2015 Bahrain Grand Prix Driver Ratings

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There were inspired performances up and down the field during the Bahrain Grand Prix, but just how well did each driver do? Here are Richland F1’s driver ratings from under the lights in Sakhir.

Lewis Hamilton – 10/10

The reigning champion took his fourth pole position on the bounce and in the race cruised to an easy win – even if his late brake-by-wire failure betrayed the fact he had led comfortably throughout. Hamilton must be content with three wins from four races and a 27 point lead at the head of the standings. He has barely put a foot wrong so far in 2015.

Nico Rosberg – 9/10

Rosberg set the pace on Friday, but then went missing when it mattered in qualifying, lining up just third on the grid. He dropped to fourth off the start, but fought back with a gutsy drive, passing Vettel three times during the race thanks to Ferrari’s superior use of the undercut. Lost out to a late attack by Kimi Raikkonen as his brakes faded, but it was Rosberg’s most impressive race of the campaign by some margin.

Daniel Ricciardo – 8/10

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Sixth at the flag, ahead of Felipe Massa after the Brazilian’s early problems is about all Ricciardo can have hoped for from the race, given Red Bull’s current form. His spectacular engine failure as he crossed the line means he is onto his fourth power unit of the season already – penalties will undoubtedly follow.

Daniil Kvyat – 6/10

Dropping out in Q1 was a tough hit, but the Russian drove well in the race to come from 17th to finish ninth, collecting two points. It is hardly a headline grabbing drive, but a solid result given his tough start to life with Red Bull Racing. Kyat must deliver once the European season kicks off if he is not to become a forgotten man.

Felipe Massa – 7/10

A sensor problem on the way to the grid meant he was forced to start from the pitlane  and his task was not made any easier after he was tagged by Pastor Maldonado in the early stages – damaging the floor of the Williams. Despite the early setback, Massa made steady progress on an aggressive strategy, but ultimately struggled to make the medium tyres last on a mammoth final stint, dropping to tenth by the chequered flag.

Valtteri Bottas – 9/10

As had been the case in China, Bottas seemed set for another lonely race, only for Sebastian Vettel to re-join behind him after his unscheduled stop for a new nose. The Finn defended beautifully in the closing stages to see off the challenge of the faster Ferrari racer, and score his best finish of the campaign so far.

Sebastian Vettel – 4/10

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Did well to split the two Mercedes cars on the grid, but Vettel’s run to a potential fourth podium on the bounce was spoilt by a series of uncharacteristic mistakes. He was passed by Rosberg three times, and run wide at the final corner, breaking his front-wing which dropped him behind Bottas. His failed attempt to pass the Finn in the closing stages, which nearly ended with him rear-ending the Williams summed up a race to forget.

Kimi Raikkonen – 9/10

Starting fourth, the Finn took the fight to Mercedes with an aggressive strategy, running the hard tyres during the middle stint before switching to the soft rubber for the run to the flag. His pace on the harder Pirellis kept him in the hunt, and he flew in the closing stages after switching to the faster compound, reeling in Rosberg, who gifted him second after running straight on at Turn 1. Could have won with a few more laps.

Fernando Alonso – 8/10

While Jenson Button spent the best part of the weekend cursing his luck, Alonso delivered McLaren’s best relative performance of the year. He hauled the MP4-30 into Q2 for the first time in 2015 and narrowly missed out on the team’s first points of the campaign by three seconds in 11th.

Jenson Button – N/A

Button’s weekend was blighted by setbacks, with an engine cutout causing a spin in the opening minutes of running on Friday, while he was later forced to stop on track in the evening session. He hit more of the same problems in qualifying, with the MP4-30 grinding to a halt in Q1, leaving him last on the grid. McLaren encountered another technical issue on race day and he failed to take the start.

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Nico Hulkenberg – 6/10

Starred on route to eighth on the grid in the still underdeveloped Force India, but he struggled to make the tyres work during the race, forcing a third stop which saw him tumble out of the points to 13th.

Sergio Perez – 8/10

He was unable to replicate his team-mates fine showing in qualifying, but the Mexican made up for it during the race as he perfected a two stop strategy – which his team said would not work – to climb into the points. Four points was a just reward after a fine drive to eighth.

Max Verstappen – 5/10

The star of the Chinese Grand Prix, Bahrain was an altogether tougher weekend for the Dutch rookie. Appalling understeer in qualifying left him just 15th on the grid, and he was all-but anonymous on Sunday before an electrical issue forced him out for the third time in four races.

Carlos Sainz Jr. – 7/10

Pulled out a fine lap to haul the Toro Rosso to ninth in qualifying, but like team-mate Verstappen he failed to finish the race after he was forced to stop with a loose wheel after his opening stop.

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Romain Grosjean – 8/10

Continued his 100 per cent record of progressing to Q3 this year, even if he was disappointed with ‘just tenth’. The Frenchman jumped Hulkenberg and Sainz on the opening lap but could not keep in touch with Ricciardo, and eventually came home a lonely seventh to repeat his finish of a week ago in China.

Pastor Maldonado – 6/10

Maldonado looked the faster of the two Lotus cars during practice, only to tumble out in Q1 with another brake problem. He managed to line up in the wrong slot on the grid – earning a five-second time penalty – but made decent progress on the soft tyres before an engine problem caused a lengthy final stop, costing him a shot at points.

Will Stevens – 8/10

Given his equipment, it was another decent performance from Stevens, who despite being compromised by Maldonado’s grid mix-up comfortably went on to beat his Manor team-mate Roberto Merhi by 44 seconds.

Roberto Merhi – 5/10

Merhi was unable to match his team-mate throughout the weekend and was a second adrift of Stevens in qualifying. He got the drop on the Englishman off the start but ruined his own tyres in a futile attempt to keep Stevens at bay.

Marcus Ericsson – 6/10

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The Swede started well to run inside the points but a problem with his front-left tyre in the pits dropped him well out of contention.

Felipe Nasr – 8/10

The Brazilian was sluggish away off the start, dropping behind his team-mate in the opening stages. He fought valiantly in the midfield, clocking up a tonne of TV time, but dropped back after encountering a power unit problem that saw him lagging behind on the straights.

This feature first appeared on Richland F1 – Images courtesy of of Daimler, Red Bull Content Pool, Scuderia Ferrari, Sahara Force India, Lotus F1 Team, Sauber Motorsports AG

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Analysis: What we learned from the Jerez test

Motorsports: FIA Formula One World Championship 2015, Test in Jerez

With the opening test of 2015 all wrapped up, Dan Paddock looks at what we learned from the opening four days of running at Jerez.

Mercedes: There were no headline grabbing times from the reigning champions at Jerez, but the team completed a serious haul of mileage over the course of the opening four days to suggest that it has gone some way to fixing the reliability problems that hamstrung last year’s title winning car.

Nico Rosberg completed a massive haul of 308 laps, while Lewis Hamilton managed 208 of his own to take the team’s total clear of the 500 mark for the week. A sum considerably more than any of its rivals.

