Michael Schumacher lashed out after the Spanish GP and again last week about the heavily degrading Pirelli tires likening them to “eggshells” and setting off a very interesting debate among fans and in the media about the relative value of the tires that Pirelli brings to each race. Remember that these are the tires that we, the fans, asked for after two years of horridly boring Bridgstones. (Anyone want to argue that the Bridgestone races were better than those that we have today?) Basically, people feel that the tires are making the races a bit of a lottery where chance plays too big a part in who crosses the checked flag first.
I completely disagree. I believe that these tires, for the first time since aerodynamics became a real thing, have changed the focus of F1 from the aero to the mechanical. The sport is no longer about bolting more downforce to the car, it is about managing the mechanical interface of the tire to the road. Rather than the car being the limiting factor of performance, it is the tire. In this sense, Schumacher is exactly right. Where he is wrong is to call this fact a bad thing.
If we had a Bridgestone style tire where teams could run flat out from lights to flag, than the logical result is a processional. The teams qualify based on the car and then spread out based on relative performance gaps. Passing is very difficult because these gaps are very small. The only thing of interest in a race, in this case, is the inter team battle where drivers with the same car should stay relatively close to each other. One driver can very clearly emerge superior in this case.
With the Pirellis, however, we have a situation where the limiting factor is the driver’s ability to drive with intelligence above speed. Thus, the faster driver may not win. This is very different, however, from the slower driver winning. It simply means that fast does not necessarily equal ultimate lap time. Fastest equals lowest average lap time.
Schumacher was in a time where the races were sprints and he always had the fastest car. In his era, he was the king. But Schumacher has always had one tragic flaw, his inability to see the error in himself. In days when the races were sprints, this flaw only became apparent when he crashed into someone else and then stormed into their garage (David Coulthard’s actually). We all wrote this moment of weakness off because he could still perform on the track. Now, however, he cannot. The first win at Mercedes should have been his, and he knows it. Instead, for the past three years he has had his ass handed to him by his unaccomplished, though highly rated, teammate.
Who does he lash out at? The tires. Classic Schumacher stubbornness. If only his tires were as consistent and stubbornly high performers.