In 2011, Pirelli Motorsport became F1’s sole tyre supplier with a promise to increase degradation and spice up the racing. Proceeding their introduction in the sport, the manufacturer were the subject of praise from fans who were treated to a new kind of formula: a formula in which tyre degradation decided the outcomes of races rather than the processions which characterised the early 2000’s.
Since then, Pirellis reputation has suffered. It all began in 2013 in a series of events which created widespread dissatisfaction with the Italian company, the first of which was Spain 2013 when the winning race strategy included four pit stops. The race was a morass of tyre saving and careful driving, devoid of intrigue and excitement – it seemed as though Pirelli failed to take heed of the FIA’s instructions to make races ‘2 or 3 stops,’ and for this the Italian company were scalded. Races of similar ilk denoted the dismal 2013 season.
Then came the infamous incident of Silverstone 2013, in which there were six tyre failures in a single, 52 lap race. As became typical of Pirelli in subsequent seasons, they blamed the curb serrations – a theory that was later disproved. How, then, can we possibly trust a supplier who value their reputation over safety? Who are willing to dismiss failures such as these based on weak evidence collected in a manner that intends to make them look less bad? Above all, how can the drivers feel safe when putting faith in a company who are willing to lie in investigations of these tyre failures to save face?
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Perhaps Pirelli’s indiscretions could be forgiven if they actually did improve racing and better the sport. Now halfway through their fifth season in F1, only one of these can realistically be labeled as exciting. This may, however, not be the fault of Pirelli alone; the new engine formula and technical regulations have gone someway into making races and championships less exciting, but what cannot be argued is that the seasons preceding Pirelli’s introduction were far more lively than those following it.
Last weekends’ calamities were just another dent in their deteriorating reputation. It is now apparent that the tyres are not able to withstand 28 laps of stress on a track with a near 1 kilometer straight, on which the tyres incur minimal stress– that they simply explode 12 laps before their official longevity.
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Ferrari were entitled to try a bold – if you can call a one stop race ‘bold’ – strategy, and were entitled to think that a tyre would not explode if they did. Pirelli at no point questioned Ferrari’s decision, in fact they told teams that the tyre could do 40 laps – ample encouragement to try such a strategy.
Sebastian Vettel is also entitled to call his tyre delamination ‘unacceptable.’ In fact, if I were in his position – a championship hopeful vying for a podium – I would retort far more impolitely. Instead, his championship hopes, albeit slim at first, are now all about over, and all because Pirelli are unable to construct a tyre with integrity such that it can travel more than 117 miles without exploding.
What is most worrying about this incident is the fact that Pirelli’s entire concept of tyres hitting ‘the cliff’ of performance was disproved. A tyre should degrade and lose grip and performance before eventually delaminating, but instead it blew up without a loss of grip such that it would warrant the German to pit. Vettel felt he had the requisite tyre performance to continue his one stop strategy - evidence of the fact that the 2015 spec tyres are unpredictable and unsafe.
It may be time for Pirelli to call it quits on their time in F1. The tyres are unpopular with drivers due to their sensitivity and their repeated failures, unpopular with fans due to degradation being beyond the call of duty, and their reputation appears imperishably damaged by their inability to construct structurally sound tyres, and their tendency to mislead and lay blame on external factors rather than accept their mistakes.
They have in no way improved the sport in their spell, and one hopes that their contract will not be renewed once more in 2017.