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It's Hard To Stop Racing Drivers From Racing!

FEATURE BY CHRISTIAN KLIEN
08/05/2013

This weekend the Formula One hits Europe. The first four races of the year have all been interesting, but in Spain the teams will have their first real chance to bring big upgrades to their cars.

The first part of the season has been dominated by the tyres. It's been said a number of times but Pirelli is doing exactly what the teams asked it to do, which was to make tyres that required more pit stops.

With high wearing tyres it is important that drivers have a good feel for the car because they will know what is going on long before the team will. The driver will feel it in the car before the team sees it in the telemetry.

It's a difficult thing to do, and it means drivers can't always push 100 per cent like they used to – they might be driving at 80 or 90 per cent. Of course inside the car you want to drive as fast as possible and there's no doubt some drivers will be frustrated they can't. Mark Webber has said he doesn't like the situation.

Managing the tyres tends to favour the smoother drivers. Kimi Raikkonen has been very good because he drives very cleanly; he seems to have a good understanding of the tyres, and that's an important advantage.

The current situation reminds me a little of Michelin a few years ago. Back then some drivers were aggressive and the tyres didn't like it, so many had to change their driving styles to get the best out of the rubber. That is what drivers are having to do now, it's just now they all have the same tyre and some are doing a better job than others.

Personally, I think there is too much of a gap in performance with the tyres. In Bahrain the pace difference between qualifying and the race was something like 8 seconds; that's almost GP2 pace rather than Formula One.

I think part of the problem is that there is no refuelling anymore. When refuelling was allowed cars would start the race 100kg lighter which meant they were much easier on tyres. That extra weight puts more strain on the tyres and means they wear out faster, and part of the reason drivers have to be so careful with them now.

Formula One now is a little bit like endurance racing because drivers have to manage their tyres carefully so they are as fast as they can be over the race, not as fast as they can be over a single lap. That has meant different strategies and cars going at different speeds during the race, which also means we see lots of cars racing together.

It makes for great television and it's what the fans want to see, and drivers don't mind fighting a little bit too, but they always want to go as fast as possible. Battling is good fun but driving a racing car on the very limit is always what a driver is trying to do, and at the moment they can't really. But as I mentioned it does make some good racing, even if it is a little confusing.

Perhaps some of the problem is teams don't get to test the tyres properly in pre-season. In February it is still quite cold in Europe, much colder than it is for most Grands Prix. There has been some talk of having a test in Abu Dhabi or Bahrain, which would make sense. From a tyre perspective most of the winter testing is a waste in terms of long runs, and the real pace of a car, because the tyres just don't work when it's cold.

With new engine rules for next year testing might start earlier anyway, so I think holding it in Abu Dhabi, Bahrain or Doha (Qatar) would be a very sensible solution.

One driver I would expect to see at that test next year is Mark Webber, even though there are rumours he is going to Porsche next year.

Porsche returning to sports car racing is great for the World Endurance Championship. It has a long history in the sport and has always been very competitive, but at the same time endurance racing is not Formula One.

Mark is a great driver; he is very fast, experienced and competitive in Formula One. He is also still very hungry, his pace relative to Sebastian Vettel is good and his love of the outdoors means he is one of the fittest drivers in Formula One. I don't think Mark is ready to turn his back on Formula One and I don't think he should either.

Mark's relationship with Vettel has never been the best, but they have raced together for a number of years now and had similar problems in the past. The trick will be for Red Bull Racing to not let it get out of control because two fighting drivers can be very bad for the team, so it's something Helmut Marko and Christian Horner need to be careful to manage correctly. One thing is for sure; it's hard to stop racing drivers from racing!.

Christian Klien

To check out previous features from Chrisitan, click here

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