F1’s future suddenly seems much slower
Following a two-day Strategy Group/ Formula 1 Commission summit in January, comments on ‘faster F1’ were conspicuous by their absence. Team bosses are usually vocal about decisions taken in such meetings, but after this most recent gathering all were oddly mute. Only a little later did it emerge that we’d have to halve our expectations of how much faster F1 might become.
The shift is indicative of the regulatory malaise from which F1 seems unable to extract itself. What looked good on paper (who wouldn’t leap at the chance of resetting lap records that have stood since the sport’s late V10 era?) simply cannot be put into practice, primarily due to warnings on downforce levels issued by Pirelli.
It’s tempting to point ngers at the tyre supplier, but blame must be apportioned elsewhere, for not only are their products hampered by (cost-driven) test restrictions, which curb such activities to a handful of days annually – usually immediately after grands prix – but 50 per cent of their yearly F1 spend (estimated at $150m) ends up with commercial rights holder FOM for ‘bridge and board’ circuit signage. That rather limits what’s left for R&D into experimental F1 tyre technology.
When the 2017-19 tyre contract was up for grabs last October, Michelin tendered alongside Pirelli, but are said to have lost out after planning to “invest in development, so we can make the show even better, rather than commercial matters”. As one Michelin source recently put it to F1 Racing: “The FIA told us the choice from FOM is Pirelli.” Our Michelin man also said his company had prepared presentations for technical directors that demonstrated 1.5-second lap-time gains from tyres, so long as 18-inch wheels with low-prole tyres were adopted to replace the archaic 13-inch, high-aspect combo that harks back to 1993. He said technical directors were advised that existing sidewalls could not cope with targeted downforce increases.
Yet Pirelli say “there is no appetite for lowprole tyres among teams”, which they put down to the cost of redesigning suspension and other dynamic components to bring in larger rims. That said, the World Endurance Championship and World Rally Championship had no such issues, so clearly they have generous commercial masters. A year’s supply of F1 Pirellis costs $2m.
The upshot is that shortly before the January summit, Pirelli warned that the 2017 proposals required revision for safety reasons. Either that or unacceptably high tyre pressures would be imposed to cope with sidewall stresses. This led to fears that the requisite pressure increases would negate any performance gains! Welcome to the fabulous logic of Planet F1.
Thus cautioned, the Strategy Group returned the proposals for revision, rather than rubberstamping the fruits of the Technical Directive. Pirelli requested a meeting with the FIA, FOM, teams and drivers to frame future F1 tyre technology and test regulations. As a supplier bound to deliver what the customer orders, it would be unfair to blame Pirelli for this farce.
The nal decision on 2017’s regulations is due at the end of February. After that date, F1’s governance demands unanimous agreement on any changes scheduled for the following year. Yet some technical directors are talking of postponing the regs reset to 2018. Not just diluted, then, but further delayed.
By which time, dear reader, there’s even a slim chance that Michelin may be back in the frame for F1’s tyre-supply contract, as Pirelli’s contract extension for 2017-19 has yet to be formalised. You read it here rst…