ABU DHABI // The investigation into the tyre puncture that ended world champion Sebastian Vettel's hopes of completing a hat-trick of victories at the Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix continued apace last night.
The Red Bull Racing driver, who started Sunday's 55-lap race at Yas Marina Circuit on pole position, suffered a punctured rear right tyre approaching Turn 2 of the first lap.
With the majority of the 5.55km lap still to be circumnavigated, by the time he reached the pit lane his car's wheel and suspension were badly damaged. The 24-year-old German was forced to retire for the first time this season. Lewis Hamilton won the race in his McLaren-Mercedes.
Replays showed no obvious reason for Vettel's tyre to instantaneously deflate and Pirelli, the Italian manufacturers who supply all 12 Formula One teams, said immediately after the race they would examine the incident.
Pirelli will remain in Abu Dhabi this week as Yas Marina hosts a three-day Young Driver Testing programme, which starts today. Paul Hembery, the company's motorsports director, told Auto Motor und Sport that "there are so many possibilities for why a tyre can go down, but we are not going to find out right now [in Abu Dhabi] because of the limited resources that we have here".
When contacted by The National, a Pirelli spokesperson refused to say whether Vettel's damaged tyre had been dispatched to Milan, where the company headquarter's are based.
"We are looking at the incident and will likely release a statement [today]," she said.
Johnny Herbert, a former F1 driver and occasional race steward, attended Sunday's race and said he could see few reasons why Vettel's tyre acted as it did.
"It seemed like a very strange time and place for it to go," Herbert said. "There was no one near him. There may have been debris on the kerb [on exit of Turn 1] as he [Vettel] was the first driver to go over it at racing speed. The marshals were being very good at cleaning the track each night and after every support race, but of course it is possible a small piece of a debris from another car could have been missed and was there."
Mark Hughes, the operations director at Yas Marina, rejected such a scenario as "highly unlikely".
"The marshals are very diligent in cleaning the track and there is absolutely no evidence of any debris being involved," he said.
Hembery revealed on Sunday evening that Pirelli and Vettel had together visited Turn 1 to examine the kerb, but had left none the wiser.
"There seems to be no reason that is immediately obvious, and the set of tyres was one he had already used for qualifying."
Vettel had secured pole position during Saturday's qualifying session by clocking the fastest lap of the day during a blistering final charge. The sport's rules state that the top 10 drivers must start the race on Sunday using the same tyres that they used to set their grid time.
"We need to piece things together from the bits of tyre carcass, the wheel rim, the data and video footage we have," Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal, said. "The likelihood is the tyre has picked something up, it has cut it and it has lost pressure."
Herbert said: "Once a tyre has low pressure it will blow at those speeds and there was nothing Sebastian, or any other driver, could have done to stop the car from spinning. The teams have sensors to warn of punctures though and it is strange that neither Vettel nor the team had any warning."
Horner maintained the team had no prior warning, adding that "basically, all we could see from the data is that he has had a tremendous start, gone into Turn 1 and, on the kerb, there has been an instantaneous loss of pressure.
"By the time he has arrived at Turn 2, there is no tyre pressure and that has caused the car to spin. That is what has damaged the suspension and, ultimately, that is why we had to retire the car."
The puncture saw Vettel quickly go from front of the grid to the back end as he steered his car towards his pit garage with the rear wheel being dragged along the ground. Herbert said he was not surprised the two-time world champion had to retire.
"When you are on three wheels it is difficult to get back to the pit without damaging the car," he said.
"F1 cars are not like rally cars, they are not built to be rattled around like that, with a tyre flailing around, and I was not surprised he could not continue."