When Nico Rosberg crossed the line and took victory in Monaco he emulated his famous, world champion father, Keke, who won there thirty years ago.
For Nico to equal his father’s greatest achievement and win a Formula One World Championship looks like being quite a lot harder though. While Nico’s victory was sublime and he topped every single session of the weekend, his Mercedes took him to victory after running a very conservative tyre management strategy which only worked because of the tight confines of the Monaco circuit.
The frequency and regularity of tyre management is beginning to cause unrest across the F1 sphere, from the fans and the media, all the way to the drivers themselves.
For 78 laps, Sebastian Vettel trailed just behind the gearbox of Mercedes, first Lewis Hamilton’s and for the last half of the race, Rosberg’s. Two laps from the end, Vettel set fastest lap of the race and got the following rebuke, “Right, that’s enough, you don’t get any more points for that.”
His response: “But satisfaction. Instead of driving slow for 70 laps.” A Formula One driver driving slow is a confusing dichotomy but this is what the new Pirelli tyre compounds have resulted in.
Most fans and drivers would accept a degree of tyre management and the resultant divergent strategies it allows but the extent of the tyre management currently means that it has become by far the most important factor of the racing.
It’s beginning to look bad for the image of Formula One too. The internet is littered with articles crying out for some on-the-edge racing and most damagingly, race broadcasts are now scattered with team radio discussions about how slowly the driver needs to be going to “optimise his race”.
This tyre degradation was introduced in 2011 with the aim of producing two-to-three stop races to liven the up the sport after the rather dull races seen in 2010 with the extremely durable Bridgestone tyres.
For two years this tactic worked rather well, with races regularly providing plenty of action and the fastest car-driver combination taking the title at the end of the year.
But now Pirelli has taken things a step too far. Their product dominates the racing to such a degree that perversely; the fastest cars are no longer winning. Mercedes and Red Bull may have won three of the six races so far, but together the two teams have six pole positions. The three races they haven’t won are due to Lotus and Ferrari eking out more laps from their tyres.
Both teams are taking aim at Pirelli to change their ways. Red Bull continue to push for more durable tyres while Mercedes opportunistically accepted Pirelli’s offer of a proper three-day testing session in order to improve their understanding of the tyres.
Red Bull along with Ferrari, having probably sensed being outmanoeuvred by their rivals, have officially protested to the FIA.
The constant criticism of Pirelli is unfair though. The company is required to provide tyres which produce two-to-three-stop races across 19 different tracks in 19 different countries with just four different compounds while not being allowed any running with the cars which will actually use them.
However if one thing is certain it is that tyres, their management and now even their politics have overrun F1. It’s too late to change the formula this year, but next year’s racing needs to be much more about the racing and much less about the rubber.