As the F1 tyre war reaches meltdown, don’t expect racing until the closing stages of GPs
The 2005 World Championship continues to fascinate, although it appears that Fernando Alonso and Renault may already have one hand on the title, despite the brilliant efforts of Kimi Räikkonen and McLaren.
A 12-point swing in the Spaniard’s favour after his main rival’s spectacular last-lap retirement in the European Grand Prix at the Nürburgring made a big difference and was bad news for anyone hoping that the matter won’t be settled before the last of this season’s record 19 races.
Tyres remain the talking point, and the one-set-per-race rule is having a huge impact. Races now seem to be a little lopsided, and sometimes resemble a ‘cycle pursuit race. In the early stages everyone is on cruise control, feeling each other out. Only later, when they’ve judged how hard they can push to the flag with whatever rubber they have left, do the guys actually start to race. That was most obvious at Monaco, where the Renaults served as mobile chicanes and conversely helped to generate some great entertainment in the closing stages.
Although not due to normal wear, Räikkonen’s crash at the ‘Ring was a graphic demonstration of what can happen when the limits are being pushed under the present rules. In his case a flat spot became so bad that the vibration caused his front suspension to fail. A flat spot could have happened any time in the past, but two things would have been different: it would not have been so significant, as the tyre wouldn’t have been so worn when it occurred; and secondly all four would have been changed at the next stop.
Instead Kimi had to survive for 25 laps with the vibration getting ever worse. The onus was on driver and team to pit for a replacement tyre – it would have been classified as in a ‘dangerous condition’ – but that would have handed victory to Alonso. So the Finn stayed out and paid the price. It was easy to criticise in retrospect, but what else could real racers do?
Max Mosley was quick to remind the teams that it is up to them to deal with such issues in a responsible manner, and added that race control reserves the right to black-flag suspect cars in the future.
It’s a little worrying that we’ve got to that stage. The irony is that the one-tyre rule was introduced to help control lap times and hence improve safety. Of course, it is up to the tyre companies to develop products that cope with the high-mileage requirements and to the teams to make sensible use of them. But in a tyre war it’s inevitable that all concerned think like Räikkonen did at the ‘Ring and push everything just a little bit further. And the only thing that can control that situation is a return to a single supplier.