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Rencken: British GP tyre fiasco

2013-07-01 08:26

BRITISH GP TYRE FIASCO: A combination of degrading tyres and a high, sharp kerb at Silverstone contributed to several drivers (such as Felipe Massa above) suffering tyre blow-outs. Image: AP


LONDON, England - Come rain or shine (or both), the 2013 British Grand Prix was always going to be about tyres.

After all, how could it be any different, the race coming as it did in the immediate aftermath of the Mercedes /Pirelli scandal and prefaced by a race preview issued by the sole rubber supplier stating:

“Lateral accelerations on the tyres are among the highest of the season, peaking at 5g. This means the surface temperature of the tyre can exceed 110 degrees centigrade, towards the very top of its working range.”

Thus the tyre maker specified its hardest compounds: Medium (White sidewall) and hard (Orange).


Still, no one could have predicted the extent to which the eighth (of 19) round of the current series would be shaped by Pirelli’s patent inability – for whatever reason - to deliver tyres capable of meeting the challenges of F1 2013 style, and from Friday onwards flailing rubber characterised the event staged at the classic Silverstone circuit.

The disruptions meant that, for example, Lewis Hamilton was able to lead handsomely from pole, plummet down the order after a “popped” tyre, then recover to finish a sliver off the podium. Fernando Alonso, driving the woeful Ferrari F138, placed third from ninth on the starting roster.

Alonso qualified tenth but was promoted after Paul di Resta was declared underweight and relegated to the back.   

The first practice session dawned wet and indeed, the first session was a washout with just 11 cars taking to track much to the chagrin of bedraggled fans, who simply could not fathom why cars and drivers stayed put in the garages.

Blame F1’s myopic regulations, which discourage unnecessary running through restrictions on engine/transmission changes and bans on spare cars.


Still, once the skies cleared, FP2 provided a pointer of things to come: Sergio Perez felt a massive thump as a tyre exploded on his McLaren. It was clear that whatever Pirelli learned during its illegal test with Mercedes in May – for which both parties were reprimanded by the FIA’s International Tribunal – the prevention of delamination was not one of them.

Still, Pirelli indicated it was a normal puncture, citing a sidewall cut in the direction of travel…

All went well in FP3 – bear in mind that short runs aimed at qualifying set-up are generally the order of the hour-long session – and through the white knuckle hour, with the Mercedes pair of Hamilton and Nico Rosberg coming out tops, the former shading his team-mate by half a second.

Then came the Red Bulls, Sebastian Vettel marginally ahead of Mark Webber, who stole the limelight by disclosing he was off to race sports cars with Porsche in 2014.

Given the mess F1 currently finds itself in at almost every front, whether regulatory or commercial, can anyone blame him?

At the start Vettel slotted in between the two Silver Arrows, Hamilton doing what he does best, namely leading from the front. Then, seven laps into the race, his left rear popped spectacularly in the worst possible place, namely Turn 4, leaving the 2008 champion with an excruciatingly long (and slow) lap to the pits.

Vettel assumed the lead from Rosberg, with Adrian Sutil driving the race of his life in third for Force India and the fast-starting Felipe Massa also in the mix, running marginally ahead of team mate Alonso. Then Massa’s left rear popped, followed shortly by Jean-Eric Vergne’s. In every instance those behind were fortunate to escape with none other than liberal pepperings of rubber, Kevlar and steel belt…


The Safety Car was deployed while the debris was collected in bin bags for ultimate delivery to Pirelli’s laboratories in Milan, with Vettel leading Rosberg as the rest scrambled to gain strategic advantage from the slow phase. Around thirty laps of hard but cautious racing followed, Silverstone’s two DRS zones facilitating overtaking galore – the excitement disguising front tyre delamination suffered by Esteban Gutiérrez’s Sauber.

The governing body’s usually unflappable Race Director Charlie Whiting afterwards disclosed he had come close to red-flagging the race due to the situation – which would have compounded Pirelli’s shame.

Whiting said: “It was quite close to being red-flagged; it did occur to me to do that. Obviously to clear up all that debris was putting marshals at risk, and it is not satisfactory.”

Then, ten laps from the end Vettel’s fifth gear cried "enough" and in the process, destroying the transmission and forcing the reigning champion (and current points leader) to park his RB9 – which he did, right on the racing line on the pit straight.

Whether by design will never be disclosed; what is clear, though, is that the resultant Safety Car phase enabled Webber to consolidate second place after initially running well down the order following a glitchy start.

After the Mercedes peeled into the pit lane we were treated to six laps of no-holds-barred racing as worn tyres and closing stage desperation came into play. Positions up and down the order swapped, with Sutil, for example, dropping like a stone to an eventual seventh behind Massa in sixth.


Alonso annexed the final podium slot ahead of Hamilton and Kimi Räikkönen in fourth and fifth places respectively – the Lotus driver having battling extreme tyre degradation in the closing stages – but not before Pirelli played one last card on Perez’s McLaren (for the second time during the weekend):  Perez’s left rear burst directly in front of Alonso, who was lucky to escape without damage or worse.

Thus the top six at the drop of the flag on a twice-interrupted race was: Rosberg 0,7 seconds up on Webber, with the tight-knit trio of Alonso, Hamilton and Raikkonen next from Massa.

Rosberg was on tenterhooks for a while as a steward’s enquiry into his conduct under a yellow flag took its course but eventually his victory was confirmed, albeit with accompanying reprimand for speeding.

Rosberg said: “It feels fantastic; it's a very, very special day. What makes it most special is that our factory is so close.
“The team has done such a fantastic job. We have such momentum at the moment. We're making progress all the time. We're massively quick in qualifying and we're getting faster and faster in the race. I think today we had the equal fastest race car as well.”

Despite non-scoring Vettel (132 points) retains his place at the top of the log, albeit with a reduced margin over Alonso (111) and Räikkönen (98), while Mercedes (171 points) jumped Ferrari (168) for second behind Red Bull (219) in the Constructors’ stakes.


Clearly, despite protestations to the contrary during the International Tribunal, the Mercedes squad, which previously proved unable to eke more than a dozen laps out its tyres, learned an enormous amount during those three “illegal” days in Barcelona.

Sadly, though, for Rosberg, who again drive the sort of controlled, intelligent that has become his hallmark, his victory is tainted by those allegations – and will continue to be going forward until the sport redresses the imbalance by permitting competitor teams to test for 1000km each over three days with full-on race drivers.

Who knows, in the process they may even discover the definitive solution to Pirelli’s woes. Make no mistake: On Sunday in Silverstone F1 dodged a bullet. Will it be a case of twice lucky in Nürburg this coming weekend?


Read more on:    2013 british grand prix  |  motorsport  |  racing  |  f1

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