Scrutineered: Would a tyre war be good for F1?

With the new rules for 2017 set to make Formula 1 cars meaner, faster and tougher to drive it is ironic that the success of the new ‘formula’ hinges on the tyres – the sport’s sole supplier Pirelli – GrandPrix247’s Paul Velasco and Ben Stevens ‘went to war’ over the issue of a single tyre supplier at the pinnacle of the sport.

Ben Stevens: As someone who’s never experienced the tyre wars first-hand, I’ve never really felt the need to revisit them – even if the Pirelli’s went in a… shall we say, “questionable” direction. I take it that’s not your position though…

Paul Velasco: My take on Formula 1 is that it is the last frontier of anything goes motor racing. Of course there is place for the one make series’ and the cost restricted championships – but F1 must be a playground to unleash whatever it takes to win. For me one make tyre cheapens F1 (although its great for junior series’ and should remain there) but at the pinnacle I want the big tyre companies going for it no holds barred, same with the fuel companies and everything related to F1 must be to get the competitive edge. I want Pirelli and Bridgestone and Hankook and Goodyear to go to war to make better, faster, stickier, long lasting tyres for F1 teams they select to support.
Pirelli have been tasked to build tyres for all and also control how good they are, namely durable, don’t grain etc. Thus they control the quality artificially. How does that benefit R&D? Pirelli are not being stretched, they simply building tyres as mandated by teams and the FIA – and they have done a damn fine job trying to tick all the boxes which is an impossible job.
I bet the racers within Pirelli would rather watch their tyres taking on a rival’s rubber and beating them because their tyres are the best – with F1 being the proving ground.
Right now they are on a no win trip as the only guys who are going to be happy are the ones winning, the rest simply whinge. I am surprised that Pirelli find there is value in the way their involvement in F1 is currently structured.
I bet they would get a lot more mileage beating the likes of Bridgestone, Dunlop, Hankook or at grands prix than they get now. If I had a buck for all the people I have heard say: “I will never buy Pirelli tyres” because of their F1 involvement – blowouts, degradation, marbles, drivers moaning etc etc etc – I would be a rich guy…

BS: I have to admit, it’s more than a bit odd that F1 was able to rope-in a company to intentionally make such poor a product. I mean if you’re Pirelli’s marketing department, how do you sell it? Realistically the best tagline would be: “Pirelli, we’re good at making crap.” I guess exposure matters above everything, huh?
Anyway, I can’t say I’m on-board with F1 being the “last frontier of anything goes motor racing”, F1’s long had restrictions on what the car itself can be, it’s just the same attitude to tyres is a much newer phenomenon. Not to say we shouldn’t have higher quality tyres, but I’m sceptical you can keep it as open as fuel is. (Here comes realist Benny again) It’s just that tyres can provide such a significant competitive advantage that – like we saw with both Bridgestone and Michelin at various points in the 2000’s – it actually diminishes the racing. My philosophy is that the best racers should be, well… racing, and if innovation in tyres has to be stymied to create that, then so be it.

PV: My stand that Formula 1 should be unrestricted in every department will never waiver – be it realistic or not. I always go to the very basic and compare the one make tyres scenario to FIFA putting out a directive that all football players must use Nike boots whenever they play – and then they get Nike to provide four variations of the boot but:
The Red Swatch Nike – great but they don’t last long so players can only take five shots per match before they disintegrate on the foot;
The Blue Swatch Nike – last longer but not very good for shooting because they are uncomfortable;
The Green Swatch Nike – for goalkeepers;
The Blue Swatch Nike – for rainy days;
Absurd? Agreed. I rest my case.

BS: You rest your case? Allow me to wake it up then!
I don’t think that football analogy quite hits home, simply because the ability of a player isn’t directly tied to the quality of the boots they wear (there goes my chances of ever endorsing Nike), whereas tyres directly affect a car’s ability to race – realistically you could play football without boots, but you couldn’t drive at all without tyres. That said, I do understand where you’re coming from, and as I said previously, I’ve got no problems with improving the quality of the tyres, it’s just multiple suppliers I’m wary of. Say we bring Bridgestone and Michelin back, and Bridgestone pulls a Mercedes-style masterstroke with their tyres, doesn’t that massively diminish all the aero, engine-power, and driver skill of non-Bridgestone teams? Tyres should augment the racing, not determine it, and opening it up just makes such a thing that much harder to prevent.

PV: You have a point but let’s swing it the other way… Mercedes had a big advantage over the past three years. But let’s say that Red Bull and Ferrari (for argument’s sake had Bridgestones while Mercedes had Goodyear) and Bridgestone produced some ‘magic rubber’ which is a second quicker than Goodyear’s best, then maybe the gap to Mercedes would have been reduced.
It’s all hypothetical anyway until it actually happens. So we will have to agree to disagree on this one!

BS: That we will!