Romain Grosjean, Haas, Sochi Autodrom, 2018

“The races are not fun”: Why F1 drivers are lobbying over tyres again

2018 F1 season

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The Brazilian Grand Prix wanted for little in terms of action. But that wasn’t case at many other rounds this year.

The previous race in Mexico was a particularly acute example of the problem. For several drivers in the midfield, eking out Pirelli’s softest rubber for two stints may have been strategically sound, but it made for an unsatisfying race.

Ahead of the Brazilian Grand Prix drivers met with F1’s official tyre supplier to voice their complaints. One of which, as Romain Grosjean explained, is a concern that extreme high tyre degradation exaggerates the gap between the top three teams and the rest.

“The races are not fun,” Grosjean explained. “[Sixth place] in Mexico is two laps down.”

“How do you want to see a midfield car going once, twice on the podium if we are already two laps down, one lap down? The delta between the big teams and the small teams is too big. The tyres are so complicated to understand, to drive, if you don’t have the downforce you destroy them.”

The problem has been worst in races like Singapore, Russia and Mexico where Pirelli brought its softest rubber. Grosjean said the amount of tyre management drivers have to do on the hyper-soft is extreme. “On ultra-soft there’s a bit of management needed. On super-soft it’s better.”

The rationale behind making softer tyres was that it would force teams to make more pit stops. But Pirelli has acknowledged teams have become so good at managing degradation they instead run at a slower pace and preserve their tyres, with obvious consequences for the racing.

“We want to be going racing and racing hard and pushing,” said Grosjean.

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“When I was doing Formula Renault 2.0 you would have the start, be flat-out for 20 minutes until the finish line. You wouldn’t care about fuel, you wouldn’t care about energy, you wouldn’t care about tyres, you wouldn’t care about any of that. Just trying to pass the guy in front of you. That carried on until GP2 [now Formula Two] and then it’s a bit different.

Charles Leclerc, Sauber, Circuit of the Americas, 2018
Leclerc told 50 times to save his tyres in Sauber’s extreme Mexico strategy
“I like it when you can push really hard and it’s about challenging yourself. In Singapore when we’re 10 seconds off the pace, no one’s going to make a mistake. No one went out this year. The first two years when it was hard, I remember Kimi [Raikkonen] going out and crashing. People did because you were tired, it was fucking exhausting.”

The impetus to change the direction of tyre development comes at an awkward time for Pirelli. The tyres for the 2019 F1 season have already been designed and will be tested by all the teams at the end of the month. As for the 2020 tyres, the FIA has not selected which of two potential bidders – Pirelli or rival Hankook – will be chosen to produce them.

However the drivers’ input could inform tyre compound nominations for next year and potential off-season sporting regulations changes.

Brazil showed that when the circumstances are right, F1 can still produce great racing. As Grosjean acknowledged before the race, the drivers’ frustration lies in knowing it doesn’t happen more often.

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all wrong,” he said. “I’m still very happy to come on a race weekend and race the car.

“But it’s a bit frustrating to know it could be better.”

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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36 comments on ““The races are not fun”: Why F1 drivers are lobbying over tyres again”

  1. The actual problem is that cars can’t pass each other. With track position being so vital nowadays, teams and drivers are sacrificing outright pace because it means they’re ahead of the other guy on track

  2. It’s not great fun for any of us much of the time Romain.
    To often these days an F1 race just becomes background noise while I do something more interesting. That said I do think things have improved slightly this season but still.
    Keep complaining dude and let’s hope we get better, more frantic racing at some point in the near future.

  3. Everyone always forgets when engine management was the limiting factor, and that frequently there was more than a minute between the first and second places. F1 has never had close races all through a season, at least not for long. If it isn’t tyre management, it was far more unreliable engines and far bigger gaps.

    The current situation isn’t perfect, but there’s a lot of rose colored glasses and nostalgia muddying the reality of how exciting past races were.

    Also waxing nostalgic about how good the racing was in a spec car series misses the point of F1 not being a spec car series: the team with the fastest car wins.

    1. @zapski Spot on! That’s indeed how it’s more or less always been.

    2. @zapski – please don’t bring reason and fact in the way of a good nostalgic moan. :-)

      1. This. All the years McLaren and Ferrari were trouncing everybody else were pretty similar to this one, no one would win in those years except those two teams. You used to have backmarker teams 5 laps down by the end of the race.

    3. digitalrurouni
      14th November 2018, 15:42

      So we as fans are saying that we want the tire status quo to remain? We WANT the tires limiting the capability of the cars and drivers to push flat out?

      1. Not exactly, just that even with artificial limitations like the tyres, or with technical limitations like clutches and engines blowing up, that F1 is the same as it’s always been.

        Can you imagine how big the gap would be between the teams if they didn’t have something holding them back? Do we want them to go back to the races of the 70’s and 80’s with a lap separating the winner from P2?

        What’s a better solution? Artificial limitations, or each race a parade?