Yes, there were problems, such as a water leak for Hamilton on Monday, and while Rosberg was cautious about the new Ferrari, given the team’s achievements last year it is hard to see them being displaced at the top of the pecking order.

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Red Bull: Ahead of the Jerez test Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said whatever happened at the Spanish circuit it could not be nearly as bad as the team’s experience in 2014, when it spent most of the first test in the garage due to the RB10’s affinity with setting on fire.

The last week was not quite on that scale of misery, but the team did encounter power unit problems for a second year running, which seriously restricted the mileage Daniel Ricciardo and new-boy Daniil Kvyat managed to put on the dazzle camouflage-liveried RB11.

Kvyat did not help matters when he broke the team’s only front wing with a minor off on Monday. Desperate for mileage, the team sent the Russian back out sans a front wing.

Red Bull will certainly be frustrated to have finished behind Lotus, who missed the opening day, on the mileage charts, and only ahead of McLaren, which struggled with early teething problems form new engine partner Honda. However, the team did manage a series of longer runs on the final day which is a sign of progress. As last showed, write them off at your peril.

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Williams: Much like last year, Williams got on with the business of testing in a quiet and efficient manner at Jerez.

Certainly, the surprise package of 2014 did not seem in any great rush, as it completed just the fifth amount of mileage, despite few obvious problems.

The team also shied away from chasing any headline topping times, with its drivers Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas just seventh and eighth in the combined timesheets.

There are also positive sounds coming from the drivers, with both Massa and Bottas confident that the new car is an improvement on the FW37 with which they finished on the podium at the 2014 season finale in Abu Dhabi.

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Ferrari: The Scuderia has been quickly branded as the ‘most improved team’ after topping three of four days at Jerez.

Raikkonen’s fastest lap of the week, set on the final day, grabbed the headlines, but it is Vettel’s lap on Tuesday which is the real eye opener, and has prompted curious glances from Mercedes.

Vettel posted a 1:20.984 to end the week second fastest, a tenth shy of Raikkonen, but on the medium tyre. Whatever way you want to look at it, that is a handy time.

Importantly, it appears that Raikkonen is also far happier with the new car, calling it a “different story” in comparison to its much-maligned predecessor, with which the Finn struggled throughout last year with.

It is ‘only testing,’ and cynics will point out that Raikkonen topped the opening day at Jerez last year, but it is obvious the team has made a step forward over the winter, especially with its power unit – just look at Sauber.

New team principal Maurizio Arrivabene says the passion at Ferrari has been restored. Could the SF15-T be the car to return the team to the top of the podium?

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McLaren: As to be expected, it was a difficult opening test for the Woking-based team which encountered early problems as was to be expected with its new Honda-powered MP4-30.

Engine issues meant the team spent most of the four day test in the garage. Fernando Alonso debuted the new car on Sunday but managed just six laps. Jenson Button mustered just six more the following day and it was all looking a bit farcical.

The team did make some progress from day three onwards, as Alonso and Button completed 30+ laps a piece, taking the teams tally to 79 for the week. It was hardly the 507 laps completed by Mercedes, but a stark improvement on the 21 Red Bull managed at this stage last year.

Despite the early struggles, it is still all smiles at McLaren who seem confident with the car they have on their hands, and both Alonso and Button have praised the early feel from the MP4-30. The Barcelona test will be telling for McLaren.

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Toro Rosso: The team enters 2015 with lofty ambitions after team boss Franz Tost targeted a fifth place finish in the constructors’ standings this season.

The STR10 is certainly a pretty car but by all accounts it is a bit of a handful on track, and credit must go to the team’s two rookies Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz who both kept their noses clean and completed 353 laps over the course of the week.

The team admitted a lot of its work over the four day test focused on acclimatising Sainz and Verstappen to the job, and that showed as the pair finished ninth and 11th in the overall standings.

While Red Bull struggled for laps after problems with its Renault power-unit, Toro Rosso managed the third most miles of any team – 1051 – to at least give Renault some data to work with ahead of the next test at Barcelona later this month.

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Lotus: The Enstone-based team arrived late at Jerez, missing the opening day of testing after the transit of its car was delayed. Despite this, Lotus got straight down to work once the car arrived at Jerez, with Maldonado completing 41 laps on its debut.

There were problems, as to be expected after making the switch to a new power unit, but the team still managed to complete more mileage than Red Bull with the Mercedes-powered E23.

There were also good early signs from the drivers, as Maldonado talked up the driveability  of the team’s Mercedes engine, while Romain Grosjean, who had just the one day in the car, called the E23 much closer to the race winning 2013’ Lotus, than the ghastly twin-tusked car the team battled with throughout last year.

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Sauber: After a miserable 2014 season, there were some encouraging early signs for the Swiss team at Jerez, as the new C34 featured in the top two in the standings on each day, Nasr even going fastest on Tuesday.

That this was all accomplished on the soft tyres might suggest the team, bereft of sponsors, was looking to make a statement early in testing with a series of glory runs, although Sauber deny this.

Still, as Ericsson said on Wednesday, after the depressing lows of last year, the early signs have given everyone at Sauber something to smile about.


 

Overall standings from Jerez:

1. Kimi Raikkonen – Ferrari – 1:20.841 – Day 4

2. Sebastian Vettel – Ferrari – 1:20.984 – Day 2

3. Felipe Nasr – Sauber – 1:21.545 – Day 3

4. Nico Rosberg – Mercedes – 1:21.982 – Day 3

5. Marcus Ericsson – Sauber – 1:22.019 – Day 4

6. Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes – 1:22.172 – Day 4

7. Felipe Massa – Williams – 1:22.276 – Day 3

8. Valtteri Bottas – Williams – 1:22.319 – Day 2

9. Max Verstappen – Toro Rosso – 1:22.553 – Day 4

10. Pastor Maldonado – Lotus – 1:22.713 – Day 3

11. Carlos Sainz Jr – Toro Rosso – 1:23.187 – Day 3

12. Daniel Ricciardo – Red Bull – 1:23.338 – Day 1

13. Romain Grosjean – Lotus – 1:23.802 – Day 4

14. Daniil Kvyat – Red Bull – 1:23.975 – Day 4

15. Jenson Button – McLaren – 1:27.660 – Day 4

16. Fernando Alonso – McLaren – 1:35.553 – Day 3

Total distance by driver:

