🇭🇺 F1'23: R11 - Another dose of rubber chunks

Tyres again played a central role in who finished where in Hungary. But while it worked well on Saturday, it made Sunday pedestrian by comparison.

It was another story of Red Bull’s complete and total domination - or at least Max Verstappen - as the Dutch driver won his seventh race in a row, and a record 12th in a row for the team. Sergio Perez came in third, with Norris taking consecutive podiums for the first time in his career. 

But while Sunday was somewhat pedestrian in terms of excitement, it was Saturday that brought out the biggest storylines, with Pirelli bringing in something called the Alternative Tyre Allocation.

Here’s a man from Pirelli to tell you how it works:

The goal behind the alternative tyre allocation is sustainability, which is clearly important for a sport that is going to attempt consecutive weekends in Baku and Singapore in 2024, and go from Las Vegas to Qatar during the end of season run-in. Sustainable.

But this does takes thousands of tyres off the road and off planes if it gets voted through. This was originally meant to take place as a trial in Imola, but was rained off. So Hungary became the first place where teams were given 11 sets of slick tyres instead of 13. Eight x 20 tyres saved per race over 24 races would mean 3,840 tyres not travelling, and if one tyre is 10kg, than that’s 38,400kgs less freight. 

This is a sidenote, but Sainsbury’s once made their toilet rolls shorter in height by 1mm, and the change saved them £1m a year. Anyway, I digress, and this is clearly the best part of the blog to put the subscribe notice in.

My initial thought was that forcing drivers onto the same compound for each part of qualifying would neutralise it and put the bigger teams through, as traditionally less competitive teams would be unable to put on a joker set of softs and try and get through to the next stage.

Instead, we got a couple of surprises, with George Russell going out in 18th, and Carlos Sainz losing out in Q2, mixing up the grid a little bit. It was also refreshing to see Alfa Romeo, who drive around somewhat anonymously, to get both cars into Q3, with Zhou Guanyu getting onto row 3, even if a terrible start meant he wasn’t able to showcase the car’s strength in Hungary’s warm weather and slow speed corners. 

And this was the problem, really. Teams had adapted almost too well to the allocation by the time Sunday rolled around. No one “ran out” of tyres or were forced to run a strategy they couldn’t drive with the top five teams in the Constructors’ championship all getting double points finishes, and nothing for the bottom five teams.

This was good news for the likes of Alpine, who lost ground to McLaren, but didn’t see anyone in the bottom half get closer to sixth.

This was posted before the race, and nothing since from the team after Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon crashed out in the first corner. It was not their fault this time, but it was their fourth double pointless finish of the season. McLaren have actually had more double zeros this season with five, but the changes they’ve made had revolutionised the team, focusing on their car.

It was a far cry from Hungary 2021, when Ocon won a chaotic race for his first race victory. There is potential in Alpine, but the whole field (behind Red Bull) is so compressed now that these small mistakes won’t go unpunished and it only takes - say Williams - to go on a bit of a hot streak before they start making internal personnel changes etc.

So while McLaren are the latest hot team, it’s interesting to go backwards four months and the buzz around Aston Martin and their consecutive podiums. I even wrote about the green monster here.

Where are they now? Aston Martin have not developed as much, while McLaren and Mercedes (who they buy a lot of parts from) have poured their resources into developing their cars. Instead, they seem to be in that third tier behind them and maybe level with the Ferrari’s, who continue to shoot themselves in the foot.

But with Aston Martin, Fernando Alonso offered an explanation, and again, it’s to do with Pirelli

“Also it is a coincidence that when the new Pirelli tyres came in Silverstone there are a couple of teams that were struggling more, and a couple of teams that are very happy with the car now.

“It’s not only us, I think Red Bull has clearly been hit with those tyres, they’ve been one-two in every qualifying, one-two in every race, and now they are not even on pole position.

Fernando Alonso, speaking to F1 media - reported by Planet F1

The tyres are exceptionally important in F1 (more insight soon) but this weekend has felt like Pirelli have done exceptionally well on the alternative selection in qualifying, but found seriously wanting when it comes to the race. Qualifying was electric, but the race was poor by comparison. 

It’s difficult, however, to find a way to improve it, based on what they’ve done. A few years ago, the sport had a rule where the top 10 had to start the race on the rubber they qualified on, and perhaps forcing the top half of the grid to start on soft tyres would be interesting.

Maybe the teams at the top should be given one fewer set of tyres or something, but that misses the point of Pirelli - they’re meant to be the neutral arbitrator in a way. Everyone has to race on their product, so it’s up to how hard the different cars treat their tyres and prevent giant chunks of rubber flying off.

We’ll see that allocation again in Monza, almost the polar opposite of Hungary, with the fastest track on the calendar having fewer available Pirelli tyres there. We might also have more clarity on 2024’s allocations. Pirelli are the only game in town, but cast your mind back to 1997-2006 and the tyre wars.

F1 used to have multiple tyre suppliers, with Goodyear vs Bridgestone and Bridgestone vs Michelin before Bridgestone took on the role of sole supplier from 2007-2010. Pirelli took over then, but now, the Japanese firm have reportedly expressed an interest in coming back to the F1 circus from 2025.

The sport doesn’t seem to have the appetite for a war anymore, preferring the cost savings that one supplier brings, and the lack of drama that is sometimes created by one supplier being dominant over the other - or in some cases, not being able to race at all.

 There’s one race to go before the summer shutdown, with Belgium taking a place on the calendar on this side of the year. Red Bull have won 12 in a row, dating back to Abu Dhabi 2022 and including every race so far in 2023. However, while it seems they could drive on Fred Flintstone-style square rocks and still be competitive, how everyone else ekes out the performance from their allocation is big - perhaps too big a differentiator - in who else stands on the podium next to Max Verstappen.

 

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