Monaco F1 : Pumped up over tyres
MAY 23, 2012
So, who's going to win Monaco?
You may as well ask if I know the winning number on next Saturday's Lotto. Personally, I love this uncertainty. Others, I know, are less enthused.
The argument is that tyres are having too great an influence; a view that has been propagated by, among others, Michael Schumacher. It's interesting to hear Michael say this because I don't recall any complaints when he was driving for Ferrari and had tyres made specifically for him. And I mean 'specifically'.
One F1 driver of the day told me recently: "It was bloody hopeless. You'd go testing at, say, Barcelona with Bridgestone and then turn up for the race a couple of weeks later - and the tyre was nothing like the one you'd got used to and liked during testing. Bridgestone would say: 'It's a good tyre. Michael likes it.' And sure enough he'd take pole and walk off with the race."
Personally, I found that era - with the greatest respect to Schumacher and Ferrari - mind-numbingly boring. I remember commentating on the 2004 Hungarian Grand Prix for BBC Radio, praying that something would happen to the two Ferraris at the first corner, but then watching them pull away during the opening lap and thinking in despair: 'What on earth am I going to talk about for the next hour and a half?' Only, I used words a touch more colourful.
Now we seem to have gone to the opposite end of the spectrum. The simple fact is tyres have become too much of an unknown insofar as the F1 boffins, for all their wisdom and technology, have no idea what will happen to the rubber at any given moment during a 190-mile race.
Martin Whitmarsh told journalists in Monaco today that dependency on tyres had gone "a little bit too far" although, being team principal at McLaren, he understandably did not wish to debate the subject any further through the media.
Speaking on Peter Windsor's excellent 'The Flying Lap' on SmibsTV this week, Paddy Lowe was more specific - as you would expect of McLaren's Design Director with his first-hand experience of attempting to go racing with the 2012-style Pirellis.
"If you're running in clear air at the front, it's reasonably easy to control the tyre," said Lowe. "But it's much more difficult in traffic and no one really knows how that works; how to get the car to work consistently with the tyre."
Is that a good thing? My view from the media centre and in front to the TV at home tells me that it is. But I can also understand why so-called purists might disagree as they look for perfection because F1 is supposed to be a model of exactitude; the best of the best.
For me, mumbling about tyres is an extension of listening a few years ago to Schumacher (Ralf, this time) moaning about the bumps at Monaco. That search for F1 nirvana had no place in my thinking because bumps at places such as Monaco are there and need to be overcome. Provided they are not dangerous or silly, uneven surfaces are part of a test unique to this weekend.
Tyres, too, have always been part of an equation that needs to be solved. Go back to Stirling Moss catching out Ferrari in Argentina in 1958 by running his little Cooper non-stop to finish with the rear canvas showing. Here you had an extreme example of the challenge - but a challenge nonetheless. Miffed they may have been, but no one at Ferrari complained despite being duped by a British private entrant (Rob Walker), one mechanic (Alf Francis) and a supremely gifted driver.
Okay, F1 has changed out of sight but the basic principles remain. And tyre performance is one of them. You could argue that F1 is now too tyre dependant but it is grossly unfair to blame Pirelli; they have merely done what was asked (and in fairness to Whitmarsh, he went out of his way to make that point).
It's interesting, too, that Lewis Hamilton put the lie to the thought that the 2012 tyres suit some drivers more than others. Hamilton, I among many believed, was too demanding of his tyres in these present circumstances. And yet look at what he did two weeks ago in Spain; stopping twice instead of three times and making his tyres last while in traffic most of the way. It was a brilliant drive that understandably became shaded by an excellent and emotional win for Pastor Maldonado and Williams.
Thinking about it, if I have to bet on anyone this weekend, it will be on Hamilton to make it six different winners in six races. And who cares about the reason for it. Anyone winning this extraordinary event is deserving, no matter what the circumstances.
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.