1. Nico Rosberg  – 308 laps – 848 miles

2. Lewis Hamilton – 207 laps – 570 miles

3. Kimi Raikkonen – 200 laps – 550 miles

4. Felipe Nasr – 197 laps – 542 miles

5. Marcus Ericsson – 185 laps – 509 miles

6. Carlos Sainz Jr – 183 laps – 504 miles

7. Max Verstappen – 170 laps – 468 miles

8. Sebastian Vettel – 149 laps – 410 miles

9. Felipe Massa – 144 laps – 396 miles

10. Pastor Maldonado – 137 laps – 377 miles

11. Valtteri Bottas – 134 laps – 369 miles

12. Daniel Ricciardo – 84 laps – 231 miles

13. Daniil Kvyat – 81 laps – 223 miles

14. Romain Grosjean – 53 laps – 146 miles

15. Jenson Button – 41 laps – 113 miles

16. Fernando Alonso – 38 laps – 105 miles

Total distance by team 

1. Mercedes – 515 laps – 1417 miles

2. Sauber-Ferrari – 382 laps – 1051 miles

3. Toro Rosso-Renault – 353 laps – 971 miles

4. Ferrari – 349 laps – 960 miles

5. Williams-Mercedes – 278 laps – 765 miles

6. Lotus-Mercedes – 190 laps – 523 miles

7. Red Bull-Renault – 165 laps – 454 miles

8. McLaren-Honda – 79 laps – 217 miles

Total distance by power unit: 

1. Mercedes – 983 laps – 2705 miles

2. Ferrari – 731 laps – 2012 miles

3. Renault – 518 laps – 1426 miles

4. Honda – 79 laps – 217 miles

This analysis article first appeared on Richland F1 – Images courtesy of Mercedes AMG PETRONAS, Red Bull Content Pool, Williams F1 Team, Scuderia Ferrari, McLaren, Scuderia Toro Rosso, Lotus F1 Team, Sauber Motorsports AG

In Summary

As we move into 2014, Formula One not only enters a new season, but a new era entirely. However, as it stands on the threshold of a new dawn, is the sport ready to confront and conquer the issues that currently bark at its door? Dan Paddock concludes. 

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THIS series of short features started out as a simple investigation into the issues currently troubling Formula One, and which if left unabated could cause serious damage to the future of the sport. It may not come as much of a surprise to those who have an understanding of the sport that three of the items discussed ultimately led back to the question of money. In the case of drivers, teams, and circuits, it was a matter of having either too much, or not enough, that came to define the discussion throughout the series of features.

With that in mind, what of 2014 and beyond? As already identified there is certainly no shortage of money in the sport, but does this necessarily mean that Formula One is ready to conquer its demons, or are the challenges simply too large to overcome?

Pirelli’s Tyres

One problem that Formula One fortunately looks set to avoid in 2014, as briefly alluded to at the end of the first feature in this series, is the sideshow revolving around the prominence of Pirelli’s tyres that was seen last year. Even at this early stage of the year, with pre-season testing only just underway, the Italian firm’s tyres look set to take a backseat to the fresh aerodynamic regulations and the new turbo engines, which seem set to dominate discussion throughout the year.

And as Edd Straw, F1 Editor of AUTOSPORT alludes, Pirelli will be keen to absolutely avoid any more controversy after 2013, which should lead them to take a cautious approach with their all-new tyres. ”There are bars in the simulations and there are bars created by the lack of track running, so by definition they have to be conservative, and they’ve warned that they will be,” he said.

And as Straw adds, the re-introduction of in-season testing should only reduce the risk of more embarrassment on the part of the Italian tyre supplier. He said: “The one positive is that some progress has been made in so far as there is some in-season testing, each team can do eight days during the year, and Pirelli gets to co-opt each team for one of those days to do proper tyre testing where they get to decide the programme.”

F1 in Asia and the East

In the undertaking of the investigation into the failure of the Indian and Korean Grand Prix’s, something far more worrying than the initial line of enquiry was discovered. As was found there is a worrying trend emerging whereby the right to host a Formula One race is becoming the privilege of just a select group of nations. As the failure of the Indian Grand Prix, and in contrast the success of the race in Singapore reveal, government support, or the lack thereof in India’s case, more so than any other factor now dictates a countries ability to stage an event on the calendar, and whether it will be a success or not.

When you consider this, and remember that the average race promotor fee in 2011 was £17 million, with the price rising by around 10% every year, it soon becomes apparent that certain nations are being priced out of Formula One, while others are struggling to keep their race.

Is there a quick fix for this issue? No, but as F1 Group Editor Jonathan Noble mentioned, as Formula One continues to modernise, the likelihood is that the importance of race fees will become less prominent, opening up the possibility that those fees can come down, in turn opening the doors to a larger host of countries to join the F1 calendar.

Pay Drivers

And what of the issue of pay drivers in Formula One? Their current prevalence was a problem that was initially deemed to be a threat to the reputation of the sport. Once the inconsistencies of the term itself were clarified, it became apparent that pay drivers were effectively as old as the sport itself, and that their recent reappearance was simply indicative of the financial trouble that many team’s currently face.

Edd Straw summarised the issue itself perfectly, when he said: “The problem with the pay driver argument is that people say it shouldn’t be this way, and they seem to hark back to this time when no one was a pay driver, but that was a time that simply never happened.”

However, what was most striking in this investigation, was the realisation that, unlike the days of yesteryear, when pay drivers would be confined to a team at the back of the grid, their money has now become a necessity for teams to survive further up the grid, such as Lotus. This in turn is damaging the progression of drivers who are well-fancied, but lack large-scale financial backing, for example Nico Hulkenberg.

While the consensus is that pay drivers reflect negatively on Formula One, it is clear that they are not something you can simply remove from the sport overnight, or as some argue, would even want to, as their money is effectively what is keeping certain teams on the grid alive, which directly links into the following feature.

The Financial Difficulties Facing Privateer Teams

Alongside the topic of Pirelli’s tyres, the ongoing financial struggles of Lotus and Sauber also dominated headlines throughout 2013.

In the case of Lotus, the idea that a team competing for wins, and podiums could be on the verge of closure came as a huge shock to not only fans, but the entire Formula One community, which is why this story inspired the initial idea for this series of features as a whole.

Early research found that the system whereby teams are allocated prize money was greatly flawed, in that operating costs for many teams far outweighed any reward  that they would receive as a result of their finishing position in the Constructors’ Championship, which is a questionable tactic to take.

Furthermore, it became apparent that CVC, the owners of the sport, while not only  failing to allocate teams a fair slice of Formula One’s profits, were also skimming profits from the sport for themselves. The fact that this is occurring at the very same time that over half of the teams on the grid posted losses and debts, and in Lotus’ case, battled for its very survival, raises further questions over the financial viability of the sport, especially for those teams outside the ‘Big Four’ of Red Bull, Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren.

Finding a way to shore up the financial security of these troubled teams, amongst all the problems discussed throughout this series, must stand as the most pressing issue for the sport to deal with, but as it stands, all that is in place as of January 2014 is a mooted cost cap, which if agreed upon would come into effect next year. The ability of which to police remains questionable.

Conclusions

Ultimately, while Formula One remains as popular as ever, demonstrated by profits of over £300 million last fiscal year, and is still inundated by potential suitors, with Russia the latest country to join the F1 calendar, the sport, entering a new era in 2014, must make a stand now if it is to counter the problems identified in this series of feature.

