Matters of Moment, June 2013

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177

Spot the real motor race: first, there’s a Grand Prix in Shanghai, in which we hear a driver ask his team on the radio whether he should defend against a closing rival, or let him go without a fight in the long-term interests of tyre preservation.

Later that day, there’s a six-hour sports car race at Silverstone, the opening round of an FIA world championship with the word ‘endurance’ in its title, but one that is in fact run at a sprint, from lights to flag. The eventual victor spins, comes in for new tyres, reels in a gap of nearly half a minute to his team-mate and makes the decisive pass on the penultimate lap. Oh, and there’s never a question of team orders spoiling the duel.

You can see where I’m going with this, can’t you?

Nigel Roebuck discusses the current state of Formula 1 at length on page 52. Regular readers won’t be surprised to learn he’s left cold — or more accurately frozen to the bone — by the influence of Pirelli’s control tyres on modern Grand Prix racing. This company hopes to convince us to buy more of its products for everyday cars, right? We assume that’s the point of all the billboards and the multi-million dollar investment. Yet it appears content to present rubber that ‘falls off a cliff’ after just six laps, and that inspires Red Bull strategists to bring Mark Webber in for new tyres — at the end of the very first lap.

Forgive us. We don’t quite comprehend.

Now, we concede it’s not easy to find the right balance between ‘the show’ and a sport worthy to be called Grand Prix racing. It must be said that the (ironically) gripping climax which left Lewis Hamilton clinging to third place in China as Sebastian Vettel tore into his advantage was a direct result of Pirelli’s brief to make ‘rubbish’ tyres, and yes, the preservation game is indeed the same for everyone.

Our complaint is not even a case of the best drivers not being allowed to shine (they still do) or of us longing for past glories: fuel and tyre conservation has forever been intrinsic to F1. Grand Prix racing has rarely ever been about pure speed alone.

But for anyone with a sense of perspective, it’s clear that the balance F1 has struggled to maintain since 2011, when the Pirelli era began, was more out of kilter in Malaysia and China than ever before. It must be redressed, for the sake of the sport’s integrity.

The current ‘high-deg’ philosophy is a direct reaction to how the 2012 season ended, when tyre performance swung back the other way and compounds proved more durable. The ‘entertainment’ of drivers immediately losing three or four seconds a lap when tyres suddenly go past their shelf life was replaced by the sort of cat-andmouse battle we witnessed between Vettel and Hamilton in the US GP. This was F1 in its more classic sense.

True, Lewis needed traffic and the unfair advantage of DRS to make his pass. But at least it was a fight we could believe in; it offered genuine tension that lasted the majority of the race. For most people who read this magazine, I’d wager this was the type of battle they’d prefer to watch.

Then again, Formula 1 isn’t for you! It caters for a mass market that is much less discerning. Forget the quality, feel the width and, as long as the TV figures hold up, what we think doesn’t count.
On with the show.

*

Speaking of entertainment, there isn’t much on offer during Fridays and Saturdays at Grands Prix these days — again because of tyre-saving. Tumbleweeds are all too common in free practice and, most alarmingly, in the final part of qualifying — which should be one of the most thrilling few minutes of any given weekend.

Pirelli has at least come up with some sort of solution for the dearth of action on Fridays. It hasn’t been rubberstamped as I write, but from the Spanish GP an extra set of tyres could be made available to teams in free practice, but only if they run a reserve driver. It’s a good idea. The fans and TV cameras have more to watch and young aces, starved as they are of F1 track time these days by the limitations on testing, get a chance to shine.

Now for that qualifying conundrum. Not so easy. But given that entertainment is the name of the game, how odd that Fl has backed itself into a corner when Saturday comes.

*

While we wring our hands over F1 (what’s new?), there’s plenty to be cheerful about elsewhere in the motor sport world. For starters, that Silverstone FIA World Endurance Championship opener really does bode well for the rest of the year, including of course the Le Mans 24 Hours, to which we’ll be looking forward in more detail next month.

Toyota’s petrol-powered hybrid ended last season on top in its battle with Audi, but the revised R18 e-tron quattro turned the tables at Silverstone. Then again, the Japanese giant hasn’t yet played its 2013 card. Will the new evolution of the T5030 prove faster than its diesel rival at Spa in May, and then Le Mans? It’s all beautifully poised.

In GT racing, grids are booming in Britain’s national series and Stephane Ratel’s pan-european Blancpain championship. The ace promoter has even kept alive his beloved premier FIA series, beyond the sad death of the GT World Championship last year. As our events section on p125 shows, the diversity of modern motor sport remains as rich and rewarding as ever.

Then there’s MotoGP. What a first race of the season, in Qatar. As our motorcycle man Mat Oxley wrote on our website, Valentino Rossi is officially back after his sorry sojourn at Ducati. Yamaha team-mate and world number one Jorge Lorenzo will be looking over his shoulder for the rest of the season — and perhaps even on occasion glowering ahead at those multi-coloured letters spelling out ‘The Doctor’, on the most famous leather-clad posterior this side of Tom Jones.

Add in the phenomenon that is Marc Marquez, the top-division rookie who was clearly born to be a GP star, and the promise of a classic season is in store.

*

Thank you to those who offered constructive thoughts on the changes introduced in the May issue.

As ever, when one revises something that is well-loved, strong reactions are inevitable and of the small number of complaints we received some even managed to be civil… To those who kept some perspective and remembered their manners, we will listen and consider your thoughts.

Motor Sport is widening its scope ever more. The website and forum are growing in size and popularity, while the magazine can now be experienced on Android as well as iPad.

More reader events are in the pipeline, too, so watch this space. As always, subscribers enjoy discounts on ticket prices — turn to page 88 to take advantage. There you’ll find a special Fathers Day offer, which includes a free gift of a classic racing DVDs box set. A viewing experience free of ‘Multi 21’ and heavy tyre graining is guaranteed.

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