Formula One racing used to be a game of follow the leader. Most tracks had few passing zones, and some (like Monaco) made passing nearly impossible. The best way to assure a podium finish just a few years back was to start with a pole position from qualifying. Start mid pack or worse, and you were virtually guaranteed to end the race in a similar position. The changes implemented for the 2012 season (tires, KERS and the DRS rear wing) have changed the face of F1, and who wins a particular race is most likely to be determined by who manages their tires the best. Even KERS has played a role this year, much to the dismay of Red Bull Renault’s Mark Webber. While his teammate, Sebastian Vettel, has successfully used KERS in every race, Webber’s own KERS failure has resulted in some epically bad starts this season.
The changes haven’t gone unnoticed by Red Bull team manager Christian Horner, who told the Sunday Times, “It makes you question the value of qualifying. Now the cars can overtake and with such a big difference between old and new tires, we are going to have to reassess at each track how important it is to get to the front of the grid. Our strategists will look at how we should be structuring our race weekends.”
Webber proved how critical tire management was in Shanghai, where he started from 18th on the grid but managed a third place finish. A dismal qualifying effort excluded him from Q2 qualifying, preserving an extra set of soft tires for the actual race. Teams may not be willing to forgo qualifying entirely, but look for tire management to play an increasingly important role in the 2011 F1 season.