The technical problem that was the prominence of Pirelli’s tyres looks set to be eliminated by the introduction of the new engine and aerodynamic regulations, but more needs to be done before the number of teams fighting for survival, and therefore the current prevalence of pay drivers in the sport can be declared solved. As naive as it may sound, costs simply must come down, the sport needs to become more economically viable for the teams competing in it, as well as for countries that which to host races as a part of the championship.

A cost cap, if policeable, will be a fine start to this process, but ultimately change needs to come from the commercial rights holders if there is to be any real progress. Only when teams are handed a more equal share of the sports profits, and circuit promoter fees are brought down, could the sport be deemed truly viable from a financial standpoint, and therefore, secure for the future.

 Image courtesy of Pirelli Media

Formula One: An Embarrassment of Riches

Despite Formula One racking up profits reaching over £300 million over the last year, 2013 saw both the Lotus and Sauber teams in a public battle for financial survival. How is it that teams in a sport so flush are forced to fight to survive financially? Does Formula One still remain financially viable for privateer teams as we enter 2014? Dan Paddock investigates. 

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WHEN the commercial rights holder of Formula One, CVC, reports earnings of over £500 million, £300 million of that believed to be profit, over the last financial year, one feels pressed to ask how it is that the very same week, Marussia, a team entering its fifth year in the sport can post a record loss of £59 million.

Is it simply a matter of bad business on the part of the Anglo-Russian team? You could be forgiven for thinking so, with the team failing to score points in any of the 77 races it has participated in since the start of 2010. However, Marussia are not the only Formula One team to find themselves in such a predicament.

Lotus, a team that has won twice over the last two years, and consecutively finished fourth in the Constructors’ Championship in both 2012 and 2013, suffered the indignity of seeing their talismanic driver, Kimi Raikkonen, openly tell the assembled media in Abu Dhabi that he had not been paid a penny over the course of 2013, are also deemed to be on the financial precipice. And could, thanks in no large part to the failed investment of Mansoor Ijaz’s Quantum Motorsports group, yet fail to appear on the grid in 2014.

Not only that, but even Sauber, a team that can trace its history in Formula One back to 1993, was forced to sell up in 2013, selling a stake to a Russian conglomerate to ensure it could pay its bills until the end of the season.

Even the ever mercurial Williams and McLaren, with 17 Constructors’ Championships between them, are feeling the pinch. Williams posted losses of £5 million over the last year, while McLaren, celebrating their 50th year in the sport in 2013, reported a loss of £3 million in 2012, despite winning six grand prix, and having made a profit of £22 million a year before.

While, Force India and Caterham rely principally on the financial backing of their billionaire owners, Vijay Mallya and Tony Fernandes respectively, without whose continued interest the teams could not operate.

Evidently, there is clearly a serious flaw with the financial state of Formula One. While the sport remains as popular as ever, and as shown, CVC continue to profit from it, why then are so many teams in such a precarious position financially? As already identified, over half of the eleven teams on the current grid are in some form of debt, or have reported losses, with the future of at least two of those teams very much under threat. How has this come about and what does it mean for the future of the sport? Is Formula One still finically viable for teams who can’t commit hundreds of millions of dollars to compete?

For Jonathan Noble, F1 Group Editor, the answer is simple: “Longterm the way it is going, no.” As he explains, one problem is that the so called ‘Big Four’, those teams with manufacturer or major corporate backing – Red Bull, Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren – are competing in an “arms race, fuelled by Red Bull.” Noble said: “F1 has got itself into this. As soon as one team throws money at something, the second and third best team have to decide, do we stick to our own game of low costs, or do we join them. And then that team joins up, and a third team joins up, and then a fourth. As F1 is so competitive, with its incentive to win so big, everything is pulled forward by the team in front.”

However, as Noble identifies, there is a far deeper issue at hand, one which stems from the way that F1’s profits are allocated back to the teams – without which it is important to note there would be no show – be that via prize money, or other means. He said: “If commercial revenue coming back to teams balanced out the costs it would be more viable. If a season costs a $100 million and your prize money is $120 million then that’s viable for anybody. But at the moment the problem is that the prize money for many teams is around $60 million and it’s costing them $140 million to compete. That’s where the disconnect at the moment has come from.”

Which is where a major travesty lies, as Dieter Rencken, AUTOSPORT Columnist, revealed late last year. CVC, Formula One’s commercial rights holders, “[creamed] off over £550m in direct profits in 2012,” while teams competing in the very sport they own struggle to seek out financial support to survive.

Aside from an ongoing arms race, and a downright odd financial support structure from the sports owners, teams will also have the challenge of a fresh set of technical regulations in 2014, one which will force a fresh aerodynamic approach, as well as a move to 1.6 litre V6 engines. A move that Jonathan Noble believes will drive up costs. “If you’re a straight customer team, beyond having to scrap all you’ve learned since 2009 [the last set of regulation changes], teams must deal with an all new concept of car, with engine costs going up by around 50 per cent,” he said. “Manufacturers demanded an upfront payment [from customer teams buying engines] in year one and year two. So while over a ten year period teams will pay less, it is all front loaded, so they will be paying more right now.”

This effectively puts even more at stake for teams, as a wrong move in development can see all of a team’s work made obsolete, forcing designers back to the drawing board, driving costs up further. Noble explains: “When things are new you can spend a lot of money going down the wrong development path, and then you’ve got to start all over again.”

This itself highlights another problem with the current financial state of the sport, which is the growth of a clear divide into a two tier formula, something that fans vehemently appose. “With the way that it is with the power units that are more important, it means manufacturer teams have a huge advantage as their chassis people can tell their engine people we need to change where this exhaust is, or the location of the turbo, or so on,” said Jonathan Noble. “Whereas the customer teams are left with what they are given.” In his mind, the current regulations, mixed with the financial situation of those teams without manufacturer support, means that Formula One will effectively be a two their series in 2014. He added: “It may be over time things will equal out as they usually do, but at the start we will have a two tier cost system, with teams at the luxury of being able to spend what they want, and then those who are fighting for survival.”

But what of those teams in the second tier? Do the so called ‘Big Four’ – with their financial backing – and the power that brings within the top echelons of the sport – have a responsibility to protect those less financially stable teams, such as Marussia and Caterham by keeping costs down? As Jonathan Noble identifies, while the top teams clearly have a vested interested in the health of the grid as a whole, the responsibility to set a financially fair playing field should principally rest with the FIA. “I think it is in the big teams interest to ensure that there is a sport there to be racing in,” he said. “It’s not in Red Bull’s interest to drive every other team out of business, as they’d have no one to race. But it should’t be Red Bull’s job to frame rules, or frame regulations to sort a way out for a team that is not as effective. It’s the governing body’s duty to come in and impose these regulations and recommendations and rules.”

