Niki Lauda, three-time Formula One world champion and now Mercedes F1 team chairman, has nothing kind to say about the FIA’s tire strategy of increasing tire degradation to require more pit stops during F1 races.
Lauda castigated F1's governing body's policy in no uncertain terms in an interview with the German newspaper Bild via WorldCarFans.com after the opener in Australia, "The situation with the tyres is absolutely stupid."
Lauda expanded on that thought by saying the strategy creates needless confusion for the fans. "Artificially creating more and more pitstops [sic] is wrong. Pirelli can't really help it as they are only doing what the FIA ordered them to do, but 90 percent of the time no one understands what is happening in the races now….When the tyres are so soft, it's bad for formula one. The fans don't understand if there are more than two pitstops [sic], it's a fundamentally wrong path."
Pirelli's motorsports director Paul Hembery, also speaking to Bild, responded. "Many fans have told us they think the racing is more exciting now."
But Lauda has a point.
FIA has, of course, dictated regulation changes over the years to tire manufacturers in an effort to alter the racing product. But it seems inherently nonsensical that the governing body of a sport focused on developing the fastest and most nimble cars so that the world’s best race drivers can put on the finest on-track show possible would mandate changes to increase off-track activity - pit stops.
The reasoning behind FIA’s tire strategy of increased degradation is, of course, neither to control costs nor is it an attempt to achieve parity since all teams, regardless of the superior characteristics of their latest chassis, are subject to the same tire limitations. FIA’s tire strategy is solely intended to increase perceived spectator excitement by requiring more stops during the race, presumably to counter the prohibition of fuel stops in 2010.
The assumption is that one more potential stop and shuffling the on-track standings is more exciting than head-to-head competition with more stable race rubber. But compounds with maximum durability for any given grip capability will still require tire changes and tire care as a result of FIA’s requirement that both dry compounds be used during a race.
Increased fan excitement was the reason F1 has already advanced such on-track technology as the Drag Reduction System (DRS) and the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS), which increase overtaking and horsepower.
“Tire excitement” can still be found in a driver’s ability to care for his tires and in chassis design characteristics that are gentler on race rubber. Kimi Raikkonen’s dominant Australian Grand Prix win for Lotus last weekend (a surprise to some, although world championship talent in an evolved and highly competitive 2013 E21 should suggest serious race-winning potential) is a shining example. Adrian Sutil’s strong performance for Force India was also based on a two-stop strategy.
The real question in Melbourne was why Red Bull and Ferrari needed a third stop. Ironically, with The Iceman’s margins of victory over second-place Fernando Alonso and third-place Sebastian Vettel, better tire management by Ferrari and Red Bull (or harder Medium prime tires that would not have required the third stop) would have arguably (all else equal) resulted in a more exciting finish with Raikkonen still placing on the podium.
Let the best drivers in the world shine in the most sophisticated and advanced cars in racing instead of inhibiting their potential for exhilarating on-track head-to-head competition with tires that artificially limit their ability to do so.