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The Pirelli Problem

FEATURE BY MAT COCH
23/12/2013

During practice for the 1975 Austrian Grand Prix, where he was competing for Penske, Mark Donohue left the circuit, suffering injuries which claimed his life two days later. Almost a decade after the incident, in 1984, a court found tyre supplier Goodyear responsible for the crash awarding £14.4million (the equivalent of £39.25million in today's money) in damages to Donohue's family.

Goodyear maintained throughout that there was no manufacturing fault in the tyre and that the failure was the result of metallic debris on the circuit. In court both Penske and Goodyear were found responsible for the crash and each ordered to pay £7.2million in compensation. However, the judge overruled the verdict stating there was no evidence Penske could have been responsible for a tyre defect. Goodyear, he ruled, was solely responsible.

Tyres are a critical component of the car, perhaps the most critical part of the package since it is through them that the driver has any control. While thankfully we've not experienced anything close to the situation since Donohue's crash, tyres have been in the headlines with worrying frequency. It is a serious issue.

During 2013 a series of failures were largely blamed on Pirelli. The Italian company cried foul, citing the fact it was told to develop high-wearing tyres only to be given no means to test them. It's a fair argument and this is why it's unfair to point the finger too accusingly.

Pirelli's frustrations centred on the ban which prohibits teams from running outside of officially sanctioned sessions. The company has an old Renault at its disposal, but as the sport has moved on since it was developed the car is hardly representative of the current machinery.

However, last week Pirelli was allowed to go testing in Bahrain with current-spec cars. The purpose of the test was to provide the company with information on next year's tyres, as well as an opportunity to experiment a little. It was also an opportunity to create some positive headlines during a period of relative inactivity outside of teams' factories.

The only problem was a failure, at 200 mph, for Nico Rosberg. The exact cause is not known but the fact of the matter is any tyre that explodes without warning in a straight line is a critical concern… and not just for Mercedes dry-cleaners. The response from Pirelli was predictable; silent at first it finally released a brief statement acknowledging the spin without ever really saying much.

The failure on Rosberg's car raises serious concerns, not just because it happened at speed but because of the year Pirelli has endured and the fact it is the sole tyre supplier. In an exclusive arrangement there is little need to push the envelope in terms of development. It is only competing against itself while standing alone centre stage - there is no opportunity to succeed, but plenty to fail. Pirelli can afford to be conservative with its development - it should be conservative with its development - because there is simply nothing to be gained and legal precedent as a result of Donohue's crash if it gets it wrong.

So why did the company feel the need to develop a tyre in the laboratory and bolt it on to Rosberg's Mercedes? What was it hoping to gain? Perhaps, when presented with the opportunity to test with current-spec cars, Pirelli became like a child in a candy store and lost sight of the bigger picture.

The failure on Rosberg's car was a PR disaster, reinforcing the perception which was unfairly created during the year that Pirelli doesn't produce a good product. It was presented, by way of the Bahrain test, an ideal opportunity to gain some positive media coverage. Instead Nico Rosberg had a tyre failure at 200 mph.

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by F1 at Indy, 11/01/2014 20:58

"Responding to 16boj. I bought a set of Pirelli for my everyday car a 2004 Corolla. I won't go into details just didn't like them after 20k miles or so. Ran them to just under 45k not much left of them. Anyway this time around on both mine and the wife's 2011 Corolla i wnet with Michelin's and so far so good. You get what you pay for, well sometimes.

Don't like F1's different tire compounds either. V-10's or 12's good tires and refueling please bring them back."

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2. Posted by Jay, 29/12/2013 0:49

"Aren't the camber max %and castor% mandated by the FIA? As it was stated that teams were exceeding those parameters earlier on. Pirelli are to go it alone again it would seem that they will require aggressive testing to which some has been granted for all teams. Will some teams cry foul again in 2014?Sure they will but only engineering can c/w real time testing evaluate all aspects of a tire as do all teams throughout the year they run CFD, and all other types of simulations to get a better picture of there vehicles,How do you know the limits if you can't push the limits."