But as Dieter Rencken explains, some teams, principally Red Bull, actually directly oppose any form of cost restriction, in what can be seen as direct hostility to those teams of a poorer nature. Rencken said: “It appears Red Bull Racing is hardly doing its bit, for the minutes indicate the team is ‘vehemently’ opposed to any form of cost control in the belief that such restrictions are impractical and impossible to police. All good and well when you’re part of a billionaire-owned marketing group, but hardly of consolation to F1 personnel employed by teams unable to maintain the levels of spend committed by the Big Four.”

For RichlandF1’s Andy Young, the continuation of this selfish attitude can only end one way, with teams being priced out of the sport. He said: “Tony Fernandes has already threatened to walk out if Caterham fail to improve this season. Teams outside the ‘Big Four’ are definitely being driven further down, we’ve already seen it happen with Williams and Sauber. Lotus have clearly struggled in recent weeks and it also appears that McLaren are struggling to find a title sponsor.” He added: “No-one seems safe at the moment, apart from Red Bull and Ferrari.”

For Jonathan Noble, the only positive is that the problems experienced by Lotus and Sauber during 2013 seem to have brought the severity of the issue to light. Although he fears that it will take the complete failure of one of the big names before real change is implemented. He said: “I think that the fact that we’ve come so close, look at Sauber at the end of last year, we’ve had Lotus who have hit a difficult situation, it has woken people up to the fact that we need to do something. I do fear that it will take one of the major ones, like a Sauber or a Lotus, to go, for anyone to care enough.”

Quite clearly there is a creeping sickness in Formula One, which if allowed to fester will claim one of the eleven teams, with the privateer teams most at threat. While a cost cap has been proposed for 2015, it remains to be seen if such a measure can truly succeed in halting the financial rot that has set into the sport, with the topic of policing such a cap another question entirely. However, succeed or not, with Lotus continuing to haemorrhage staff over the winter, and with rumours of late pay and redundancies doing the rounds, Jonathan Noble’s aforementioned point could soon become a reality. But even then the question is will anyone care enough to make the wholesale changes that are desperately needed to ensure that Formula One remains financially viable.

Image courtesy of Lotus F1 Team

*Correct as of January 31st*

Formula One’s Pay Driver Problem

Pay driver is a term that has risen to prominence in Formula One over the last few years as teams have had to tighten their belts following the worldwide recession and the end of the sports big money manufacturer era. However, with more and more teams now being forced to turn to those drivers who bring financial backing to secure a seat, has the prevalence of pay drivers in the sport now started to damage the  image and prestige of Formula One? Dan Paddock investigates. 

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PICTURE the scene. It is qualifying ahead of the 1998 Monaco Grand Prix. Ricardo Rosset has just locked the brake’s on his Tyrrell into the bumpy entry of the historic Mirabeau corner, going straight on into the run-off area. His current fastest lap of 1:25.737 is outside the 107% time he needs to be allowed to start the race on Sunday. So the Brazilian slaps his Tyrrell into reverse and proceeds to roll back up the sloped straight, directly into the path of oncoming cars, before proceeding to drop the clutch and stall.

Just moments later, having managed to restart his Tyrrell on the downhill approach to Casino Square, Rosset was in the wars again as he snatched his right front into the entry to the swimming pool section, spinning his car 180º degrees and blocking the track. In an effort to get his Tyrrell pointing the right way again the Brazilian lit up his rear tyres, but instead simply managed to beach his car on the curb on the entrance to the corner, with the nose pointing into a slip road, leading to a flurry of double-waved yellows. This led Murray Walker, commentating at the time for ITV, to share: “A lot of people here are really debating whether Ricardo Rosset is Formula One material.” To which Martin Brundle, sitting alongside Walker in the commentary booth, replied: “Well, it’s a fairly short debate Murray,” prompting laughter from the veteran broadcaster.

If the embarrassment of his on-track antics had not been enough, Ricardo then found that his mechanics had prepared a treat for him on his return to the paddock. The Tyrrell boys having switched the first and last letters of Rosset’s name on his paddock scooter.

1998 was not an easy year for the Brazilian. His very appointment at Tyrrell, which came courtesy of financial backing from his native South America, had prompted the legendary Ken Tyrrell, who had recently sold his team to British American Tobacco, to retire early. And it was to only get worse for the then 29-year as he would fail to qualify another three times over the course of year, most notably at Tyrrell’s 430th and final Grand Prix. Following which Rosset would never drive a grand prix car again.

You may ask why delve into Rosset’s Formula One past? Well, Ricardo perhaps more than anyone in recent memory emphasises the image of what it means to be a pay driver. A driver whose bank balance is far higher than his talent pool, someone not in Formula One on the merit of their achievements. In recent years more and more pay drivers have started to creep onto the grid one again. The question is what does this do for Formula One’s prestige, and does it reveal a deeper issue within the very sport?

As Andy Young, a Writer for the FIA accredited website RichlandF1 clarifies, the term pay driver itself can be very clouded, reflecting on Michael Schumacher’s arrival to the sport. He said: “I don’t think pay drivers are a bad thing, they never have been. One thing we mustn’t forget is that Michael Schumacher was a pay driver initially. Mercedes paid his way through sports cars and then into Formula One. Even drivers like Michael began as pay drivers.” He added: “The term very much chops and changes depending on who you’re talking about. It depends on the reputation of the driver. You could argue that Fernando Alonso is a pay driver, as his salary is reportedly paid by Santander.”

 For Young, the term pay driver is one that is usually reserved for those drivers who are simply not Formula One material, and because of this the term itself is now considered derogatory. However, he insists that under the right circumstances a driver can remove this tag. “I think the pay driver term needs to be carefully slapped upon someone,” he said. “I mean we had Pedro Diniz, who had Parmalat backing courtesy of his dad, and he carried that from Forti to Arrows and then onto Sauber. Diniz actually built quite a good reputation for himself, he even outscored Jean Alesi in 1999 at Sauber. People will look back at Diniz and not actually see a pay driver, because he had decent results.”

But as Kate Walker, the Editor of GPWeek, explains, there is a difference between actually paying for a race seat, and bringing with you personal sponsorship that can go into the team’s coffers. She said: “Look at Felipe Massa this year, Williams did not sign him because he is a pay driver. However, by hiring a Brazilian driver they now have the opportunity to tap into masses of Brazilian sponsorship. Basically because Globo has invested far to much money in F1 not to have a Brazilian driver, so they have opened up their contacts book of sponsors and advertisers to Williams.”

For Edd Straw, F1 Editor of AUTOSPORT magazine and autosport.com, the idea that a driver can effectively purchase a race seat is not one that sits well with people, and that it does indeed cast the sport in a negative light. He said: “I think in terms of the public perception, it has become a big talking point. It isn’t positive when people are seemed to be buying their way in, and are buying their way in.” Although, he does concede that there are no drivers currently in the sport who are beyond their means in terms of talent. “If you look at it we’ve had the grid filled up, and there aren’t any offensive pay drivers, in terms of drivers who are way, way below the level of people who should be getting into F1,” he said.

