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Your views: Time for a return to a tyre war?

17 April 2013

Not since 2006, at the height of the tyre war between Bridgestone and Michelin, have the four cylindrical pieces of rubber bolted onto an F1 car been the main talking-point of the paddock and the watching media throughout a race weekend.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, perhaps, and it is easy to suggest that a return to those days would be good for the sport.

But there were plenty of people back then who became weary of watching races where the performance of a car was determined more by its choice of tyre-company than the skill of its driver or the expertise of its aerodynamicists, and there were many who clamoured for a move to a control tyre.

But there are those, myself included, who believe that F1 is fundamentally improved by variety; be it in chassis design, engine manufacturers, or indeed tyre makes.

Competition is contagious, and it breeds speed, ingenuity, and progress. These are the qualities that enable the sport to attract millions of fans across the world, and are the markers for its superiority when compared to other forms of racing. They should therefore always be at the cornerstone of the technical regulations.

Successful law-making is about striking the correct balance between order and freedom, and in F1 it becomes a balance between entertainment and sporting values.

Admittedly, the scales were skewed from 2002-2006, when Bridgestone was able to work closely with Ferrari to build a succession of deadly tyre and chassis combinations to the delight of the tifosi, but the detriment of everyone else. Yet, today the balance is off too, as we see a Formula that now preaches nurture rather than punishment, protection rather than attack, and endurance rather than sprint.

The lap record around Shanghai is 1min 32.238secs, a time set by Michael Schumacher in the heady days that resulted from the particular nature of the 2004 rule-set. The fastest lap on Sunday was set by Sebastian Vettel, a 1min 36.808secs, four and half seconds down on his compatriot despite nine years of technological development. And that time was set during the Red Bull driver's near-qualifying run towards the end of the race, with the average bests of the other top cars firmly in the 1min 39secs.

Schumacher's time was set in an era of refuelling, but even so, four and a half seconds is too big-a-gap for a sport that is supposed to pride itself on unsurpassed speed.

The Chinese Grand Prix was entertaining, no doubt, but the fundamental point is that entertaining races can be found in a whole host of other series; Indycar, GP2, British Touring Cars and sportscar racing to name but a few.

The reason why F1 continued to hold its mystique in the processional era that precluded the move to highly-degradable tyres was that it was the undisputed leader in almost every field of motorsport, and engineers and drivers settled for nothing more than precise perfection.

The same cannot be said of the sport in 2013, where marginal tyres have rendered many traditional aspects of F1 to the status of moot points, with the overriding emphasis centred on keeping the tyres intact.

Unfortunately, entertainment is vacuous without an attractive product to underpin it, and the attraction in F1 found in its ability to challenge engineering minds, and showcase the talents of the greatest drivers on the planet.

A car that is easy on its tyres, and a driver that can look after his rubber as opposed to aggressively battling for an overtake, should never be the features that lead a team to success.

Some races in the tyre war era may have been predictable, but at least we knew the reason for certain outcomes. They were the result of innovation and a sense of ferocious competition. The unpredictability of races in the Pirelli-era are more the result of luck over judgement; of whether you ruin your tyres stuck in the wake of another car, or wreck a race strategy from a simple lock-up.

Nowadays, the car with more downforce can be at a disadvantage due to its propensity to work the rubber harder, and surely this flies in the face of progress?

For F1 to remain the premier sport on four wheels, a tyre war is a much better alternative to the current malaise. Sure, there were problems before, but the regulations could be changed so as to avoid the intensely close relations we saw between tyres and teams in the previous era.

Ultimately, a variety of manufacturers allows fans to become emotionally invested in the fortunes of a company, and it adds another dimension to the show.

If the sport wishes to avoid the charge that it has sacrificed sporting values for entertainment, then it could do a lot worse than to instigate a tyre war, and bring speed back to the forefront of the minds of the teams, drivers, and fans alike.

by Joshua Bonser


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