The pinnacle of motor sport?
MAY 25, 2011
So, how does this work? Fernando Alonso leads the Spanish Grand Prix for 18 laps and then, through no fault of his own, finishes a lap behind the winner. I know that tyre degradation, 2011-style, is supposed to throw a curve-ball, but someone is having a laugh, surely?
Pirelli introduced, for the want of a better description, a harder hard tyre. The plan, as requested, was to increase the performance gap between the hardest and softest tyres available in Spain. This they surely did. In fact, Pirelli probably went a step too far. For some, the hard - or so-called Prime - was undriveable.
It led to Alonso becoming an unhappy passenger because he had two sets of these tyres to run. It also led, you could say, to technical director Aldo Costa stepping down this week because, Ferrari being Ferrari, a scapegoat had to be found. Or, at least, be seen to be found in order to appease an expectant nation after such a deeply disappointing result.
Just ask the hapless Chris Dyer, the public fall-guy for the wrong strategy call at the championship-deciding Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last year. I liked the way Patrick Head summed up that particular race: "Whether it was a bad pit stop call or whatever, one small mistake and bumph! Alonso, who had been a favourite to win the championship, is out of it altogether. I think half of Italy was ready to commit suicide the next day! They settled on Chris Dyer in the end, poor chap."
Poor chap, indeed. In Spain, the Ferrari saga was not simply about tyres. Apart from the car lacking downforce and not working with the Primes, someone needed to answer the question of why Alonso used a set of the favoured soft (Option) tyre during Q1, the first part of qualifying.
A lack of confidence led to the use of the Options in Q1 as a safeguard against being bumped by a mid-field runner with little to lose on the same tyre. But if you assumed, as a general rule, that six of the seven relegation places at the end of Q1 were likely to be filled by the slowest three teams (Virgin, HRT and Lotus), it left one spot available to snare one other unfortunate. That seemed likely to be Nick Heidfeld as the Renault team hastily rebuilt his car following a fire during the morning's free practice session.
Stefano Domenicali, the Ferrari team chief, said he thought the Renault would be made ready in time. But it wasn't. Someone should ask why a Ferrari man was not posted by the Renault garage door to report on progress. A trained eye would surely have known that Heidfeld's car was not nearing completion, thus saving at least one Ferrari driver (presumably Alonso, the de facto Number 1) from running a prized set of Options in Q1 and keeping them for Q3.
As it was, a truly stunning lap by the Spaniard jumped him to fifth on the grid, a place where, in truth, the Ferrari had no right to be. You could say the same about Fernando sweeping onto the lead as the field seemed to open before him. Saying that, did you notice how he did not lift off for a single second on that long run to the first corner? Commitment does not make a start on it. In the end, though, the wooden Primes did for him during the final 37 laps when he lost about three seconds a lap; a joke by any standards. Ferrari certainly did not see the funny side.
The slate is wiped clean this weekend at Monaco, where Pirelli will run the supersoft and the soft combination for the first time. Talk about venturing into the unknown. There has been no running worthy of the name on the supersoft. And, in any case, this is Monaco, a true one-off in terms of ever-changing track surface and grip levels.
Even before a car turns a wheel, Pirelli are saying the supersoft (or Option) will be a qualifying tyre in the strictest sense in that it will be at its peak for just one lap. That's going to put a fascinating premium on each driver making that lap count on a track where the smallest mistake receives massive punishment. There's no way the Option will last for more than 10/15 laps in the race either.
Do you remember 2005, when drivers had to make one set of tyres last for the entire race and the Michelins dropped off dramatically? Plenty of overtaking that year, I recall. Could it be we'll see more of the same in 2011? If so, I just hope it does not make F1 look too ridiculous as some of the world's best drivers appear to be motoring nowhere.
Maurice Hamilton , a freelance motor sport writer and broadcaster since 1977, is the author of more than twenty books and contributes to websites and magazines worldwide.
His weekly column for Grandprix.com was Highly Commended in the 2011 Newspress New Media Awards.