What Can We Learn From the Russian GP?

After watching Nico Rossberg travel one lap on flat-spotted tires (tyres), changing to a new set and being able to complete the race with no more tire changes you have to wonder just how much are tires rigged to wear out.  The commentators felt that the Sochi Autodrome had a new and very smooth surface so it did not cause tire wear that is typical and causes race strategies to take into account more than one tire stop.

But if Pirelli can have a race tire that can easily last a full race without the often seen issues of heat degradation, blistering, etc., and performance that varies (sometimes drastically) from lap to lap – then what is stopping Pirelli from just supplying the perfect tire?

Does this mean that Pirelli can create a tire for each track that can last a race?  Since Pirelli had no experience with the Sochi track it appears that might be so.  If that is the case and Pirelli did (or was allowed by F1) provide long-lasting, grippy tires the races would be quite different.

In one aspect this season’s races have not been that different.  Mercedes won this race, and secured the constructor’s championship.  Mercedes powered F1 cars have dominated the 2014 season.  While Mercedes should be commended for what they have achieved, it certainly appears that they have enjoyed an “unfair advantage”.  How is that you say?  Well, F1 regulations put a freeze on engine modifications/engineering improvements once the season commences.  This means that Renault and Ferrari are stuck with what they have for all the races with the exception of some limited ECU tuning.  The power unit manufacturers can continue to develop their engines and power recovery units, they just cannot implement the improvements until the next season.  While Mercedes plays by the same rules it also means that they can make further improvements and continue to stay ahead.

So what’s wrong with that? It means that any changes made by the power unit manufacturers will no be exposed to the real racing environment and by the time they are introduced the teams will be stuck with the problems they encounter.

Especially with this year’s new power unit rules development is an iterative process that does not flourish in a stop-start schedule of 12 months.  I content that it would be far more exciting for the fans and provide a much more competitive environment if the manufacturers could continue with engineering advancements on the power units just as they can on the body/chassis designs.

Mercedes domination was clearly illustrated by Nico when he pitted on the first lap, changed tires and then was able to blast his way through the field to second place.  This was against not just the Red Bull Renault team, but the other Mercedes powered teams.  They are that good.

Factor in all the regulation constraints on the rest of the cars and F1 is dangerously edging toward a spec series and we all know what that can do to fan interest.  Mercedes has invested over $517 million on its power unit development.  Compare that to another $304 million spent to run the team itself.  That’s a huge investment with a big payoff and twice what they spent three years ago. So Mercedes is not interested in allowing power unit improvements during the season.

That will work until a competitor figures out how to leapfrog them and gains the competitive edge.

Oh yeah, and Honda is entering the fray next year, too.

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One Response to What Can We Learn From the Russian GP?

  1. Offbrand Dominance says:

    This was the first race at Sochi, Pirelli misjudged the tires and they lasted too long. Yes, Pirelli basically design a set of rains, softs, mediums, and hards, for every single track. Everyone gets mad at Pirelli because their tires don’t last long, but they seem to forget that the FIA (and more specifically Bernie Ecclestone) were the ones that set forth that design requirement. He thought that there was not enough overtaking in F1, so he added in tires that degraded quickly, KERS, DRS, and potentially unreliable engines, all to create an atmosphere of suspense and create more drama for “fans”.
    The lesson from Sochi should be that Mercedes have, in essence, paid to win. And they have begun a spending race, the FIA will soon have to implement more spending caps.

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