Blasted Tires—You Tell ‘Em, Niki

Lauda 2013

Tire degradation is the talk of the entire F1 paddock in Australia and Malaysia, something that is overtaking all other matters of performance and driving style this Formula One season. Always outspoken Niki Lauda, now broadcaster and Mercedes AMG Team chairman, has blasted Pirelli’s new 2013 tires.

“The situation with the tires is absolutely stupid. Artificially creating more and more pit stops is wrong,” said the three-time World Champion. “Pirelli can’t really help it as they are only doing what the FIA ordered them to do, but 90% of the time no one understands what is happening in the races now. When the tires are so soft, it’s bad for Formula One. The fans don’t understand if there are more than two pit stops. It’s a fundamentally wrong path”

“My advantage is that I can ask our Mercedes engineers. The fans cannot. But even our own people are confused.”

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Current drivers tend to agree. In Malaysia on Friday, Mark Webber was not the only top driver groaning about the overwhelmingly dominant factor on the grid at present.

“Tyres, tyres, tyres, tyres, tyres,” the Australian said without smiling, admitting he thinks the situation is a “joke.”

His Red Bull teammate Sebastian Vettel concurred that the way the heavily degrading Pirelli tires are dictating proceedings so far in 2013 is a frustration. “It is not a lot of fun,” German news agency DPA quotes him as saying.“It’s quite a mess when you look at how long they are lasting,” the defending World Champion added.

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We’ve got to agree as well. Some drivers pitted after just five laps at the opening GP in Australia.  Higher than normal degradation or wear rate may be one thing, but tires lasting only five laps is really nonsensical. It’s not Pirelli’a fault, as the Italian supplier politely agreed to work with F1 to create a tire that degrades quickly in order to “spice up the show.” They now call it “high thermal degradation,” a benign technical term for tires that fall off almost immediately, especially in hot ambient temperatures — but teams suffered from massive graining in cold-weather Barcelona winter testing as well. That’s in part because the whole point was admittedly to shake up the F1 pecking order this year.

Precisely the problem. Coupled with overtaking gimmicks KERS and DRS, these new-style tires represent just another way in which Formula One is manufacturing artificial excitement. Pirelli says that “if you look at the last couple of years, it takes until the eighth or ninth race for things to calm down, and then it tends to be about other things, rather than tires.” Hardly comforting. As we wrote in 2011, it is still F1, just not as we know it.


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