Last week after the British Grand Prix, Formula 1 was on the brink of a drivers’ protest because of apparent problems with Pirelli manufactured tyres. Five drivers suffered high-speed blowouts, which thankfully left no one harmed.
Lewis Hamilton was one of the unlucky five, whose left back tyre burst resulting in him losing out on the win for McLaren (but recovering enough to come in at fourth place).
Ferrari’s Felipe Massa has said that a drivers’ strike is likely to be considered in the upcoming days. Massa also lost control of his car after experiencing issues with his back left wheel; the same wheel where all other blowouts had also occurred.
It was Hamilton who led the charge on lap eight but he was the first to experience problems as he drove down the Wellington Straight. His back left tyre blew out and he was forced to ‘drive’ his car back to the pits with one wheel reduced to its metal rim. Dropping to the back of the pack, Hamilton’s chance of a win was gone.
Whilst finishing on Aintree Corner at lap 11 it was Massa who suffered the next accident, with the same wheel causing the problem. Massa spun off the track, suffering the same fate as Hamilton and having to slog his way back to the pits for fresh tyres, in turn relegating him to last place.
When lap 15 came around it was Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne’s turn to experience the burn. Vergne was the most fortunate of the three, though, as he found himself close to the pit entrance, which allowed for a quick turn around.
It was at this time that the decision to deploy the safety car was made to help the marshals clear the track, now littered with exploded tyre tread.
F1 is a sport where teams and individuals are left divided, rarely coming together in unison. However, in this instance, not only all the drivers, but their teams as well, have come together to contest this issue, which highlights the gravity of the situation.
Evidently it is the safety of the drivers that must come first; however, Hamilton has shown concern that more often than not in this sport no action is taken until something drastic has gone wrong. It is this that the drivers are so desperate to avoid, aware that it is them as operators of the vehicles who are putting themselves at risk…. “Safety is the biggest issue. It’s just unacceptable. If they don’t react, that says everything”. (Lewis Hamilton).
The issue here is twofold; there is not just the concern of a wheel blowing out, leaving the driver of the car in serious danger, but the blowout itself causes tyre tread to fly through the air, potentially hitting drivers behind causing damage en masse.
Avoiding the strike is the ultimate priority with the view of side-stepping further problems, but this will be dependent on how fast the FAI responds.
McLaren Team Principle, Martin Whitmarsh, has suggested the best option might be to revert back to the tyres used last year (if there are enough to fill the quota). These tyres proved themselves reliable during last season. If this doesn’t happen there are fears of a repeat of the 2005 US Grand Prix where all Michelin runners pulled out after the warm-up lap in response to serious safety concerns.
FIA document eight said: “For safety reasons, we have been asked by Pirelli to ensure that the tyres on all cars are run under the conditions listed below. It will be the responsibility of each team to satisfy the FIA Technical Delegate their cars comply with the following requirements at all times.”
Here follows a list of requirements that the tyres must comply with in order for the German Grand Prix to have gone ahead.
Happily, Pirelli responded quickly and supplied the teams with re-enforced, improved, Kevlar-belted tyres for the weekend’s race which saw Sebastian Vettel steal the win and which went off without a hitch! (Well……except for the loose tyre that flew off hitting the cameraman that is!)