Debating F1's Brave New World
Sky Sports F1's David Croft recounts his debate on the way to Barcelona in the company of Johnny Herbert about whether the Pirellis are a force for good or not. Is there now too little reward for risk-taking? Or would you like a return to the old days?...
By David Croft. Last Updated: May 10, 2012 1:01pm
Itʼs not often you get the chance to share a plane journey with a man who has raced in 161 Grand Prix and won three of them, but such is my luck, and Johnny Herbertʼs loss, that today weʼre flying down to Barcelona side by side.
Itʼs good to see him again, we missed him in Bahrain and the good news is that heʼs going to be part of the Sky Sports F1 HD team for at least the next five races. So if he doesn't behave he might have to share more plane journeys with me in the future.
So what are we talking about?
Well after a few pleasantries and a chat about what we got up to in the last couple of weeks, itʼs down to business and in particular a comment from a former team-mate of Johnny's regarding the current Pirelli tyres.
Michael Schumacher likened them in an interview last week to driving around on ʻraw eggs' and said that they were having too big an effect on the racing this season."
So did he have a point?
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Johnny thinks not. "Qualifying hasnʼt changed," he argues. "It has always been about pushing as hard as you can to get that pole position and it still is. Unless youʼre playing safe or youʼve no chance of getting further up the grid, youʼre still pushing. As for the racing, weʼve seen drivers throughout the ages preserve their tyres and look after their rubber. Alain Prost was the master of it. Weʼve seen drivers push like crazy and pay the price, too. So whatʼs different there? You can still take the risks but your margin of error has got that little bit smaller in 2012.
But in my mind the focus on a Sunday has changed and that the risks of driving too hard for the acceptable life of the tyres outweigh the reward. Take a look at Kimi Raikkonen's race in China, for instance.
Johnny believes not, that Formula 1 is the same as it has always been and that "drivers are driving to the limit of the car."
But are they? Or are they driving to the limit of their tyres, way below the limit of their car, especially at the start of the race where the lap times are significantly slower even than last year when the re-fuelling ban was introduced. How is that on the limit?
And to add another argument. Are we seeing drivers penalised when they canʼt overtake quickly? Once they lose temperature itʼs impossible, it seems, to breathe new life into the rubber and you're stuck where you are until your next pit stop. Once again look at how Kimi Raikkonenʼs lap times slowed after he spent a couple of laps too long behind his team-mate in Bahrain. Look at how he had just one go at attacking Sebastian Vettel and how after failing to get past, couldnʼt keep the speed to mount another challenge. Is that what we want to see?
The flip side of that, of course, is the drama created by varying degrees of tyre wear at the end of a race and how that can see positions see-saw dramatically right up to the chequered flag. Neither of us are saying itʼs all bad.
And whatʼs the alternative? A return to the days when Michael Schumacher could test his Bridgestones from morning till night and then romp away with the win a few days later? I think we both agree thatʼs not what any of us want to see week in, week out.
A tyre war with competing manufacturers as it was before 2007? Well that would bring huge variety but you couldn't return to those days without the massive amounts of tyre testing and in the modern day cost-conscious world of F1 that isnʼt going to happen.
Pirelli have bought in to the sport, and bravely too, because tyres that donʼt last are hardly the Marketing Department's dream scenario, a world in which their tyres have improved the show.
"Thatʼs what the teams have wanted for years," screams Johnny. "Improving the show. Michael, as the ultimate driver, always wants to push the car to its limits. But as we saw back in his prime, for those watching, that could get a little tedious."
So has he got a point about driving on raw eggs? I ask again.
"Yes," comes the reply. But what would you rather have? A world where four different drivers from four different teams win the first four races? Or one man racing off into the distance and winning by a mile?
Johnnyʼs right of course, there are some that might not like this brave new world where we have overtaking and close racing, albeit generated a little artificially at times. But would we swap this season and this situation? Probably not. After all, weʼre actually looking forward to the Spanish Grand Prix - and thatʼs not something weʼve always said in the past.