For Kate Walker, it is a different case. In her mind, while to those involved in the sport the prevalence of pay drivers may appear as an issue, it is a problem that is self contained, in the sense that most people outside of Formula One will not even be aware of the term. “It depends,” she said. “One of the traps that we kind of fall into in F1, is thinking that anyone in the outside world gives a damn about what we do. Inside the paddock, inside the world of the F1 fan, yes, the concept of a pay driver is a negative thing, and it diminishes the prestige of the sport. But find me one person in this coffee shop that knows what a pay driver is.”

However, in Andy Young’s mind the problem with the recent prevalence of pay drivers is not simply the damage that they can do to the prestige of the sport, but more importantly to the talented drivers that are attempting to progress within Formula One. He said: “To see drivers like Pastor Maldonado and others selected [over drivers such as Nico Hulkenberg] is damaging for the sport, I’d say perhaps more so than the pay drivers flag that some drivers are tagged with.”

As GP2 expert Callum Rowe, the Editor of Callum Rowe’s GP2 Blog explains, the issue highlighted by Young has now started to have a trickle down effect on GP2, Formula One’s Official Feeder Series. He said: “You’ve got the likes of Fabio Leimer and Sam Bird, who were the biggest talents in GP2 in 2013, and they are going to miss out on a seat as they just don’t have the budget, and this is a well known fact, it is not exactly a secret. It is damaging from that sense.”

As he explains, the issue is now so apparent that organisations such as the Racing Steps Foundation – a non-profit fund that supports young British racing drivers as well as motorcycle racers – are turning their attention away from GP2 and Formula One because of the costs involved in funding drivers. Rowe said: “Jack Harvey, who raced in GP3 last year, there was a decision made by Racing Steps to send him over to America to do Indy Lights because they don’t think there’s a chance of him making it into Formula One. People are noticing this now, the very slim possibility of getting there. It is proof from the people who know what they are doing that this is becoming damaging already.

In fact, Rowe concedes that a driver who can bring financial backing is now probably more attractive to teams in Formula One than one who has won the GP2 Championship, as the aforementioned Leimer and 2012 champion Davide Valsecchi have found out. He said: “I’d like to say that winning the championship would give you a fair chance of getting an F1 seat, but then I’d just be lying.”

In Edd Straw’s mind Formula One’s current reliance on pay drivers is simply indicative of the financial situation that the sport currently finds itself in. “It’s a reflection of where the sport is,” says Straw. “It is all down to the fact that it’s very difficult to run a Formula One team financially at the moment.”

He added: “I think the big problem now is say if you look historically, it has always been some of the smaller teams who have struggled. Who have had to effectively run customer drivers. If you look now at the business model of the current teams they are mostly reliant on shareholder investment, rather than sponsorship. So it is becoming key to the survival of very well run teams, as well as what you might call the minnows, those who are really struggling to keep afloat. That’s the big concern, the fact that a team like Lotus is having to do that.”

Kate Walker is in complete agreement with Straw, deriding the fact that teams with the success of Lotus, who have consecutively finished fourth in the Constructors’ Championship over the last two years, are now in such a state financially that they are forced to sign a driver based on his bank balance rather than his talent. Although she does once again emphasises that the issue itself is a problem self contained to the Formula One world: “I think the existence of pay drivers, and the current prevalence of them is indicative of a massive problem with the sport. We should not have seven teams on the grid financially failing. We shouldn’t have teams as high up as Lotus having to take on pay drivers, that is ridiculous. But the man on the street, what do they care.”

Ultimately, until a move is made to solve Formula One’s current financial issues, pay drivers will seemingly be here to stay. Just be thankful that at least on the surface, they appear to be a step up on the hapless Ricardo Rosset.

Whatever Happened to Formula One’s Eastern Dream?

While the Japanese Grand Prix has been a mainstay on the Formula One calendar since the late 1980s, only in the early 00s did the sport make a concerted effort to make a move towards the new emerging markets of the East. But with both the Indian and Korean Grand Prix dropped from the 2014 calendar, are the first cracks in F1’s drive into Asia starting to show? Dan Paddock investigates. 

F1 Grand Prix of India - Race

THE image of Sebastian Vettel standing triumphantly atop of his Red Bull on the start-finish straight of the Buddh International Circuit will go down as one of the defining moments of the 2013 season. The 26-year-old had just won a third consecutive Indian Grand Prix, but more than that, his victory secured him a fourth Drivers’ Championship at just 26-years-old. Vettel, savouring the movement, stepped down from his car, fell to his knees, and offered up his praise to the RB9 – a car which, at that stage of the season, had already taken him to 10 victories – a gesture which delighted the crowds in the grandstand directly opposite.

However, whatever the form of the man from Heppenheim in his Red Bull this year, there will not be a repeat of these scenes in 2014, at least not in India anyway, as the Indian Grand Prix joins Korea in making a swift exit from the Formula One calendar. The two races, only making their debuts in 2011 and 2010 respectively are out, making way for the return of the Austrian Grand Prix – courtesy of Red Bull – and a trip to Russia, as the Sochi Olympic Park plays host to the inaugural Russian Grand Prix. And while the Indian Grand Prix is mooted for a return in 2015, there are many that suggest that Formula One has seen the last of Korea and India, at least for the foreseeable future.

But why is it that after just four years the sports two most recent ventures in Asia look set to be cast off as failures? Do the failures suggest that Formula One’s future in the region is now in doubt, and does the introduction of races in Austria and Russia suggest that the sport may be making a move back towards a more Eurocentric calendar? More so, do the failures reveal a worrying trend for the future of those privileged enough to now host a Formula One Grand Prix?

Abhishek Takle, a Mumbai based journalist with Firstpost and GPWeek, is not convinced that the failure of Formula One’s forays into India and Korea necessarily spell doom and gloom for the sport’s future in the East. Instead he reminds us that before the races in India and Korea, F1 had been successful in its ventures to Malaysia, Bahrain, China and Singapore. He said: “It’s been mixed, really, but overall I would say, yes, [the sports move to Asia and the East] has been successful. Obviously India and Korea have fallen off the calendar, but then on the other hand Malaysia and Singapore, in particular, have become firm fixtures. China too has been a success, I would say, even if you tend to see quite a few empty seats in the stands.”

And Takle is not alone in this opinion, as Luke Smith, Editor-in-Chief of RichlandF1 and AUTOSPORT’s F1 Group Editor, Jonathan Noble both press the case that Formula One’s  move to the East since the late 90’s have for the most part been a success.

As Smith notes, while there have been failures, the sport has always bounced back, with new countries clamouring to join the calendar despite the failure of other events. He said: ”Going East has worked in many cases. There have been failures, the Japanese race at Fuji didn’t work, Korea has failed, India has failed, and I’m sure we will see some others come and go, but that doesn’t really matter because there will always be another country waiting in line to host a Grand Prix. I mean Thailand is going on about hosting a Grand Prix. That just shows how valuable F1 has become there.”

