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Seven races into the 2012 Formula One season and the words on everybody’s lips are “tyre lottery”.
Pirelli’s unpredictable tyre wear has produced a different winner in every round of this year’s championship so far, and brought some unlikely new visitors to the podium. At face value this sounds like motor-racing nirvana, especially against last year’s predictable season where it became clear quite early on that Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel was going to run away with the title.
At this point of the 2011 championship Vettel had won five of the seven races and enjoyed a commanding 60-point lead over his nearest challenger, in sharp contrast to this year where the top four drivers are separated by just nine points and the championship lead changes after almost every race.
But there’s also the first sense of discomfort starting to creep in, and a feeling that perhaps too many different winners could become too much of a good thing. Behind this blip of doubt is the prospect of the Drivers’ and Constructor’s World championships going to the team that lucks into the best tyre-management strategy, rather than the one with the best driver/car package.
PUTTING SLOWER CARS IN FRONT OF FASTER ONES
The way this year’s Pirelli tyres tend to degrade almost instantaneously when they come to the end of their operating cycle (‘falling off a cliff’ is the expression the TV commentators like to use) has often mixed up the order and put slower cars in front of faster ones. This was pointedly demonstrated when the tyres on Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus cried quits in the Chinese GP in April and he dropped from second to 11th place in just one lap; and more recently in the Canadian GP a fortnight ago where Fernando Alonso’s worn-tyred Ferrari dropped from first to fifth place in the closing stages.
That said, a tyre lottery could be just what’s needed to spice things up at this Sunday’s European Grand Prix at Valencia, a circuit notorious for delivering dull and processional races. Last year, even with the 25-corner track operating two DRS overtaking zones, the number of passes involving the frontrunners could be counted on the fingers of one hand. This year we can expect probably even less on-track overtaking as there will be only a single DRS zone, so teams’ managing of pit-stops to combat tyre degradation is likely to produce the bulk of the interest.
Because of the difficulty of overtaking, the emphasis will also be on qualifying.
Based on the topsy-turvy season thus far, there are any number of drivers in contention for pole position and victory. If we’re to stay with the programme and have an eighth different winner, Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher, along with Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean, are three top runners who have yet to stand on the top step. Sauber are also in the mix after Sergio Perez has twice stood on the podium this year and narrowly missed winning the Malaysian GP in March. - Star Motoring