- Associated Press - Monday, October 3, 2011

PARIS (AP) - Sebastian Vettel and his Red Bull aside, the star of this Formula One season has been Pirelli for being brave enough to supply teams with tires that wear out cleverly _ something easier said than done.

No offense intended, but Vettel has sucked the suspense out of the driver’s championship by being so successful.

Starting on pole for 11 of the 14 races and winning nine of them, he has left only crumbs for everyone else. Since Vettel needs just one more point to do it, you can all but bet the house that the young German will win the world title in Japan next weekend, effectively making dead-rubbers of the last four races in Korea, India, Abu Dhabi and Brazil.

In years past, when nothing much happened in too many F1 races, that might have been our cue to switch off the TV and turn to more interesting pursuits like watching grass grow or paint dry.

But not this season. The paradox is that even as Vettel stormed away, more often than not, the racing behind him has still been too enthralling to miss.

Thanks, Pirelli.

The easier and arguably safer path for the Italian manufacturer would have been to supply F1 with tires that just ran on and on, that wouldn’t lose grip and speed, wouldn’t need changing in a race. After all, who wants to be associated with a product that doesn’t last?

But that would have been zero fun.

Instead, at risk of staining its reputation with potentially bad publicity, Pirelli accepted the challenge of delivering tires that would wear out after roughly 10 or 20 laps (depending on the type used), forcing drivers to pit more and to use their brains to fit the right tire at the right time.

Tires, in other words, packed full of key ingredients for good entertainment _ interest, action and uncertainty.

We have been treated to the sight of world-class drivers struggling to control their cars and dramatically losing speed as their tires wore out. We have seen them caught by drivers with fresher tires. The chess game of tire strategy has brought the entire field alive. Some purists may find it silly to deliberately throw a spanner in the works of such finely engineered cars by fitting them with such capricious tires. But the result has been a more absorbing spectacle.

The same goes for the overtaking aid _ a go-fast moveable rear wing _ fitted to F1 cars this season. F1’s governing body has got the balance with those about right. The wings generally haven’t made overtaking stupidly easy, which would have undermined the credibility of the racing. But nor is overtaking as ridiculously difficult as it too often was without them.

Together, the tires, the wings and the electric power booster that many teams use have all combined to give F1 the extra oomph it so badly needed.

Which is good because Pirelli could have switched to a more conservative approach if the gamble it took with the tires had backfired. Thankfully, it didn’t.

“We always had a plan B,” Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery said in a telephone interview. “We could have run in very quickly with tires that lasted the whole race. We prepared ourselves for all eventualities. … If we felt that the public didn’t buy into it, or the sport didn’t buy into it, and it wasn’t working, we could have just gone back to what had been termed before as ‘boring.’”

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