Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone has backed a demand from drivers for higher-performance tyres.
He informed BBC Sport “most drivers” had told him they wanted a shift away from the current tyres, on which they can rarely push to the limit.
Ecclestone said he agreed “a million per cent” that F1 should be about the cars and drivers flat out at all times.
“I have already told Pirelli that,” said the 85-year-old, adding it would be discussed at a meeting next month.
However, he defended F1’s supplier Pirelli and said the teams were making its life difficult by refusing to agree on an adequate testing programme to develop the tyres.
“The bottom line is Pirelli supply the tyres in F1, they are the tyres we should use and the teams and drivers should work with Pirelli to perfect the tyres,” Ecclestone said.
What has prompted Ecclestone’s comments?
Ecclestone’s remarks come in the wake of Grand Prix Drivers’ Association chairman Alexander Wurz telling BBC Sport earlier this week that the drivers wanted to “help and support Pirelli to construct a tyre fit for maximum-attack racing”.
The drivers’ intervention came amid concerns among senior figures in F1 that problems with the tyres could undermine planned rule changes for 2017 aimed at making the cars faster and more dramatic.
These have already been watered down after Pirelli said its current tyres could not cope with the increased car performance without being run at what teams would consider extreme pressures.
One senior insider told BBC Sport on condition of anonymity that the tyres, and Pirelli’s refusal to say anything was wrong, “are a big problem – and people are really upset”.
This has led to the organisation of a meeting at Pirelli headquarters in Milan on 2 February which will feature all major stakeholders – Ecclestone, governing body the FIA and the teams.
“Whatever drivers want to turn up can turn up,” Ecclestone said. “Whatever teams want to turn up can turn up. It will be the president of Pirelli who is there, not a messenger.”
Pirelli’s tyres for the 2016 season, which starts in Australia on 20 March, have already been designed and will have the same characteristics as in recent years.
But beyond that Pirelli motorsport boss Paul Hembery said: “We are prepared to do what is required by the sport, but those requirements need to align between drivers, teams and the promoter.
“We need clear direction – and going forward from there we need to extensively test any solutions.”
Backing calls for testing
Although Pirelli signed up to F1 on the basis of there being restrictions on testing, Ecclestone said the teams were putting the company in an impossible position by their reluctance to test development tyres.
He added: “What I’ve said, and what they’re going to do now, is: ‘I want to see the top three teams and their top drivers developing the tyres.’ I want someone who can drive on the limit who can come back with an answer.
“That is what is going to happen for sure. Pirelli agree with me 100%. That’s what they have asked for – a top team with top drivers, not a team that can’t push to the limit and certainly not a driver who can’t.”
Backing Pirelli for F1’s future
Pirelli’s contract expires at the end of 2016 and Ecclestone announced at the Russian Grand Prix last October that it had beaten rival Michelin to the new supplying term, from 2017-19.
But, asked about claims that the new deal was not yet signed, Ecclestone said: “It has been agreed. I don’t know whether I have signed, or it’s signed.
“The funny thing with the president of Pirelli and myself, we shake hands on something and that is like a signature as far as I am concerned and as far as he is.”
And Ecclestone admitted: “Some teams would like to go to another tyre company – Michelin in particular.”
But he said he rejected Michelin’s bid because “they wanted to run F1 – they wanted to say exactly how everything should be run”.
But he added that he was worried the criticism of Pirelli could drive the company away from F1.
“Assume it wasn’t the sort of relationship I have with these people; assume it was a normal chief executive,” Ecclestone said. “They might be saying: ‘Well, if these people don’t want our tyres, I’ll tell you what we’re going to do, we’re not going to make them.
“‘So, what, it’s January now? Go and find a tyre company who is going to do all the things you want, where you’re going to tell them what you want and you are not going to test unless you want to.’
“I’m frightened that might happen. It would be impossible.”
What’s causing the problem?
Pirelli became F1’s tyre supplier in 2011 with a commission from Ecclestone to ensure multiple pit stops in races.
The mechanism it has chosen to do this is a phenomenon called ‘thermal degradation’. This means that if the tyre goes beyond a certain temperature it is permanently damaged and will never come back to its original performance.
Drivers have to cope with this by ensuring the tyres never reach that threshold – which means driving well below their maximum performance for the vast majority of a race. Sometimes, they cannot even push flat out throughout a single qualifying lap.
Ecclestone denied that he had ever asked Pirelli to produce a tyre with thermal degradation.
“What I asked Pirelli to do was to produce a tyre that could probably do 50% of the race and then obviously we will get a couple of pit stops,” he said.
He added: “The tyres go off, which is good, and people have to come in and change them.”
But he also said: “The drivers should go on their own. When the lights go out, they should be as quick as they can to win the race.”