There is a lot of discontent within the F1 paddock in 2014.
The unhappiest faces are perhaps those in the struggling lower half of the grid, angry that plans for a cost-saving budget cap were scrapped. But there are other reasons. Bernie Ecclestone and some circuit promoters are furious that the atmosphere at the grands prix is now much quieter. And it’s not just at the track. A few weeks ago, some alarming television ratings figures emerged showing that in key markets like Germany and Italy, significantly fewer people are tuning in. “I heard Monaco was 20 per cent down this year,” former driver turned commentator David Coulthard told AOL. “We have a responsibility to the fans.”
The sport has already acknowledged the sound issue, tinkering with an unseemly ‘megaphone’ exhaust attachment that ultimately didn’t work. But that’s not all. The latest discontent is not with the sound, but the actual speed of the cars. The problem is not necessarily the new, smaller, 1.6 litre V6 engines, which on the straights are even faster than the screaming V8s they replaced. The problem is the tyres, and not even ultra-dominant Mercedes are happy with the situation. “Nico (Rosberg) and Lewis (Hamilton) are probably a bit happier (than the rest) as they have a better package, but even if you speak to them privately they say the driving experience is not as pure as it was,” said Coulthard.
In Barcelona, the 2014 F1 car was on average more than 4 seconds slower than in 2013. The main blame there fell on new rules that have curbed downforce. On tight and twisty Monaco, however, the cars were also much slower than before, but the problem in the Principality was undoubtedly the tyres. A look at Sauber’s numbers is dramatic. At Ste Devote, cornering fell from 96kph in 2013 to just 90kph last weekend, while at the spectacular swimming pool, the cars shed 8kph in just a single season. Elsewhere, it was even worse: the fast Casino curve dropped by a massive 15kph, while at Tabac, F1 cars that had cornered at 149kph in 2013 were now doing just 135kph in 2014.
Pirelli has taken a much more conservative approach to 2014, following heavy criticism of its formerly ‘aggressive’ tyres of the past, including the calamitous 2013 season. The situation has been made even worse by a lack of track testing, with Pirelli moving to ensure its formerly delicate tyres can cope with the extremely high torque of the turbo V6s. But the result is an arguably much-too-hard tyre. “We could easily be using the compounds that we had in the second half of last season,” Felipe Massa is quoted by Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport.
Correspondent Michael Schmidt, however, said Pirelli is not ruling out making some mid-season corrections to its current design. “With only four compounds for all 19 circuits, we had to compromise,” the Italian supplier’s F1 boss Paul Hembery said. “We would have liked more options.” Schmidt reported: “Hembery is not ruling out changes within this season.”