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3. Posted by Simon in Adelaide, 25/12/2013 0:54

"Pirelli are as they say 'caught between a rock and a hard place', charged by the FIA to produce at tyre that degrades so as to manipulate racing they are not given an adequate test bed to enable laboratory results to be calibrated. Some teams seem to run camber and castor angles that are bordering on the insane and which quickly degrade the tyre, but that is Pirelli's fault not theirs; especially if their strategy has not delivered the expected results.
The FIA's requirements and the team's and pundit's expectations appear to be mutually exclusive and Pirelli are trying to plot a course between the two and as criticism is more newsworthy than praise, Pirelli can not win.

Personally I would rather see all four compounds brought to a GP and dispense with the manipulative requirement to use both compounds. If one team wants to use super-softs and 3 stop whilst another uses hards and no stops then great, let's see some true racing.

Merry Christmas from a warm and sunny Adelaide."

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4. Posted by Schnauzers, 24/12/2013 12:41

"Call me a cynic, but is it possible Pirelli were trying to establish the fact that laboratory development DOES NOT WORK?

So please bring back “live” in-season testing..."

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5. Posted by Paul C, 24/12/2013 2:38

"One of the leading constructors MUST provide two current spec F1 cars to Pirelli to have neutral testing of F1's tire supply. The close working situation Bridgestone & Ferrari had would not be tolerated by the rest of the constructors today. If Pirelli wants to generate supporting income they could lease them out to teams that want to enter local hero drivers with Superlicence qualifying experience. Mercedes and the other teams should not have to risk their cars on experimental tires from mad scientists. "

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6. Posted by GoodPublicity, 23/12/2013 15:51

"Pirelli was naive to think that when it slept with the F1 dog it wouldn't wake up with bad publicity fleas.

To extend the metaphor, it's high time that the Pirelli tail wagged the F1 dog by insisting that its F1 tyres be relevant to road cars. They should be suitable for all weather conditions, and durable enough to last at least a full race meeting, if not an entire season."

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7. Posted by Jogon, 23/12/2013 12:29

"It's not Pirelli's fault they're the sole manufacturer to F1 and neither is the lack of testing. Lab testing no matter how good the equipment, will ever come close to real time testing on the track and regrettably there will be issues surrounding the tyre safety as demonstrated by Rosbergs recent mishap.

There is no doubt that more trackside testing is required, but none of this is the fault of Pirelli and yet it is them that will no doubt suffer most from the 'PR Disaster' which given all the furore during the 2013 trye failings one has to ask why Pirelli chose to continue on into 2014 with what seems like 'muted' responses to the now regular criticiscm of them.

Hopefully the late September Dubrovnik meeting and the FIA's statement that the FIA amongst other issues will now have the the choice on who to choose as tyre suppliers will have some impact on future dealings and that the commercial deals from rights holder come in a dull second when dealing with the then newly appointed manufacturer, which if this is to be believed should make the choice of 'tyre' manufacturer quite interesting.

"

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8. Posted by GrahamG, 23/12/2013 10:29

"I have to say I decided over 2 years ago never to buy a Pirelli tyre again and wrote to Pirelli to tell them so.
How can any company expect to gain positive publicity from tyres which wear so pathetically quickly and fail disastrously, as well as looking nothing like the tyres everyone uses on their road cars. As ever look at Le Mans series, no significant tyre problems, no daft tyres which last 2 laps and profiles which everyone can relate to. OK so Pirelli may have had a stupid brief, but if they had had the bottle to stand up and say that they were not going to follow it what choice would FIA have had but to acquiesce?. "

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9. Posted by 16boj, 23/12/2013 9:14

"Pirelli problems .
Has there been a drop in Pirelli road tyre sales with so much adverse publicity of the F1 situation ?."

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