2012's big stories: Pirelli and 'random' F1
|Saturday, December 29th 2012, 10:57 GMT|
Being a Formula 1 tyre supplier can be a thankless task. Whereas predecessor Bridgestone was content to remain quietly efficient and under the radar, Pirelli has been determined from the outset to improve F1's spectacle.
In 2012, that often seemed to put the Italian firm in a 'no win' situation. Frowned at for allegedly making F1 "too random" in the early months, it was then castigated for making races "too boring" in the championship run-in. Rarely had the supplier of a control component been so integral to F1's self-perception.
The random months
Early in testing it was clear that the 2012 Pirellis were going to be a challenge, with predictions of degradation chaos interspersed with suggestions that the racing was about to get a lot more unpredictable.
It was certainly the latter. The first seven grands prix delivered seven different winners from five different teams - not just habitual frontrunners Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari, but surprise star Mercedes and absolute-bolt-from-the-blue Williams too. And Lotus and Sauber had also shown victory potential.
Initially this variety was welcome after the 2011 Red Bull steamroller, but soon there was discontent.
Were the shuffled grids a sign that teams were closer than ever, or that the vagaries of tyre performance were playing far too big a role - arbitrarily neutering top teams and thrusting midfielders to the front? Was the 2012 Lotus a great car and Sergio Perez a burgeoning superstar, or did the E20's nature and Perez's style merely hit the Pirelli jackpot?
With so much focus on race-day tyre performance, teams started shifting their focus, leading to several lacklustre pole fights as drivers conserved tyres in Q3 - even though the statistics showed most races were still being won from the front.
An increasing number of drivers were also frustrated with having to prioritise tyre preservation in races where they yearned to be pushing flat-out.
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F1 teams admit predictions now futile
Jonathan Noble: F1 2012 is no lottery
Tony Dodgins: Should Pirelli let drivers get on with racing?
The one-stop months
Heading into the summer break, Pirelli predicted that the title battle would settle and the top teams would pull clear as everyone got fully to grips with the tyres.
Sure enough, after seven winners from five teams in the first half of the season, the final 10 races delivered four winners from three teams, and ultimately another Sebastian Vettel/Red Bull title double.
But now Pirelli was facing criticism for the opposite reason to before. The early months' three-stop races were replaced by one-stop affairs as more conservative compound choices and the relatively new asphalt of the modern tracks at the tail of the calendar combined to eliminate degradation worries.
Predictability had returned, and F1 did not like it. Even drivers began yearning for more stops, and the paddock worried that the excitement tailing off as the championship arrived at crucial new markets like India and America was bad for the sport, although Austin was ultimately part of a trio of end-of-season thrillers.
Pirelli is not looking for a quiet life, and is ready to challenge the teams again with its 2013 tyres.
This time, the pitlane reckons it will be prepared, with top teams declaring that their investments in tyre knowledge will stand them in good stead.
Whatever happens, there is no doubt that Pirelli and its influence on the nature of F1 will be firmly in the headlines again.