        1. Umm, how about make the cars all the same!

          Oh no, can’t do that. We can’t challenge the ‘heritage of F1’ aka all the reasons the so called sport is terrible.

          These ‘it’s always been like that’ arguments are so tiresome. Something has always sucked so it can’t be changed??

          1. All the cars the same is a spec car series. Watch IndyCar if that’s your game, but F1 is not a spec car series, and that’s the point.

    4. While I agree there’s has always been ‘management’ required to finish a race distance, tire management seems the most boring.

      Even if they have to tune down the engines, still pushing in the corners is more exciting and increases the odds of a race-altering crash. At the moment we have ‘lift-and-coast’ and ‘slow down, this tire has to make it to the flag’ at the same time.

      From an engineering perspective, the reliability has been awesome, but from a fan perspective it’s pretty boring!

      I miss the teams pushing the cars mechanically to the knife-edge of failure. Hearing a driver getting on the radio and pleading his team “stop my car, this engine needs to last xx more races” is soul crushing to me.

      Bring back the 2004 Kimi engine explosions on track. Even Danny Rics constant failures are boring these days!

      1. But then the poor teams can’t compete with the rich teams. And we’d be back to huge gaps and no close races again. There’s no perfect solution.

    5. @zapski, we may be wearing rose-tinted spectacles (we are!) but that doesn’t mean things could not be changed for the better, and that’s the whole point of Ross Brawn and his team. I am strongly against the current tyre situation. I don’t care about pit stops. I just want the drivers flat out as much as possible. If that creates a ridiculous gap between teams, well, frankly, anything is better than artificially dumbing down the races with gimmicks. The things Grosjean says in the article are bang on, in my opinion.

      1. Don’t get me wrong, l’d rather there’s no artificial limitations or assists (down with DRS). But if/when that happens, there’s going to be 1000’s of fans complaining that the gaps are too big, blah blah blah. There’s no way to make everyone happy.

        To me, strict budget caps and more fair winning funds would be the way to go, but the teams in that case are the problem since no one wants to give up money. Also they need to get it off the pay channels and back on free to air, but again that seems unlikely.

  4. FIA / FOM need to swallow their pride and take inspiration from Indycar, one soft tyre and one hard tyre. Go back to Prime and Option not 3 different types at the same time. Have the two change to suit the tracks as with now and there you go, more cars on the same strategies = better racing and lower gaps.

    1. @fjbh10

      …more cars on the same strategies = better racing and lower gaps.

      Equally, more cars on the same strategy would mean that the drivers are already lined up in the order in which they are quickest, so would that really help to overtake as rarely would any car be quicker than the car in front. Moreover, it would mean that no driver would achieve the speed delta required to overtake the car ahead. I would say the best compromise is to have durable tyres like we had in 2010 for instance (just a step softer), and have three compounds, the hardest of which can last the entire race distance.

      1. Fair point, I stand corrected. Also, a no-stop but potentially slower tyre could be really interesting.

        1. Top 10 qualifiers as now still have to have a change of tyres but bottom 10 allowed to run the whole race on a single set of tyres i.e. no pitstop.

    2. @fjbh10 Why? The introduction of a third tire compound in 2016 massively improved racing. 2015 was probably the dullest F1 season ever, with almost no overtaking, similar strategies and no real championship battle. 2016 was much better, but in 2017 we got harder tires again, so the hardest compound was almost never used and we got predictable strategies again.

  5. While some of us boffins can be interested in the off-track strategic battles, that’s not really what attracts and retains the majority of viewers – hard-fought, wheel-to-wheel racing.

    Keep management and strategy to endurance series and make F1 an intense, ~2hour sprint race.

  6. The rationale behind making softer tyres was that it would force teams to make more pit stops. (Teams) instead run at a slower pace and preserve their tyres, with obvious consequences for the racing.

    Teams will only pit more often if they have a reasonable chance to make up the lost time and can overtake.
    The softer/degrading tyres merely ‘solve’ the ‘making up time’ bit.
    Nothing (besides DRS) has been done yet to allow overtaking; i.e follow closely in corners to set up for an overtake on the straight.
    And if we can shorten the time needed for a pitstop, then there will be even more of an incentive to do an extra pitstop.

    1. @coldfly They will never decrease the time spent in the pitlane due to safety reasons. I thought limits of 100kph were enough, but the FIA had to decrease it to 80kph as a bit of a kneejerk reaction off the back of the Webber incident in Germany 2013. I doubt they would increase it back up.

      1. There are various ways to skin a cat, @mashiat.
        – shorten the speed limit zone to only the garage area (and make sure nobody can be hurt in the rest of the pitlane);
        – cut a corner before and/or after the pit lane for pit visitors;
        – build a chicane next to the pitlane.
        – allow moving tyre changes – pit crew moves at 80kph parallel to the car when changing wheels ;)

  7. I have pointed out before that management has always been a part of F1, Be it tyres, engine’s, fuel, brakes, gearboxes etc… & that as such I do expect some management in F1 & don’t agree that this aspect should be limited to endurance racing with F1 been more of a flat out sprint.

