Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

DRS and Pirelli tires - I understand, but I don't agree // Encouraging overtaking should surely have a limit

Published by Chris the Yankee

Mark Webber races through the field to the podium in China
Mark Webber races through the field to the podium in ChinaCredit: Mark Thompson / Getty Images

“Formula One needs more overtaking,” has been the ubiquitous talking point of F1 fans for years, and for an obvious reason; passing maneuvers are exciting!

And now we have it. More overtaking. The Holy Grail.

So why am I not satisfied? Why am I not enjoying this season more so than the last? Perhaps it’s because this desire for increased passing is not fully explained in this one statement. Passing is exciting, but the element that makes it exciting is not the fact that one car was behind, and is now ahead, of another car; no, the excitement lies in the near superhuman skill of one driver vying mightily against the near superhuman skill of another driver. Overtaking morphs into a meaningless motion once its increase is due more to tire wear or lose of downforce than to the passion, courage, and razor precision (or lack thereof) of the driver.

One might argue that tire wear is directly tied to a driver’s skill in managing his tires, and, yes, one would be right. But this is not the skill I want rewarded. I’m not watching F1 to see which driver can drive the smoothest; I’m watching F1 to see which driver has the most passion, the most courage.

A good hammer is a hammer that fulfills the function of “hammering” well. A fruitcake is not a good hammer. A jelly in the shape of a hammer is not a good hammer. A hammer with a cardboard handle is not a good hammer. In this way, a good tire is a tire that functions the role of “tire” well. By definition, Pirelli tires are not good tires. They are purposefully made of materials that do not perform as well as other tires. This strikes me as strange in a sport that sells itself as a technical marvel of human engineering and creativity. Moving technologically backwards should not be the accepted track of this sport.

A backward step in engines would be crafting them out of old rubbish bins

I can hear them now, “but what about the move from 10-cylinder engines to 8-cylinder engines? Isn’t that moving technologically backwards?” No. It’s not. An 8-cylinder engine is not any less advanced, technologically, than a 10-cylinder engine. In either case, the engine suppliers are making the best possible engines under the regulations. A backward step in engines would be crafting them out of old rubbish bins or discarded orange peels. While obviously hyperbolical, Pirelli logic would see this as good for F1, since the engines would break down more often, leading to more passing and a more exciting grand prix.

I have no problem with the drag reduction system. In fact, I think it’s great. What I don’t like is that fact that it can only be used by specific cars at a specific point on the track. As with KERS, the DRS system should be a defensive, as well as offensive, weapon. All drivers should be able to use this tool at anytime, and at any point on the track. We are seeing more passing this season because we are handicapping drivers at a crucial point on the racetrack, and this doesn’t sit well with me. A boxing fan yearns to see a knockout, but would ridicule any suggestion of tying one of the pugilist’s hands behind his back, or giving one boxer a steel glove. Football fans love to see goals, but would detest any mention of doubling the size of one of the winning team’s net at halftime, or setting the feet of their keeper in concrete. In this same way, F1 fans should see the site-specific DRS, an attempt to artificially inflate the amount of overtaking, as a contrived carnival act diluting the meaning behind, and the skill involved in, overtaking.

The unruffled technical and mathematical skill of the constructors is the necessary inception of the manic passion and the obsessive desire exhibited by any Formula One driver behind the wheel. The real excitement of Formula One is in, however remotely, tapping vicariously into this madness and ardor. I want the tires fitted to these technical miracles to be of complementing caliber. I do not want the tires to be the limiting factor in how fast a car can negotiate a corner, or how sharply a maneuver can be initiated. The regulations guiding Formula One should push drivers to drive on the edge, to live in the realm of split-seconds and lightning instincts. Regulations should promote safety while encouraging the virtues of courage, skill, cunning, and nerve instead of caution and reserve.

Mark Webber, who went from 18th to finish on the podium in the Chinese Grand Prix, told an interviewer

I'm still not a huge fan of how it is because sometimes the overtaking moves are not that genuine because the guys really have nothing to fight back with. It's more tactical now, but a bit less racy.

- Mark Webber

This is a man who just passed over half of the grid. He should be extolling the virtues of these new rules; he should be excited. But he wasn’t. And neither was I.

This odd situation F1 finds itself in also takes away from the excitement of qualifying. These new fast-wearing tires hurt drivers that push their car to the limit to get pole position. Again, caution and reserve are being rewarded while speed and daring are being punished.

I do not watch F1 to see world-class drivers squander the potential of a car in order to preserve tires that shouldn’t need preserving. Throw the new tires out. Throw out the site-specific shenanigans. Give the drivers the best rubber compound available. Leave the availability and actuation of the drag reduction system to the driver. Let them race on even ground. Let the technical skill of individual teams and the raw nerve of individual drivers create the excitement.