'Too many' pit stops at Spanish Grand Prix – Pirelli
Yet again Formula One is awash with dark whispers about the quality of the tyres provided by Pirelli. This past weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix, won in style by home favourite Fernando Alonso (Ferrari), witnessed 79 pit stops with the majority of drivers – including Alonso – opting to take four. Pirelli’s current strategy for Formula One is to produce tyres designed for two-three stops over the course of the race. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus), who is having arguably the most impressive season so far sitting in second place in the Drivers’ Championship, was the most successful of the six drivers to remain within these guidelines, finishing second within 10 seconds of Alonso.
Following the race, Pirelli Motorsport director Paul Hembery conceded that the tyre supplier would consider changing the tyres on the basis that he considers four stops “too many”. However, he also said that the Spanish Grand Prix provides “very demanding” conditions for the tyres “because of the unique characteristics of this circuit… which should not be seen again to this extent for the rest of the year.” This suggests that any changes Pirelli would implement would be minimal. “We’ll be looking to make some changes, in time for Silverstone, to make sure that we maintain our target and solve any issues rapidly,” the Motorsport chief said.
Once again, Hembery gave a robust defence of Pirelli’s aims – to provide strategic racing options with appropriate tyre degradation – and record in the sport. Only once before have as many pit stops been taken in this Pirelli era, he said: “in Turkey during our first year in the sport.” He also told the BBC that reducing the degradation of the tyres at this stage would result in comments suggesting that Pirelli was handing the championship to Red Bull.
While Red Bull currently enjoys slender leads in both the Drivers’ Championship, with Sebastian Vettel, who finished fourth in Spain, and the Constructors’ Championship, team principal Christian Horner remains the most outspoken critic of Pirelli’s 2013 tyres. After the Circuit de Catalunya’s racing he rehearsed his key argument against Pirelli’s F1 tyre philosophy once again, saying that the current tyres make for “confusion” amongst the sport’s fans. He exemplified this with the moment Raikkonen overtook Vettel, since the German champion did not have the speed and grip on his worn tyres to challenge the Finn.
Modulating between Horner and Hembery’s positions was Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg. Mercedes has proved consistently strong in qualifying this year, only to fall away over the course of the race. While he agreed that the strategic thinking needed to combat Pirelli’s tyre wear was too much like a game of chess, he also noted Ferrari’s achievement in Spain (Felipe Massa was third) and the 70 seconds separating his own car from Alonso’s. Perhaps, he conceded, Mercedes needs to pay some attention to its car. This is certainly the view of Lotus, which has achieved its notable success this year partially through answering the questions posed by Pirelli’s rubber, team principal Eric Boullier argued. While there is no doubt about the outright quality of the Red Bull, or the sheer speed of the Mercedes, their tyre problems could be the result of choosing to spend less time solving the tyre conundrum than others. After all, the tyres are the same for everyone.
Hembery pointedly congratulated Alonso and Ferrari, making note of their ability “to make the four-stop strategy work for them”: “They planned their strategy from the start of the weekend, using the tyres wisely during qualifying, and then made it count with some fantastic overtaking moves.”