Here we are again. Shades of Silverstone 2013 and the uproar over Pirelli tyres rages again. Folowing his penultimate lap tyre failure, Sebastian Vettel has implied that the F1 tyres are ‘unsafe’; ‘badly designed’ and Pirelli are supposedly incompetent.
Vettel’s frustration following the Belgium GP is understandable, though to some it appears he is developing a sense of entitlement due to his early successes in the sport. The once dominant German in his Newey designed cars is now driving a Ferrari, which is inferior by some measure to the Mercedes cars at the head of the field.
Sebastian qualified a lowly ninth for the race – yet due to a unique attempt at running the tyres longer than any other driver – combined with a one stop strategy, the quadruple F1 champion found himself in third position during the closing stages of the 2015 race in Spa.
With less than ten miles to go – Vettel’s right rear tyre gave up the ghost early in the 42nd lap which meant he would fail to score points, finishing outside the top ten.
Lee Mckenzie of the BBC asked Vettel whether Ferrari were being too greedy in trying to run the tyre as long as they did, but Sebastian was adamant this was not the case: “How many laps I was missing? Not many,” he reflected.
“Things like that are not allowed to happen, full stop. If it happens 200 metres earlier I’m not standing here now I’m doing 300 stuck in Eau Rouge.”
“I don’t know what else needs to happen,” Vettel added.
McKenzie pressed the matter suggesting Ferrari had run the tyre longer than anyone else, however Vettel interrupted her stating: “What’s upsetting is one thing the result: this is racing, for sure we deserved to finish on the podium. But the other thing as I said is if this happens earlier…. I don’t… I think it’s the sort of theme that keeps going around, nobody’s mentioning, but it’s unacceptable.”
Vettel and other drivers had raised concerns with Charlie Whiting over the tyres on Friday and McKenzie asked Vettel whether Whiting had taken their opinions seriously; he replied: “I think it was, but what’s the answer?
Same as every time – ‘there was a cut from debris, there may be something wrong with the bodywork, the driver went wide’ – bullshit.”
Sebastian added, “If Nico tells us that he didn’t go off the track, he didn’t go off the track. Why should he lie to us?”
“Same with me I didn’t go off the track it’s just out of the blue, the tyre explodes. And as I said, if this happens – I’m fucked”
However, Vettel’s assertion regarding track limits is disingenuous beyond belief and he should watch back the video of the race. Of the 43 laps, he ran illegally wide more than 50% of the time at Radillon, putting the tyres under pressure and at risk of debris damage – for which the rubber is not designed.
Interestingly, there was a sausage kerb installed at Radillon prior to the race weekend, but the drivers complained about this on Friday saying it could launch a car into the air – so it was subsequently removed. This led to track limits being breached time and again during the race by a significant number of the drivers. However, the race stewards appeared to have been otherwise engaged.
The failure to punish the track limit breaches was at complete odds with rulings made in Austria and Silverstone this year. The lackadaisical approach of race control was evident in that it was almost ten laps before the stewards realised Valtteri Bottas’ car had illegally been fitted with a mixed compound of tyres at his first pit stop.
It is clearly time to appoint a body of professional F1 race stewards who deliver consistent judgements. The gin slinging grace and favour FIA delegates who support Jean Todt and are currently appointed to adjudicate in F1 events – must be consigned to history.
And for the record. The longest race stint this year on the medium tyre at circuits where the loading is high was done by a much slower Manor car at Silverstone – 212 km. Vettel was attempting 210 km.
Rosberg ran the longest in Barcelona on the medium compound but managed just 138 km and Massa delivered 172 km in Bahrain on the same tyre.
A loss of perspective is often the case in Formula 1 in the heat of the moment. Given the plethora of engine and chassis component failures each F1 race weekend when compared to the number of tyre failures – Pirelli appear to be doing a stella job.
But shit happens.
Maybe the tyre was in fact faulty – so what?
Tens of thousands of F1 tyres are made each year by Pirelli; the odd faulty tyre is not an unreasonable expectation – but this tyre was being pushed beyond the known boundaries of its previous usage which tells a tale in itself. And when something is on the limit, unpredictable results often occur.
The fact that Paul Hembery had expressed an opinion that the medium tyre may be capable of 40 laps in Spa is irrelevant.
An ICE is designed to last and should be capable of 5 races – but frequently isn’t.
This is not Indianapolis 2005. It is a Vettel crisis alone.
Had this tyre failure happened on a Manor car – it would be a by-line in the race report. But this tyre failure meant the great Sebastian Vettel lost third place – so it is a big issue – for some.
As was the case in 2013 when teams were running tyre pressures lower than recommended by Pirelli along with aggressive camber outside of the advised envelope, today the former world champion was guilty of using the tyres in a manner for which they were not designed. Lap after lap driving beyond the white line, is not part of the circuit – and for that, Pirelli can not be held culpable.
Pirelli have struggled with teams pushing the limits on tyre usage and blaming the Italian tyre manufacturer when failures occur, so Pirelli issued the following statement late on Sunday evening.
“In November 2013, Pirelli requested that there should be rules to govern the maximum number of laps that can be driven on the same set of tyres, among other parameters to do with correct tyre usage. This request was not accepted. The proposal put forward a maximum distance equivalent to 50% of the grand prix distance for the prime tyre and 30% for the option. These conditions, if applied today at Spa, would have limited the maximum number of laps on the medium compound to 22”.
If the teams want ‘guaranteed’ safety limits on tyre use – Pirelli will surely be delighted to advise them accordingly – and the limit will be conservative, just as it was above.
But pushing the boundaries is what F1 is all about.
In conclusion, one F1 site reported that this tyre issue is putting drivers lives on the line.
To coin a phrase – “Bullshit”.
The only death in F1 since Senna has been the result of incompetence by the FIA. And the reality is that next time up in Monza, Ferrari will think twice about running the medium tyre for over 200 km.