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Schumacher, Pirelli fall out over tyre wear

23 April 2012

Michael Schumacher was seething about the short life of the Pirelli tyres at Bahrain, saying that tyre wear and degradation have become too big a part of the sport in 2012.

"Everyone has to drive well below a driver's and, in particular, the car's limits to maintain the tyres," Schumacher told reporters in the paddock of the Bahrain International Circuit after Sunday's race in Sakhir.

"I'm not happy about the situation," he continued. "I just question whether the tyres should play such a big importance.

"They should last a bit longer, and that you can drive at normal racing car speed and not cruise around like we have a safety car," he added, pointing out that it wasn't just one or two cars with the degradation issues but a good 80 per cent of the field who were suffering. "If it was a one-off car issue, you could say it's up to us to deal with it."

Paul Hembery, Pirelli's director of motorsport, said that he was surprised and disappointed to hear Schumacher's comments and that Schumacher had been happy with the tyres over winter testing.

"Now he seems to have changed his tune," Hembery added.

"This was certainly a very technically challenging race, on a circuit that we had never experienced in racing conditions before," he explained. "Nonetheless, we chose to bring our soft compound together with the medium in order to provide plenty of opportunities for strategy.

"Although degradation was a factor in this race, which was already evident from the tactics adopted in qualifying, the tyres stood up extremely well to the demands that were placed on them," he insisted.

"During the closing stages of the race, the priority for the drivers was to ensure that the tyres didn't fall off 'the cliff' of performance: a task that they all managed very well," he pointed out, showing how other drivers were managing to get on with the job.

Schumacher's comments do seem to have reopened a simmering ongoing argument about the expectations for F1's tyre suppliers. When Bridgestone was left as the sole supplier to the championship following Michelin's exit, tyres soon became so durable that they could last almost an entire race at times without losing much performance. That rock-solid reliability did wonders for Bridgestone's reputation in the consumer market, but added little to the racing action on track.

When they entered the sport, Pirelli's brief was to make tyres that would liven up the action by putting a bigger step in performance between different compounds and by the rubber having a shorter lifespan, forcing teams to pay more attention to tyre strategy and punishing those who got it wrong.

But Schumacher's comments highlight the fears of many fans and those working in the sport that the operational window of the current generation of tyres has now shrunk too far in the other direction, and that the slightest misstep by a team can decide the whole race weekend for them.

While it's undoubtedly led to exciting races, the question is whether it's allowing the best drivers to perform at the level they should at the top flight of motorsport.

"The closeness of the racing this year, during which we have narrowed the performance gap between our compounds, is reflected in the fact that we've seen four different winners in four races," agreed Hembery.

The Pirelli motorsports boss was also particularly happy to see a good result in Bahrain for Pirelli's former test driver, Romain Grosjean.

"A great result for Lotus with two cars on the podium – and the first podium for our former test driver Romain Grosjean, who was with us when we tested at Bahrain in 2010," he pointed out. "The experience was clearly useful to him!

"As for Kimi, he seems to have made the transition from our rally tyres to our P Zero race tyres pretty well."


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