Giancarlo Fisichella tells Ben Griffin that Pirelli’s controversial new tyres make the sport more interesting.
Formula 1 has changed significantly over the years. In its most current form, a car’s performance is governed not by its engine or its aerodynamics, nor the man who pilots it, but by how quickly it eats through its tyres. Rather than showing us their true speed, the world’s fastest drivers now resemble glorified, fleshy cruise control units that guide their cars to prescribed lap times in a desperate bid to keep their fragile Pirelli rubber from falling apart.
It is, in many fans eyes, a farce, but that view isn’t shared by ex-Formula 1 driver Giancarlo Fisichella. Speaking to us at the recent Shell V-Power Nitro+ launch event at London’s Battersea Power Station, the one-time Ferrari driver says he sees little wrong with the current state of affairs, claiming the tyre situation actually enhances the spectacle. “I don’t think it’s something wrong with Pirelli. I think somebody wants this. Following the race, it looks more interesting,” he told us.
Fisichella’s view is unlikely to be shared by many drivers who still ply their trade in the paddock, least of all Lewis Hamilton. When the former world champion was asked to preserve his tyres during the 2013 Spanish F1 Grand Prix, his response was telling: “I’ve just been overtaken by a Williams,” he said. “I can’t go any slower.”
Pirelli’s frail rubber has, on numerous occasions this season, dictated whether drivers should even bother racing each other. McLaren driver Sergio Perez will not have been best pleased when, as he was closing in on his team mate, Jenson Button, during the closing stages of the Spanish grand Prix, he was warned that trying to pass his rival was a bad idea. Actually engaging in a race, it was suggested, would result in damaged tyres and the likelihood both drivers would finish further down the grid.
Fisichella is philosophical about the effect of Pirelli’s tyres on team orders, too. “It’s not easy to manage the tyres this season,” he said. “The tyres really affect the behaviour of the car, especially when it rains, you can lose three or four seconds per lap. You need to be gentle on driving, you need to save the tyres. It’s very important.”
“In a race you are so concentrating to do your best, you need to be focussed, you need to be fit. Obviously try to make as few mistakes as possible. In the meantime, think to save the tyres, the engine ─ basically do your best.”
For many drivers, doing your best simply isn’t good enough. If a modern F1 team can’t wrap their enormous brains around the black art of rubber chemistry from the white-walled confines of their expensive laboratories, and the makers of the rubber seem baffled about how their tyres will perform, what hope does a man in a cockpit have? These are hurdles that, at present, seem too enormous to overcome.
Fisichella’s Ferrari family seem to be making the best of a highly confusing situation, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa having secured first and third place, respectively, in the Spanish F1 grand prix. It’s no surprise, then, the Italian is somewhat partisan in his expectations for the drivers’ and constructors’ championships. “Well it’s difficult to say [who will win]. The last couple of years until the end of the season was challenging.
“This year, for Ferrari, the starting position is much better than the last couple of seasons and last race Fernando – he won the race – looks promising, encouraging. I would say Ferrari.”
Giancarlo’s love for the Scuderia still burns bright. Here is a man that no longer competes at the pinnacle of motorsport, instead plying his trade as a driver for AF Corse, an Italian racing team with strong links to the Ferrari mothership. Given the state of modern F1, perhaps he’s not missing an awful lot.
“I’m really happy about what I’m doing now. I’m still with the Ferrari family, which has been my dream since I was young. Even if the result wasn’t great, I’m happy about that.
“Since 2010, I’ve been doing the [European Le Mans Series] endurance race. Last year we won the championship, we won Le Mans, and the season has just started at Silverstone. The race was not good for us as we finished fifth, but I enjoy what I am doing and really looking forward this season. The 458, our car, looks strong.”
Is there anything he wishes he’d done differently? “No, I’m happy,” is his response. “I raced for many, many years in Formula 1 and I raced for different teams. I’m happy about what I have done so far.
“With the life and the sport there are ups and downs. You need to keep going, you need to push.”
Wise words, but one can’t help but feel a slight sense of irony. From what we’ve seen so far in modern F1, the more a driver pushes, the slower he goes.