It is now almost 20 years since Pirelli scored its most recent grand prix victory. Then, Nelson Piquet’s Benetton-Ford took a lucky victory in the 1991 Canadian GP at Montreal after Nigel Mansell’s Michelin-shod Williams ground to a halt on the very last lap.
Now the famous Italian tyre brand is back on the grand prix beat, having last week completed a two day inaugural test at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina circuit.
So where does Pirelli rank in terms of grand prix victories already scored? Well, a rather modest six out of eight among the winners of world championship qualifying rounds. Although the statistics are slightly scrambled by the fact that Firestone’s 11 wins at the Indy 500 between 1950 and 60 are counted as qualifying, the Brickyard classic at that time being a round of the world championship.
So, taking that into account, the statistics as they stand this week are: Goodyear, 368 wins; Bridgestone, 175 wins; Michelin, 93 wins; Dunlop, 83 wins; Firestone, 49 wins; Pirelli, 42 wins; and Continential and Englebert on 10 wins apiece.
Of course, some of these wins were achieved under monopoly supply conditions, others during the course of an unridled tyre war between two or more manufacturers.
Pirelli, of course, was the leading tyre supplier at the dawn of the official world championship in 1950, supplying its products to Alfa Romeo, Ferrari and Maserati before having a 28-year break before Nelson Piquet won the 1985 French GP at Paul Ricard at the wheel of a Bernie Ecclestone-owned Brabham-BMW.
This, of course, will be the first time that Pirelli will have been F1’s exclusive tyre supplier and whether that is a good thing or not depends to a large extent whether you are a die-hard traditionalist or a pragmatist.
The former will advance the view that F1 is the sport’s ultimate attraction and unfettered competition – be it tyres, engines or aerodynamics – should attract the least restriction possible, while the latter take the view that an unrestricted tyre war would see lap time spiralling out of control to the point that circuit safety would be badly compromised.
I can quite understand the former viewpoint, but I personally subscribe to the latter view, believing it is important to keep some sort of realistic tyre performance cap in place, even if it’s not written in so many words.
On the other hand, quite how a tyre supplier makes a convincing promotional case from a monopoly situation leaves me slightly baffled. Granted, you project a high-technology image, but is that enough when you have no rivals to beat?