Conclusions From The Spanish GP
Why it could be now or never for Fernando, Mercedes learn the hard way, the static 2013 regulations offer no way of escape for Williams and McLaren, and as for the Pirellis...
By Pete Gill. Last Updated: 11/06/13 4:11pm
Pirelli take their tyres beyond an extreme
Well that wasn't what we wanted, was it?
The best that can be said of the Spanish GP and the role of F1's sole tyre supplier in the unfolding slow-speed spectacle of frustration and bewilderment is that, having been brought into F1 with a remit to spice up the racing by increasing the number of pit-stops, Pirelli's did not err in failing to heed that instruction. Their miscalculation was a amount of degree and extremity.
And the worst? That the extremity was a perversity and that Pirelli livened up the racing by removing the racing altogether. It's the ultimate indictment to be levelled, but, alas, one which is also impossible to refute following a horrible race in which the fastest motor cars on the planet were rendered pedestrian in thrall to delta times and rubber with the durability of ice cream in a sauna. This wasn't F1 as it ought to be. This wasn't really F1 at all.
And it showed. If fans were confused about what exactly they were watching, they could also have been forgiven for wondering where precisely they should have been watching as the pitlane became busier than the pit-straight. The 82 pit-stops - roughly one a minute despite three race retirements - was not quite a record. But the fact that over half the field - twelve cars, in fact - ran a four-stop strategy was unprecedented. For the good of both the sport and its beleaguered tyre supplier, it's a feat which can never be repeated. If you think F1's reputation went into the pits on Sunday, just imagine being a PR executive at Pirelli this Monday morning.
Yet who truly is culpable for instigating this debacle? The answer is not Pirelli, who were only trying to achieve what they were asked to do and for whom making fragile tyres is a far harder undertaking than creating tyres that would last all afternoon and all evening if needs be. Be under no illusions about that.
No, the fault primarily rests with the sport itself for asking its tyre supplier to put its own house in order, for taking a short cut that meant someone else would do its own dirty work. So take a deep breath before castigating Pirelli. After all, Pirelli aren't to blame for F1 failing to clean up the dirty air suffered by a pursuing car and producing processional races as a consequence. Nor are Pirelli to blame for circuits such as Barcelona needing an artificial twist after years of sucking the life out of Sunday afternoons. And don't blame Pirelli for F1 selling itself to the whims of the public at large by pandering to their need for instant and accessible entertainment instead of educating that great racing doesn't necessarily require overtaking. Above all else, don't blame the fireman for dousing the flames and leaving a mess behind in the rush.
So change the 2013 Pirelli tyres by all means. After Sunday, change has become compulsory. But in the rush to condemn, just don't lose sight of the crux that, in good times and bad, tyres ought not to be a leading protagonist in a sport of man and machine carefully aligned in the rapid the pursuit of excellence.
It could be now or never for Fernando
If Fernando Alonso doesn't win a third title this year, he probably never will whilst clad in the scarlet of the Scuderia. The difference between the F2012 and the F138 is night and day. If last year's charger was a misbehaving dog that Alonso had to manhandle to remain in title contention, then, judging by Sunday's grand prix, this year's model is a powerful beast he has already mastered.
Still, it's not without fault. The F138 lacks bark in qualifying trim and this weakness may become especially apparent in Monaco in two weeks' time. That said, Alonso's declaration that Mercedes are the favourites to win around the mean streets of the Principality at the end of the month was probably as much a hurry-up message to his own team as a bona fide expectation - and also served, given that he had lapped the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton just an hour or so beforehand, as a concise commentary on the near-farcical state F1 was reduced to this weekend when outright pace became a matter of irrelevancy.
Yet it must be a statistic of considerable assurance for Alonso that none of the last eight grands prix have been won from pole position. Reassuring and self-fulfilling given that Ferrari's 2012 experiences have left them so adept at overcoming modest Saturdays. At Barcelona, they stole a march on their rivals by planning for a four-stop strategy as early as Friday; Red Bull, by critical contrast, only abandoned hope of three-stopping midway through Sebastian Vettel's second stint.
But with that acclaim is thus carried a line of caution. If Ferrari have a better grasp of the tyres than Red Bull, they have more to lose if Pirelli bow to public pressure and plump for change. Keep a close eye on the politics to follow.
Back to the Brackley drawing board
What now for Mercedes? The reduced demands of Monaco should, in theory, offer temporal relief from their tyre-eating woes but the greedy W04 was so obese in Barcelona that the the Mercedes design team must have scurried back to back to the Brackley drawing-board straight from the airport. This is getting embarrassing and not just costly.
Solutions are easier mused than applied, of course, and yet the W04's flaw must, as remarked before and was acknowledged by Toto Wolff in Mercedes' own post-race briefing, be a fundamental matter of compromise. Boiled down, the suspicion remains that whatever causes the W04 to be so very quick on Saturday is also one of the reasons why they are so relatively slow on Sundays.
Balance is everything in F1 and in a year in which qualifying has been pushed to the periphery of relevance, Mercedes' priorities have been exposed as totally askew.
Mark needs to deliver
Mark Webber has been written off before, but after Esteban Gutierrez's overdue arrival as a proper F1 performer in Barcelona, the Australian will journey to Monaco as the driver under the most pressure to deliver.
The number says it all: 0-5 down to team-mate Sebastian Vettel in qualifying, Webber has scored less than half the points Vettel has registered this term and trails the German by five places in the Drivers' Championship.
It can't go on like this.
Static regulations leave the strugglers with no wriggle room
It can't be mere coincidence that, three months since their new cars were born a dud, neither McLaren nor Williams have yet managed to apply any sort of fix to the MP4-28 and FW35 respectively.
If it was just one team locked into a cycle of poor performance then the first answer to their shortcomings would most likely be found in the team mirror. But when two different outfits, both of whom won races last year, continue to go from bad to worse then the regretful conclusion has to be that they picked a particularly bad year for regression.
Static regulations, it is safe to suggest. have left them with no room for escape. Once born a dud, a car stays a dud. Williams and McLaren have picked the worst year possible to try to play catch-up.
Not that McLaren are giving up yet. Having been unable to run the new front-wing which arrived at the Circuit de Catalunya on Saturday morning but too late to pass the FIA's tolerance test, the team are guaranteed to have something new in Monaco with which to try and arrest their ongoing decline into the mire of the midfield. But we're already fast-approaching what's likely to be a cut-off point for when a decision must be taken on whether give up on a bad job and focus afresh for the revolution of 2014.
Monte Carlo or bust for the MP4-28? Maybe.