Of the five races so far this F1 season,only once did the pole-sitter take the chequered flag. In March at the Malaysian GP,world champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull completed a wire-to-wire win. In Australia a week before that,Vettel had managed a third position from P1. Whereas after Malaysia,the sequence of results that the fastest qualifiers have strung together reads: third (Hamilton),ninth and sixth (both Rosberg).
It begs the obvious question: Why is it that some of the most accomplished drivers in the fastest cars are not quite delivering that too,despite having a head-start? The answer lies in the fast-degrading rubber.
Unlike your average road tyre,which is made keeping durability in mind,an F1 tyre is primarily designed to get consumed during the course of a race. It allows teams to strategise a race: if they go flat-out,tyre degradation results in more pits stops; if they conserve their tyres,they compromise on speed. Theoretically,therefore,it prevents a race from becoming a procession.
When Pirelli became the tyre supplier in 2011,its brief was clear: to make racing more interesting. The Italian firm had to make,counter-intuitively,a product that would go against the image it had carefully cultivated: that of a maker of sturdy,long-lasting tyres.
In 2012,tyres were one of the chief reasons the drivers championship was decided on the final day. This year,however,a few teams (chiefly Red Bull) are complaining that Pirelli has gone too far by introducing even softer tyres. That it has resulted in too many pit stops.
During an average race,a car pits twice,which makes it 44-50 stops overall. In Barcelona last week,there were 79 pit stops. Ferraris Fernando Alonso won on a four-stop strategy,Lotuss Kimi Raikkonen was second,having pitted thrice while Vettels Red Bull finished fourth after stopping four times.
While Vettel was still ahead in the world championship race,his lead was cut to four points,with Raikkonen second and Alonso third (17 behind but looking increasingly good). If the idea was to stop the three-time champion Vettel and Red Bull,it was working. While Ferrari and Lotus are happy with the tyres,some of the most caustic remarks directed at Pirelli have predictably come from the Austrian outfit,with team owner Dietrich Mateschitz saying F1 had nothing to do with racing anymore.
The criticism seems valid till you take one look at the previous results at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona: Vettel himself won here in 2010 on a four-stop strategy. Mateschitz didnt make apocalyptic statements back then. Or when the same driver won in Istanbul in 2011,a race that saw 82 pit stops. This selective criticism aside,there is another argument that weakens Red Bulls case: Isnt everyone running on the same tyre?
Daksh is special correspondent based in Delhi