    However I think a difference in terms of the tyres from the past & today is that in the past tyre management was down to tyre technology of the time not been as good as it could be or in situations like Montreal 2010 it was just down to the specific track conditions of the day.
    Today however the tyre management is been generated artificially because the tyres are been designed to artificially degrade/wear at a higher than normal rate. The problem with this is that everyone expect’s it to happen & can prepare & plan for it which is why you see some of the more extreme tyre management that we have.

    If you look at Montreal 2010 as an example. That was something that was just down to the track conditions that weekend, Nobody expected it & nobody knew how to deal with it which is why that race was as good as it was. As soon as you go into a race or season with everyone knowing the tyres are been artificially created to act a certain way then everyone will prepare for that & since 2011 it’s been clear that varying degree’s of extreme management has been the way to deal with it.

    1. @stefmeister, 100% Correct, I don’t care if the fastest car/driver wins every race, in that situation the fight for the podium or 4th. to 6th. becomes the point of interest, although of course I would rather a battle for the win, and I would rather that battle was not dependant on the peculiarities of the artificially lousy tyres creating a tight finish on the last lap after 95% of the race with the 1st and 2nd not even being in sight of each other.

  8. Great comment from Romain, if drivers are going so slowly so that they don’t need to worry about making any mistakes, we have a real problem – car management has always been racing but I can’t remember it being so obvious and to the forefront that drivers say its too slow. Liberty really needs to start making some inroads on what they want F1 to be, sooner rather than later.

  9. I am reminded of the 2010 season where, those Bridgestones could run sll race and yet we still had close racing. That was with fuel management too. This concept of high deg tyres has proved itself to be a failure- tyre blowouts in 2013, drivers driving “at the pace of the tyre not the pace of the car” [sic Vettel]

    1. Oops comment posted too quickly. But basically the FIA’s quest to force multiple pitstops has failed and surely the time has arrived to change course. For mw- this tyre management stuff is a bit like saying tennis rackets should be changed to level the field because Djokovic, Murray, Nadal and Federer have too much of an advantage. Ridiculous

      1. Good point @blazzz, choice of hard, medium, or soft racquets, change for each set, must use at least 2.

  10. Drivers and spectators have different interests, that’s clear. Drivers want to dominate races and obliterate the opposition, so they want fast cars, without having to worry about fuel and tires. Spectators want none of this of course. The last couple of races have been great because of the challenge presented with the tires. Drivers who can nurse the tires more efficiently have a performance advantage from the start of the race, which creates on-track battles. Last Sunday there were many overtakes among the top teams, which is quite unusual nowadays. To put it bluntly, it’s a good sign when drivers complain about the rules.

  11. I think the quickest and simplest change would be to stop pit to car radio. Leave it to the driver to figure out how hard to drive and for how long. From race to race some will get it right, some close and some horribly wrong. Letting the riders determine how hard to ride works well in MotoGP and there is no reason it wouldn’t work in F1. So long as the engineers are all using the same calculations all we’re going to get is everyone driving to the same delta time and trying not to lose the race rather than trying to win it.
    And before people fall into the same old argument that the cars are complicated etc, the MotoGP bikes have different engine maps that the driver can select, brake bias, suspension settings etc and they have to figure it all out themselves.

  12. Give the most popular drivers (generally the ones who win the most) a special Fan Boost to make them even further ahead.
    Race slowly in giant circles so noone gets surprised by any sneaky moves.
    Make the tyres last 3 laps so they’re always pitting and we can see the logos more clearly.
    Use green energy, not oil, to power the cars.
    Include more drivers from different backgrounds. Maybe some of them E Sports racers. Or a celebrity? Depends who the focus groups recommend.
    Share the money equally (between the top 3 teams).
    Bring back Maldonado.

  13. NO NO NO NO. we cannot have tires that allow for different strategies because YOU CANT PASS THE LEADER at any given point. YOU MUST PULLOVER for anybody in the top 10 because they CANNOT be asked to race. they are divine. they have the RIGHT to drive anywhere they want. in fact id say get rid of the race and just have qualifying be the race. lets all tune in for the f1 parade!

  14. I stopped watching F1 during the grooved tire error; that was a joke. Now the tires have become a joke again.

    Look, the fast teams will always be fast, the rich teams will always be fast ( except McLaren, sorry) .

    I want the winner to be determined by the best team of Engineers and drivers making the cars run the race in the fastest time. If I wanted to watch a race of people saving tires and fuel, I will go down to the church on senior night.

    As soon as F1 returns to real racing the better.

    If you want closer racing, then give equal money to all teams, with no more than a 10% bonus for Constructors championship. This will encourage the smaller teams to “ go for it” because they have a real chance of winning, and keep the larger teams form drastically out spending the back markers. Fix the real problem.

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