F1: History beckons as tyres prove leveller
A little bit of history will be made in Monaco tomorrow provided that Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso, Nico Rosberg, Sebastian Vettel and Pastor Maldonado have the decency to avoid winning.
If Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen, Michael Schumacher, Mark Webber or Romain Grosjean emerge victorious, for the first time in Formula One history there will be a sixth different winner in the first six races of a campaign.
Only three times in the past 62 seasons have five different drivers won the opening five races -- Pedro Rodriguez, Denny Hulme, Jim Clark, Dan Gurney and Jack Brabham in 1967; Emerson Fittipaldi, Carlos Pace, Jody Scheckter, Jochen Mass and Niki Lauda in 1975; and Nelson Piquet, John Watson, Alain Prost, Patrick Tambay and Keke Rosberg in 1983.
Aerodynamic changes -- particularly the ban on double diffusers -- have levelled the playing field for 2012, but the real head-scratcher is finding the elusive sweet spot of Pirelli's tyres.
They operate in a very small window of optimal temperature, and are so sensitive that half a pound of pressure was the difference between Button struggling in Friday morning practice in Spain recently, and then dominating in the afternoon.
Small wonder the man with a reputation for being easy on his rubber said he just didn't understand why he couldn't better ninth place in the race.
"We are all terrified that somebody will unlock the secret and win everything," the McLaren driver said on Wednesday. "Unless, of course, that's us!"
Complicating the issue, the tyres' optimal operational condition can change from surface to surface and in different track and ambient temperatures, which is why none of the teams that have won races thus far -- McLaren, Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull and Williams -- have been able to duplicate their superiority elsewhere.
The situation has frustrated Schumacher, but Webber, the winner here in 2010, concedes that the artificial tyre situation has created a fascinating scenario for race fans. F1 is no longer predictable.
"When we had pit stops with refuelling, the races were extremely aggressive," said Webber.
"Then we went to no refuelling, so a little bit of an endurance aspect came into it in terms of driving style and pacing yourself.
"And then we had the change with the Pirellis and that's probably been the biggest change in driving technique in my career.
"There are a huge majority of races when the winners have not been driving at 100pc all the time, because you can't.
"You need to get the car to the end and produce the best lap times that you can for the duration. That's the way it is now. We always have to evolve as the technical side of the sport changes.
"Personally, I enjoyed the sprint races and refuelling, but the racing was not super-exciting. Now we have something that the fans are really enjoying."
(© Independent News Service)