For those F1 fans with memories of the sport stretching back way before Drive to Survive took to the airwaves, this weekends Grand Prix in Qatar revised memories of one of the sport’s most embarrassing days in history.
At the 2005 USA Grand Prix held at the world famous Indianapolis International Speedway, the entire grid was set for the formation lap and at its conclusion, all but six cars pulled into the pits and retired before the start of the race.
The reason? Tyre safety concerns.
F1 Tyre woes at the Brickyard
During this era, Formula One had two official tyre suppliers who competed to provide their teams with the most competitive rubber compounds. However, following a number of tyre failures on Friday practice for those running the Michelin rubber which included a major incident for Ralph Schumacher in his Toyota, Michelin advised its teams their tyres were only good for 10 laps and would then most likely explode.
The FIA had changed the rules for 2005, banning in race tyre changes this added to the fact a section of the oval had been repaved found out the French companies F1 tyre design which was declared unsafe.
Michelin appealed to the FIA to insert a chicane into the banked area around turn thirteen where the G-Forces were at their greatest stating their teams would then be able to run in the Grand Prix.
The Federation then headed up by Max Mosely refused this request stating it would be unfair to the Bridgestone runners who had come prepared with an appropriate tyre and the change in track layout would be dangerous in racing conditions.
New kerbs in Qatar destroying tyres
And so intransigence saw one of F1’s most infamous days in the history of the sport.
This weekend in Qatar, F1 faced a similar potential problem on Friday. The fact this was a Sprint weekend could have masked the serious safety issues Pirelli were facing given the teams performed no long run simulations in the one Friday practice session as the geared up for Grand Prix qualifying in the afternoon.
The Losail circuit has been refurbished since F1 was last here which included a complete repaving and new kerbs. The kerbs installed are a new design intended to punish the drivers should they exceed track limits.
The further ‘off the track’ and onto the kerb the F1 cars travel, they experience an increment number of angular grooves which hurts the tyres and reduce performance. Further, if the cars are outside the white lines delimiting the track, then the inside wheel drops off the kerb dramatically causing the cars to scrape their underside along the kerb.
Kerbs set for Austria introduction
This solution was to be rolled out to a number of other circuits where track limits and deleted times become the talking point of the weekend.
However, at turn 12 and 13 in Qatar, the speeds are high and the time on the kerb extensive. This led to Pirelli discovering a problem with the tyre construction when they dissected a number used in Free Practice One.
Unlike in 2005, the FIA acted immediately. The white lines marking the edge of the circuit at these corners were moved inwards 80cm and the gap between the line and the kerb painted to look like the red and white kerb design.
The teams were given 10 minutes ‘familiarisation’ before Sprint Qualifying and the drivers reported varying degrees of comfort with the new arrangement.
Lack of data from Sprint for Pirelli
Further, the FIA stated they would examine the ties after the 19 lap Sprint race to see how well they fared under the prolonged use against the kerbs.
Of course three safety cars during the Sprint thwarted this plan and so Pirelli were left scratching their heads.
Late into the evening Pirelli and the FIA agreed that the tyre manufacturer would conduct detailed examinations of the tyres overnight and report back in the morning.
A meeting will take place with the teams at 2pm local time to decide whether to enforce mandatory pit stop rules for the race. Limiting the stints on a tyre makes sense from a safety perspective and Pirelli have suggested that this could mean just 20n laps for new tyres and 22 laps for those used in qualifying where the out lap and in lap were run at a much reduced pace.
FIA to decide race rules today
The problem is each driver is allocated just 12 sets of tyres over a Sprint weekend as part of the FIA’s push for net zero and a reduced carbon footprint. The teams have now run three competitive sessions and those who have been successful reaching Q3 and SQ3 will suffer even more with a lack of tyres.
Should the FIA mandate a three stop strategy, many of the drivers will be forced to fir used tyres and Piastri who won the Saturday Sprint has suggested he may have to make it a 4 stopper running old soft tyres which are good for five or six laps.
A number of drivers surprising used the quickly degrading soft tyre during the Sprint race, including the Ferrari’s,. but this may well have been to conserve the medium tyres used by others which proved will be better in the Grand Prix.
It is easy to point the finger at the FIA who oversaw the Losail refurbishment or even Pirelli who have suffered criticism over the years for delivering ‘exploding’ F1 tyres.
‘Act of God’ or incompetence?
Yet the safety problems in Qatar this weekend can be somewhat treated as an ‘act of God’. The irony is these kerb designs will be used in Austria where the Grand Prix weekend this year became farcical with almost 100 lap times deleted for off track excursions during Sunday’s race.
At the Red Bull ring the final two corners are slower and the cars travel along them for less time and so when the new kerbs are fitted it should prevent the persistent limits being pushed by the drivers in their search for ever more lap time.