While Jonathan Noble notes the example set by the Singapore Grand Prix, which has been an unrivalled success. “Singapore for example has been a massive success,” he said. “I think people were sceptical about the event, with its focus on the night race, and weather and light failures, and crashes. But all of that has functioned fine, and from a business perspective it is up there with Monaco now. It’s a central financial hub, the event works, it is hugely popular, it does a lot of stuff for the fans. So the Far East in that perspective, has worked.”

In fact, the AUTOSPORT F1 Group Editor disagreed with the notion that the failures of the Indian and Korean Grand Prix’s were tied to specific circumstances unique to the East at all. He said: “I don’t think it is a geographical issue as such that the Far East is a disaster. The very same circumstances that have made Singapore work, are the circumstances that made Korea and India not work.”

Then why was it that the races in Korea and India did indeed fail? For Luke Smith, the fate of the Korean Grand Prix was ultimately sealed by its location. “Korea’s big problem was that they didn’t think about where they were building the track,” he said. “In Korea the big city is Seoul. You want to put everything in Seoul, or as near to Seoul as possible. So when they took F1 there they thought, ‘let’s put it a four hour train journey away.’” He added: “There’s one train that goes to Mokpo. I spoke to one photographer ahead of the race asking if he was looking forward to going and he said that it’s so bad, it’s funny.”

For Abhishek Takle, who witnessed both the Korean and Indian races first-hand from the paddock, the most distinct difference between those races which failed, and those  in the region which have succeeded, was the amount of support forthcoming from the host government. He said: “I think government support definitely goes a long way in keeping far less inspiring races like Bahrain on the calendar. I mean those guys, they really look after you so well if you’re there to cover the race, talking about Bahrain here. Getting into the country is easy – F1 e-visa for journos – and once there they treat you really well.” Takle added: “In contrast, the government here [in India] is pretty indifferent. Okay, we have far bigger problems than supporting a Formula One race and I’m not saying the government should chip in with financial support, but they could make it easier for F1 people to get in the country and generally make the sport feel more welcome.”

It is this exact lack of support that Takle believes marked the Indian Grand Prix for failure. “I think it’s mainly government indifference,” he said. “The organisers and promoters have done a fabulous job in all of the three years the sport has visited the country and there’s nothing really wrong with the event as such. I’ve heard several journalists moan about all the paperwork and red tape they have to go through to just get into the country and that seems to be their biggest problem.”

For Jonathan Noble, this need for government support, coupled with a lack of patience and self promotion on the part of the sport, bares a large share of the responsibility for the failure of Formula One in India and Korea, and potentially explains why it has struggled in other markets, such as the United States. Which, realistically means that only races that have financial backing and support from their governments, or from a benefactor, can afford to make an event a success in the long-term. This suggests a worrying trend, whereby the right to host a Formula One race now belongs to a much more select group of nations.

“I think that danger has been there for a while,” he said. “To make it a success in new venues, it’s never going to be an instant hit. F1 struggled in America for decades. Indianapolis had a chance, but F1 messed it up. Austin seems to be working, but under unique circumstances. It’s a good sporting city, another city race, the race promoter is quite switched on.” He added: “A lot of F1 stuff is slow burning, it takes a while for things to come in, and people want instant results. Most races, first year the local crowd come due to a novelty factor. Year two and year three there is very little follow-up.” As Noble notes: “Turkey it was the same story. It was miles out of town. There was little promotion. A government that was not hugely interested. So you can have one of the best tracks in the world, and Turkey was one of the best, but if you don’t get those elements correct it is not going to work, sadly.”

Which, as Noble explains, means that until race fees are brought down, we are unlikely to see a return to venues such as France, where there is a lack of government support for a Grand Prix, and an absence of a Dietrich Mateschitz [the owner of Red Bull, who is paying to host the 2014 Austrian Grand Prix from his own pocket] like figure. He said: “At the moment [F1’s business model] is relying on these race promotor fees, which is why they are so big, and why some of the races are struggling for survival. Maybe in the future we can come to an agreement on a new rights fee basis. Then there won’t be such pressure to get the income from the race rights, which could then give us a scenario to get the French Grand Prix back.”

For those nostalgic for the circuits of yesteryear, the Imola’s and the Estoril’s, the suggestion that Formula One will continue to chase hosts in Asia and the Far East, at least for the foreseeable future, may come as a disappointment. However, the most pressing issue, and the one that matters most to the future of the sport, is moving away from the dangerous principle of the right to host a Formula One race belonging to only a select few nations, or individuals around the world.

Image courtesy of Red Bull Media/Getty Images

*Correct as of January 31st*

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Pirelli?

The 2013 Formula One season was one dominated by talk of tyres. Pirelli, the sports official tyre supplier since 2011, was uncomfortably thrust into the focus after a series of tyre failures throughout the first half of the season, which culminated in six failures at the British Grand Prix, an embarrassing display which left the Italian firm publicly humiliated. Dan Paddock investigates whether Pirelli’s tyre woes overshadowed the 2013 season, and if, as many claim, Pirelli were themselves to blame. 

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“OH, and there’s a tyre gone, and it’s Lewis Hamilton! Lewis Hamilton is out of the British Grand Prix surely,” howled Ben Edwards, as the 2008 champion, and at that time race leader’s right rear Pirelli tyre exploded in catastrophic fashion as the Mercedes man headed down Silverstone’s Wellington straight, on lap 8 of last June’s British Grand Prix. While Hamilton would produce a stunning drive to recover to fourth at the finish, the 29-year-old’s absolute tyre failure was to be just one of six that occurred during the race, on a weekend that would come to define the season of Pirelli, Formula One’s official tyre supplier.

Pirelli’s tyres were undoubtably the talk of 2013. From their very first appearance in Jerez in February, when complaints about the high nature of degradation, and their small operating window first surfaced, to the failures seen in the races in Bahrain and Spain, through to the damp squib that was ‘Testgate’, and culminating with the spectacular blow-outs mentioned above that occurred at Silverstone, Pirelli’s 2013 tyres were barely out of the news during the first half of the year.

Even after the debacle at Silverstone, and their move back to the 2012 tyre construction for the Hungarian Grand Prix in July, Pirelli remained in the spotlight, as rumours continued to persist over their commitment to Formula One. In fact, the official confirmation that Pirelli would supply tyres for 2014 onwards only came on January 16 this year, a mere 12 days ahead of testing for the new season.

But did Pirelli’s tyre woes actually overshadow the rest of the 2013 season? There were those that argued, especially after Silverstone, that Pirelli’s high degradation tyres had ruined 2013 as a spectacle, and in fact played too large a part on the outcome of the season. Was this the case? And if so, how much of the blame for that lay directly at Pirelli’s feet?

When asked if the controversy surrounding Pirelli’s 2013 tyres had effectively spoiled the season, Edd Straw, F1 Editor of AUTOSPORT magazine and autosport.com, rubbished the idea, stating: “In terms of having people running around declaring that Pirelli were ruining F1. They weren’t, they were in a difficult set of circumstances.”

