SILVERSTONE, ENGLAND // There was no storm to be seen over Silverstone, but there was one brewing inside the Formula One paddock by the end of the British Grand Prix yesterday as Pirelli’s controversial tyres once again took centre stage.
Nico Rosberg claimed his second win of the season under candy-floss clouds, yet before he had even stepped off the podium, the majority of his peers were calling for immediate, dramatic changes to the tyre compounds that had earlier threatened to ruin the race.
An eighth-lap explosion of Lewis Hamilton’s left-rear tyre started a series of events that saw four separate teams suffer dramatic mid-race tyre failures.
The Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner warned “someone will get hurt” if an urgent remedy is not found, while the McLaren-Mercedes chief Martin Whitmarsh said the sport must not arrive at next weekend’s race in Germany without a solution to the issue.
Hamilton, starting on pole, had built up a fair gap on second-placed Sebastian Vettel when his tyre suffered a puncture, rendering his Mercedes GP lame as he trundled back to the pits for fresh rubber.
It appeared to be mere misfortune; a combination of high on-track temperatures and his car’s inability to look after the vulnerable compounds.
When Ferrari’s Felipe Massa experienced an almost identical issue two laps later, it did not go unnoticed that the two teams affected by the exploding rubber were the same two who took part in controversial tyre tests earlier in May. Was it coincidence? The question soon answered itself.
On the 15th lap, Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne suffered a blowout of his left-rear as he approached the end of the lap. While the Frenchman headed straight for the pits, the safety car was deployed to clear the debris. Drivers were being warned to avoid the kerbs and teams adjusted car settings to improve tyre robustness, but the damage was done.
The Brazilian driver Massa said he felt there was “zero safety” after his incident, while Hamilton said he had spent the period behind the safety car thinking “it’s only until someone gets hurt that someone’s going to do something about it”.
It is unknown how close the race came to being suspended, but with three blowouts in the space of seven laps, it will certainly have been considered.
With only 10 laps remaining, Sergio Perez, with Fernando Alonso close behind, saw the rubber on his left-rear wheel disappear as he was forced to retire. Jenson Button, the Mexican’s teammate at McLaren, said the Pirelli problem needs to be addressed immediately.
“Happening in a slow speed corner, fair enough that’s pretty bad,” Button said. “But happening at 300 kph, which is what Checo’s went at, it’s not right and it’s not just dangerous for the driver in the car, it’s dangerous for all the cars behind.
“First of all he could lose control at that speed, but also the cars behind are getting hit with a massive belt of rubber, which has got metal in it. It’s got to change.”
Pirelli, the sole tyre supplier to F1, have been summoned to an emergency meeting with the governing body for motorsports on Wednesday to discuss what action must be taken to ensure a repeat of the situation does not occur at next weekend’s German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring.
Red Bull’s Mark Webber had earlier said previous attempts to provide input to Pirelli had fallen on “deaf ears,” adding “we’re part of the package, part of the show and the show goes on by the looks of it”.
Paul Hembery, the Italian manufacturers’ motorsports director, said yesterday’s blowout issue was unrelated to previous delamination problems and that performance analysis was underway.
“We need to understand what has happened,” Hembery said. “We are taking the situation very seriously and we are currently investigating all tyres to determine the cause as soon as possible.
“When we have got the facts we can understand what has happened and get to the core of the issue.”
Rosberg finished seven-tenths of a second ahead of Webber, while Ferrari’s Alonso placed third, but Sebastian Vettel, the world champion who had inherited the race lead following Hamilton’s puncture, was forced to retire 14 laps from the end with gearbox failure, producing a second safety car period.
“When Sebastian stopped, to be honest, I won’t lie, I wasn’t disappointed,” said Rosberg, who added he also suffered a tyre issue but “got a bit lucky” and was able to change for fresh rubber courtesy of the safety car.
If the tyre issue showcased the worst of motorsport’s elite series, the final few laps of the race provided a stark contrast. Webber, who had started fourth but endured a horrific start after colliding with Romain Grosjean and slipped as low as 14th, produced a remarkable recovery to hunt down first Daniel Ricciardo, then Adrian Sutil, then Kimi Raikkonen as he secured second place.
“It’s mixed feelings when you finish seven-tenths behind the winner,” Webber said.
“But Nico’s also out there doing his thing, so he deserved the win. The safety cars obviously helped us – although I didn’t want them because of the reasons why they were happening.
“Obviously, it’s very nervous for all the drivers to see that happening, but in the end, a very good result.”
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