The clash is tough, and on many fronts. The dualism between Red Bull and Mercedes holds the ground, and will do so for a long time, considering the balance of values on the field seen in the first six races. As always happens in these cases, a protracted dualism progressively broadens the range of action, and in the case of the 2021 season, the track moved quickly to the paddock.
First to market blows, with Red Bull drawing heavily on the Mercedes engine department, then on the technical front, with the controversial issue of flexible wings.
Time to dismiss the issue (the FIA will introduce new verification criteria from the next race) and a new case emerges, namely the issue of tire pressures.
Pirelli and the International Federation are expected to make public the outcome of the investigation launched after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in the next few hours, but the controversy has already begun after the advances that emerged yesterday.
What seemed like a foregone examination (which should have blamed the debris as the cause of the tire blowout of Max Verstappen and Lance Stroll) will actually shed light on a very different context, which points the finger at tire pressure in the race regime.
It is a question that is anything but unprecedented for Formula 1, just remember (without going too far back in time) the cases of 2013 and 2016, the subject of comparisons, even tense, between Pirelli and some teams.
Doubts about the second sets …
After the five tire bursts that occurred in the 2013 British Grand Prix, Pirelli requested and obtained the inclusion in the regulation that obliges teams to respect a minimum tire pressure at the start of the race, defined by the Milanese company itself as a depending on the type of route.
This value (which in Baku was 20 psi for the rear tires) is checked on a sample basis on the starting grid by an FIA employee (test done with a pressure gauge while the tire is still in the electric blanket) and the legislation provides that at any time a representative of the International Federation can have access for the same check in the pits in the other sets available for the competition.
The problem is that at the moment this check is done very rarely, to the point that in the paddock there are those who claim to have never seen it, raising the doubt that in the second sets mounted in the race the pressure value may not be that indicated by Pirelli. .
“To give an idea of what the relationship of forces between the FIA technicians and the teams is today – confided an insider – it is as if there were ten security officers to check 70,000 people at a concert …”.
An FIA investment is needed
The situation could be more under control next season, when the new technical regulation will come into force which among the “common parts” has also included the tire valves, currently non-standard and therefore different between the various teams. But a strengthening of the FIA organization chart will still be needed, which at the moment foresees two people in each box but made available by the ASNs that host the Grand Prix, therefore personnel not used to grasping the most sensitive moments and operations, which could instead be identified more easily by permanent staff.
And in terms of ‘sensitive’ fronts, the tire is undoubtedly one of the greatest, especially when the competition on the track is very close like this season. The optimal use of the tires guarantees margins of three or four tenths per lap, a window in which the teams invest a lot.
A tighter check will also be needed to check the gas with which the tires are inflated, and in general everything that can be used to remove any doubts about compliance with the rules.
In the early 2000s the tire situation escaped the control of the FIA, with teams engaged in experimenting with gases that expanded less with rising temperatures and valves that regulated pressure, managing to maintain a constant value throughout the race.
After being caught off guard, the International Federation ran for cover, clearly prohibiting what the teams had managed to do with huge investments. It is the history of Formula 1, research is advancing but it must be halted before it degenerates, and that is what we will see in the coming months.