Instead he noted that while the tyres had, as ever, had an impact throughout the course of the year, the right man had ultimately won the championship. He said: “Obviously [the tyres] did play an enormous role in terms of what was happening, but ultimately the fastest car and driver package won the championship in 2013, fairly comfortably, so from that perspective they didn’t massively distort the overall result.”

As Straw explained, with Formula One at the end of an era in terms of development, tyres, in this case the 2013 Pirelli’s, became the major differentiating factor between the teams, which went some way to explaining why their performance had been so prominent. “By virtue of the way the regulations were as of last year, you had a frozen engine, a very well established 2.4-litre V8 which had undergone a degree of performance balancing, and you had a mature set of aero regulations, so the cars were relatively close,” he said. “So inevitably the tyres became quite a significant performance differentiator.”

He added that since entering the control tyre era with Pirelli in 2011, management of tyres has perhaps played a more prominent role than ever, and that in fairness, aside from the very public failures, which brought them to attention, the impact of tyres on the 2013 season was not so dissimilar to what happened in 2012 and 2011. He said: “Ultimately throughout the Pirelli era, from 2011-12-13, tyre usage has been critical and you’re right that the failures cast this massive light on it.

While Luke Smith, the Editor-in-Chief of RichlandF1, agreed with Straw that Pirelli’s tyres had not unduly affected the outright winners of the two championships, he did emphasise the effect that the tyres, especially after their midseason change in construction, had played on the fortunes and form of the teams fighting lower down the grid. He said: “Lots of teams were affected by it. Force India for example, their form at the beginning of the year was sensational and then they just nosedived because of the change in tyres. Sauber, they had a terrible start to the season and then picked up when the tyres changed back to the 2012 construction, so I think they did have a big impact on the championship. Perhaps even too much so.”

However, for Kate Walker, the Editor of GPWeek, Pirelli’s tyres indeed overstepped their mark in 2013, with the failures, particularly those at Silverstone, casting not only Pirelli, but also the sport in a negative light. “The problem with the tyres last year was that they dominated the story and brought bad publicity along with it,” she said. “For a non F1 fan, a casual observer, they would be forgiven for thinking that 2013 defined Pirelli as dangerous.”

So while there remains a lack of consensus on if Pirelli’s tyre problems did indeed cast a shadow over the season, what of the question of who was to blame for the countless fiascos throughout the course of the year which cast Pirelli under the spotlight? It was Pirelli themselves who copped most of the blame for the tyre failures, and you might say quite rightly so, as they designed and manufactured them, but was it as  simple a case as that?

Luke Smith laughed away the notion that Pirelli deserved the flack it received throughout 2013, instead pointing the finger at the teams, who were perhaps the most vocal opposition to the Italian tyre supplier. He said: “Oh god no, I don’t think Pirelli deserved the hate they got. It was a situation that the teams caused really. It was the teams own short-sightedness, and their self interest that caused the problems. The teams that did veto [the decision to change the tyres in March], they were the ones who’s cars were working with the tyres best. I think Ferrari and Lotus were two of them, and Force India were another. When Pirelli said we want to make a change, they said: ‘No, this could threaten our form.’ It was self interest and selfishness on their part, but it is hardly surprising in the sport we have.”

Matt Somerfield, a Technical F1 Journalist is in agreement with Smith that the teams should indeed shoulder a large portion of the blame for what occurred in 2013, but questioned why more had not been done by the FIA to ensure that teams followed the guidelines set by Pirelli on the proper usage of their tyres. The teams abuse of which, Pirelli blamed for the tyre failures at the British Grand Prix. He said: “The FIA had known about this for quite a long time [teams running with aggressive camber, low pressures and tyre swapping]. The problem originally came up in Spa in 2011 when Red Bull blistered their front tyres, and from that point I’ve never understood why the FIA didn’t clamp down on these sort of scenarios.” He added: “If rather than recommendations they had been a part of the regulations, then I don’t think we would have seen the problems that we saw in 2013.”

Kate Walker joined in the defence of Pirelli, claiming the criticisms the Italian firm faced were “grossly unfair.” Walker maintains that a combination of selfishness on the part of the teams, coupled with a lack of testing opportunities for Pirelli meant that the tyre company effectively went into 2013 “with one hand tied behind their back,” and that there is a danger the situation could repeat itself in 2014. She said: “They had a limited amount of information about the loads and data of each car. Over the summer of 2013 Pirelli were saying that in order to prepare the tyres suitably for 2014 they needed to receive data off of the teams by November 1, at the last possible date. In Brazil Paul Hembery was moaning that Pirelli had not received data from the bulk of the teams, and that was the end of November. You saw what happened last year. It is like we are trying to make it happen again in 2014.”

Walker highlights the ridiculous situation whereby Pirelli were forced to prepare their tyres ahead of the 2013 season with a two-year-old Renault chassis, archaic in comparison to the 2013 machines, simply because the teams could not come to an agreement to assist the Italian tyre supplier. “The fundamental problem was that the teams could not agree on an appropriate test car for Pirelli. They were demanding dramatic racing, with high degradation compounds, but at the same time not allowing the tyre manufacturer to test on a car that was wholly representative in terms of downforce, lateral and vertical loads, etc.” She added: “It was down to the teams not being able to agree, it wasn’t down to the teams pushing the limits, or down to the FIA’s legislation. Pirelli did what they were asked to, and they did a good job of it.”

Edd Straw on the other hand was not quite so sympathetic, insisting that Pirelli’s products – especially early in the year – were not up to standard. He said: “Ultimately the tyres were not fit for purpose at that stage of the season, and it seemed that the change to the steel belt rather than the kevlar belt [which occurred between 2012 and 2013] played a part in that.”

Despite this, Straw maintains that the blame for the tyre fiasco that unfolded in 2013 does not lie solely with Pirelli, but occurred as a result of three years of blunders, with the teams, the FIA, and Pirelli all equally at fault. He said: “I think it is one of those things where everyone involved has to have a look at themselves. When you’re trying to develop a tyre with very little testing, and you’re having to change them each year to keep things unpredictable, that it going to make life difficult. I think it was slightly odd of Pirelli to sign up to a contract to do it [supply tyres] without proper formulated testing parameters. The teams made it difficult for testing to be conducted as no one wanted other people to have an advantage, so that really didn’t help, and all of those things really came to a head this year.”

Ultimately, 2013 will go down as the year when Pirelli’s tyres created a storm. Few will soon forget the spectacle that was the British Grand Prix, and the public witch-hunt  that followed calling for the blood of the Italian firm. Which, as revealed, came from a lack of understanding on the part of fans, and from a desire to shift the blame from the teams. With new turbo engines, anteater noses, and a fear of chronic unreliability for 2014 all to consider, Pirelli might just face some competition to steal the limelight this year.

Image courtesy of Mercedes AMG PETRONAS

*Correct as of January 31st*