Extra tyres pointless if no extra experience
News emerged earlier in the week that teams running a rookie driver at Friday morning practice sessions would be allocated an extra set of tyres. The initiative, slated to be implemented from the Spanish Grand Prix onwards, and inspired by Force India deputy team principal Bob Fernley, would see teams supplied with a set of a harder, more reliable Pirelli compound in order to entice more running.There has been a decent amount of discussion surrounding the proposal, with a number of comments made on the subject in the Sakhir paddock this weekend.The main idea spurring the proposal is to give rookies greater chance for track time.So far this season, three drivers without a regular race seat have run on a Friday morning, with Ma Quing Hua running for Caterham in China, and Rodolfo Gonzalez having a go for Marussia in Bahrain. Ex-Caterham driver Heikki Kovalinen returned from being a refugee, to also run on Friday for his former team, now employing him in a development role.Both Ma Quing Ha and Gonzalez failed to impress on their first outing, but that is to be expected. Confidence and experience can only come for these young drivers with time and opportunity. As the timeless adage says “practice makes perfect”.Esteban Gutierrez of Sauber is an example of a current driver on the grid who has had little opportunity for running in Formula One. He has struggled so far in his first season, finishing 13th in Australia, 12th in Malaysia and ended up retiring in China. The Mexican spent 2012 as a test driver for the team, and had virtually no chance for running.Sauber team principal Monisha Kaltenborn was supportive of her rookie when speaking in the Sakhir paddock on Friday. The first female team principal argued that while Esteban had the talent, having won the Formula BMW Europe series in 2008, and the GP3 series in 2010, he could hardly be blamed for his lack of experience.”We have been very convinced, and still are, of his talent, so it’s for us now to make sure that he has the surrounding that he can develop that.””Drivers like him, rookie drivers, it’s quite a dilemma, because they hardly have any opportunity to drive the car, especially in Esteban’s case, because he never got any Friday sessions from us.””The expectations are so high, and there are so few opportunities to actually make points, so it’s a difficult situation to handle.”Kaltenborn went on to argue that an extra set of tyres would offer teams an incentive to run young drivers on Fridays. She said, however, their use would have to be regulated as some teams may not take advantage of the extra rubber. If use of the extra Pirellis or not was free choice, the Sauber team principal could foresee that even her own outfit may pass up the chance.”I think it should be done in such a way that it should not just be an option. We see it with ourselves, if you have already a rookie driver who is one of your regular race drivers, do you really want to take away time from them to get another one in?””On the other hand it’s extremely important as we can see with such drivers, that, if they have more opportunities, they’re simply better prepared.”Friday morning practice sessions of late have been characterized by a lack of running in the first thirty minutes, providing little entertainment for the fans lining the grandstands and those watching at home. Monisha went on to acknowledge this, saying that an extra set of tyres for the teams would be beneficial for the fans.”Apart from all this is the show element. You maybe can make it more exciting and get more cars to run. It could overall have a very good impact.”Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali was also in favour of an extra set of tyres for the teams on a Friday morning, however believed their use should not only be limited to rookies.”It would be difficult to explain to the people that are on the grandstand that Mr X has an extra set of tyres to run, and Alonso, Hamilton, whoever is not running, [is not] because that extra set of tyres is just for the rookie.”McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh echoed his Ferrari counterpart’s sentiments.”I think they come to see Alonso, Hamilton, Räikkönen, Button – that’s who they want to see. I think if we all put out rookie drivers they’ve not heard of, I think they’d feel cheated in some way.”Domenicali and Whitmarsh have a valid argument; it indeed is the Fernando Alonsos, the Lewis Hamiltons and the Kimi Räikkönens who are the drawcards who bring crowds through the gates and draw viewers to TV screens. Formula One, however, has a duty to nurture its upcoming talent. It’s drivers like Esteban Gutiérrez who will move on up to fill the race seats of the top tier outfits.Formula One teams are unfortunately often narrow sighted and only see the short term picture, as opposed to the long term. An extra set of tyres to allow more running in Friday practice should only be implemented as per the original proposal, and should restricted only to teams running a young driver.If all teams are allocated an extra set of tyres, then the purpose of the proposal is resoundingly defeated. While we might see more running with teams having extra rubber on hand to use, it doesn’t guarantee that rookies will gain that all important track time to build up their experience.Unfortunately, if this proposal comes to fruition in Barcelona, it will need to be regulated as the teams simply are unable to do the policing themselves.If there is an extra set of the Pirelli compound provided to teams on a Friday morning, the sport as a whole must reach a consensus on exactly how the extra rubber is to be used. If the extra tyres are available to all drivers, then we are returned to exactly where we started. There needs to be a definitive approach that takes into consideration both the entertainment of the fans and the development of Formula One’s up and coming stars.