good thing that goalposts had not grown as it might dilute such an important aspect of the sport.
It is doubtful that those running and supplying modern Formula One were paying attention that day.

The drive for mindless passing, whether it be through a DRS flyby or endless pitstops, when hands wash quickly as they change jelly tyres is to me, just mind-numbing. The overtakes that were special 25 years ago are still special today, but as with the Alonso / Webber battle from Spa-Francorchamps last year, the efforts can be annulled by an open flap on the rear wing.
But let’s be fair. Sport – all sport – is entertainment and finding the balance between sport and entertainment is incredibly difficult, especially in a sport that demands so much of technology.
Those who argue Formula One is more of a business than a sport are probably sprouting nonsense clouded by rose tinted glasses in need of a quick polish – Grand Prix racing has always been about selling something, whether it be under the name of Karl Benz or Dietrich Mateschitz. It is exists to sell time on television for sponsors, partners, governments who wish their cities to appear polished and other branded entities.

Alas, Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull may be utterly dominant at the moment but they aren’t killing Formula One as an entertainment spectacle. Formula One is killing Formula One.

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3 Comments
  1. You are spot on about the ‘good’ old days; F1 is thrilling compared to years ago – even if the cars are a hell of a lot uglier! In my opinion, the real downside to the racing is not Pirelli or pitstops, rather it is DRS, as you mention. Using a push-to-pass system like Indycar would make much more sense as the driver would have freedom to use it anytime, anywhere. Nothing ‘false’ about that.

    Meanwhile the tyres just don’t trouble me at all; high wear is the right way to go. The difference between a fuel-biased strategy and a tyre-biased strategy is that you can see the effect that tyres have on the race car. Seeing a car twitching and sliding is a far superior spectacle to the entirely cerebral pursuit of wondering whether a team will need to make a ‘splash n dash’.

    • Leigh O'Gorman permalink

      Hi Phil,
      Yes, I see where you’re coming from, but I feel when drivers are told over the team radio to go as slow as possible to save tyres, the spectacle loses out. Maybe a better formula where drivers can just race each other would a direction for the sport..?

  2. That’s certainly the purest way to go, I would love to see it. However, it would have to be tempered with a serious cut in downforce to make sure the cars weren’t on rails.

    I don’t know if you follow World Superbikes; their race at Silverstone last year featured riders going so slow that they weren’t even leaning over – and it was one of the most thrilling races I have ever seen! It was an unusual situation (weather and the newly introduced ‘flag-to-flag’ rules contributed to the need to go so slow), but my point is that you don’t need to see lap records tumbling to get a thrilling spectacle.

    The fuss over the Grand Prix cars doing GP2 lap times at Monaco this year was ludicrous – in 2010 the new teams were doing GP2 times in qualifying – which is far more of a concern than in the race because the sole appeal of qualifying is to see the drivers go quickly.

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