How the desire of rivals to rein in Red Bull contributed to the Korean GP tyre issue
While Pirelli came under renewed flak in Korea, Sky Sports F1's Mark Hughes explains why in many ways Red Bull's rivals brought the problems on themselves
By Mark Hughes - @SportMPHMark
During the Korean GP weekend Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber and Sergio Perez all spoke out publicly against the Pirelli tyres they were tasked with racing on. But the background to it all was rooted in several teams uniting in trying to use Pirelli to limit Red Bull's domination.
"These super-softs won't even do a lap around here before overheating," complained Alonso to Pirelli's Paul Hembery early in the Korea weekend. Hembery countered that he agreed: they wouldn't. But he then asked the Ferrari driver if he knew who had asked that Pirelli bring the super-soft as the option tyre rather than the soft. Fernando did not. "Your boss," Hembery was able to inform him.
Ferrari had been part of a group of teams pushing to have the softest tyre here - and although Pirelli has no way of knowing for certain what their motivation was in this, it can be safely assumed it was to reduce the advantage of Red Bull.
"The tougher the compound, the more of Red Bull's downforce advantage can be used: simple as that," explained Hembery. Korea's Yeongam track is actually too demanding for the combination of the 2013 super-soft and medium compound. Turn 11, a very long fourth gear left hander, simply peels the rubber away from the right-front tyre until there's virtually no tread left on it.
Once this happens the tyre is extremely prone to lock up - and if it does that with almost no tread left, it will burn a hole rather than a mere flat-spot, in the tyre. This is what happened to Perez, causing the tread to throw itself from the carcass on medium compound tyres that were towards the end of their useful life, having covered 21 laps.
"With the 2012 construction of tyre we've been running post-Silverstone there's very little 'mechanical' help from the tyre's construction," explained Hembery. "This is the way they've been designed, so as to ensure high degradation races, which is what we were tasked with creating. So the compound gets relatively little help from the construction." So through turn 11 the rubber just gets stripped across from the surface - particularly on the right-front, the tyre carrying most of the load at that point.
"We're obviously on exactly the same construction as we raced here last year," said Hembery, "so there's no underlying problem. Flat spots or punctures have just always been an integral part of racing."
What made things difficult this year was that the compound choice was too marginal for a two-stop race, but a two-stop strategy was faster than a three. So everyone was trying to stay on two-stops but with a combination of tyres that gave too high a wear rate to be able to do that without risk.
Last year's choice was super-soft/soft but the 2012 compounds were of a different range to the softer range of 2013. The equivalent of the 2012 super-soft is the 2013 soft. The equivalent of the 2012 soft is the 2013 medium. So by 2013 standards, what they raced on last year would this year be called soft/medium. What they actually raced on this year was super-soft/medium.
This made getting the range required to do a two-stop much more difficult. Last year the front-runners made their first stint option tyres last between 13-16 laps in the race; this year it was between laps 9-11. That left an extra four-five laps to be covered by the remaining two sets of primes - just enough to make everything very marginal.
Ironically, it did not really reduce Red Bull's advantage - but just had it play out in a different way to Singapore where on tyres that were comfortably durable enough Vettel had been able to win through raw performance. With the tyres more stressed in Korea what he did instead was drive just fast enough to keep the gap to second place at around three-four seconds, not using all his available pace.
If blame was being apportioned for the tyre issue in Korea, a big chunk of it should go to those teams trying to use Pirelli to rein in Red Bull artificially, unable to beat them by building a faster car.