• The Inside Line

Testing times for Pirelli. Again.

Kate Walker November 22, 2013
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In my rarely humble opinion, Pirelli have been the big losers of the 2013 Formula One season, damned when they do and damned when they don't. And it looks like life is only going to get tougher for the Italian tyre manufacturer next year.

When Pirelli became F1's sole tyre supplier in 2011, their arrival on the scene was greeted with rapturous applause. After years of one-stop parades on Bridgestone's ever-durable rubber, Pirelli promised to shake up the action on track by creating marginal compounds that would deliver good racing. There wasn't much they could do about that year's driver title, but behind the all-conquering Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel we saw more on-track action than had been the case for aeons.

Then Pirelli stepped it up a gear, delivering more extreme rubber solutions that took the teams a while to get their collective heads around. As a consequence we enjoyed a record-breaking start to the 2012 season, with seven different winners from the first seven races, plus a to-the-wire title fight. Racing was back, and it was largely down to Pirelli's bravery in going down the high-deg route in the interests of the sport, and not the interests of their business plan.

And then 2013 happened. With no recent car to test on, and no compromise machine made available by the in-fighting teams, Pirelli went yet more extreme with their construction and compounds despite the lack of decent testing opportunities or a reliable barometer.

Where they had been praised in 2012, 2013 saw Pirelli vilified. Drivers complained of being forced to preserve rubber when they'd rather race, while some teams said the tyres were borderline dangerous and definitely unreliable. From a bad PR point of view there was the International Tribunal convened by the FIA following Mercedes' secret tyre test, while less than two weeks later the British Grand Prix became a festival of flying rubber.

Pirelli may have been in the wrong when they gambled on their choice of compounds and construction, but the teams should also accept some responsibility, as it was their inability to cooperate that created the no test car situation. And this year they're doing it all over again, to the extent that Pirelli are threatening to deliver Bridgestone-style tyres with a view to boring us all senseless with endless one-stop parades in 2014. Unless the FIA introduces a mandatory second stop, that is.

And who can blame them? The Pirelli board have taken all the bad press they can handle, and they're operating in a world where it is very unlikely that the parameters are going to change in future. Having begged - repeatedly - for a post-season tyre test using 2014 rubber on all 22 2013 cars, they have been shot down by teams unwilling or unable to come to a compromise.

If Pirelli continue to deliver marginal rubber in the interests of good racing, they will once again be thrown to the wolves by the teams. If they elect to take a safer route, leading to less than stellar action on track, they will be criticised for being too conservative. It's far easier for the teams to lay the blame elsewhere than it is for them to come to terms with the fact that it is their own inability to put the greater good of the sport over their self-interest that is at the root of our current tyre troubles.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'.
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Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'.