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The big blowout

The big blowout


Image Courtesy of Matthew Evanson,

Image Courtesy of Matthew Evanson,

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.

Lap breakdown

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.

The response

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!)

The Vettel Show


There are few sports in which the concept of forgoing personal success in favour of team victory is a familiar one, to be sucked up, shrugged off and taken with a pinch of salt. But the notion that the accomplishments of the team come first has long been entrenched in the rule book of Formula One. It is one of the most firmly established principles of the race, in fact, that team orders are paramount, to be followed dutifully by the driver as the employee.

It seems, however, that the superiority of the team is valued to a greater degree by certain teams than others. While some, most notably the Italians, believe this principle stands as strong today as it did some 100 years ago, others are of the belief that the notion is outdated, inappropriate in practice and, ultimately, that it dilutes the energy and unpredictable nature of the race. For us, as viewers, the supremacy of the team over that of the individual is something which, at times, leaves us feeling somewhat cheated. It is with a certain sense of resentment that we are made to celebrate a result manufactured from the sidelines, one which the pair on track agreed to but we as Formula One fans did not.

An insertion into the rulebook driven in large part by Max Mosley, which prohibited team orders that interfered with a race result, was notoriously lost in translation and later removed from regulations at the tail end of 2010. Its existence during the Malaysian GP may well have led to a different outcome for the Red Bull pairing.

As with the English judicial system, whereby a judge’s interpretation of the law creates a malleable precedent of case law, so too do the decisions made by Formula One teams today. It seems money speaks volumes and drivers, for the most part, continue to feel bound by the purse strings of the teams for which they operate.

But while the results of the Malaysian GP demonstrated that ‘taking one for the team’ is a notion that sits far more comfortably when your childhood friend is the one set to benefit, it is, it seems, a concept lost of Sebastian Vettel.

In this game, you don’t become three times World Champion through grace, generosity and humility.

Vettel has shown time and again that a win-at-any-cost mentality coupled with the ability to express regret only in hindsight is an irresistible recipe for success (and one which makes for a deliciously compelling combination for viewers). For Mark Webber, however, it is the bitter taste that lasts and lasts.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Red Bull’s 13th one-two finish and a nail-biting battle to the finish line would be enough to warrant them kicking back to relax and enjoy an ice-cold can of energy. Alas, while 43 points might position them where they want to be, it is the means by which those points were obtained that Christian Horner and team were less than impressed with.

For Red Bull, the constructors’ title is the thing that holds financial promise and generates column inches. But Jonathan Mcevoy was on the money when he said that it is the drivers and the cars that compel viewers to watch Formula One; we could care less about the financial consequences for a team.

That being said, with a friendship as acrimonious as that of Webber and Vettel’s’, Red Bull will continue to make headlines.

The two possible outcomes following the dramatic finish in Malaysia? Vettel desists from trampling on Mark Webber and opts dutifully to respect team orders, resulting in a high profile, much talked about one-two victory come the end of the season for Red Bull. Hooray! Alternatively, Vettel and Webber continue to lock horns, Vettel refuses to bow down to Horner and co, and his lack of team spirit is, once again, front page news.

For Red Bull, it’s pretty much win-win.


Words by Sarah Taylor