1 Jul 2013

Why we shouldn't be too harsh on Pirelli

The 2013 British Grand Prix was one of the best F1 races for a while, mainly due to the random manner in which various drivers were sent back down the field and had to fight their way back through the pack.

Four of these - Lewis Hamilton, Sergio Perez, Felipe Massa and Jean-Eric Vergne were down to left rear tyre punctures or, more accurately, explosions.  The tyres failed at speed and spectacularly demolished themselves, along with parts of the car as the rubber flailed around on the wheel.
Lewis Hamilton with exploded left rear Pirelli
Since then various commentators have called into question Pirelli's ability to make a tyre that is fit for purpose - even going so far as to question the safety of Pirelli road tyres.

This is codswallop.  My own car is fitted with Pirelli P Zeros and I've no concerns whatsoever about them - aside from the fact they cost so much.

Pirelli are the sole supplier of Formula 1 tyres.  As such they are 'control' tyres that are created to specified criteria by the FIA.  In the modern era of F1 where advanced aerodynamics create poor racing it was decided to spice the show up by introducing unusual tyre compounds that would add a degree of randomness to the racing.

This has worked, to a certain extent.  Pirelli have done exactly what they were asked to do.  Various teams have moaned about the tyres purely because they have not been able to make their cars work with them.

Pirelli wanted to introduce new tyre compounds in Canada because they were being criticised for the racing becoming a mere tyre management exercise.  Drivers weren't were failing to actually race purely so they could put a few extra laps on their tyres.  Strategy, rather than racing, was ruling the roost once more.  But Pirelli didn't introduce new tyres because F1 teams are incapable of making unanimous decisions.  They are eminently selfish individuals, partly because of the vast differential in prize money related to championship positions.

At Silverstone we were faced with four almost identical tyre failures.  This points to an external factor, such as the sharp kerbs at the exit of turn 4.  Paul Hembrey, Pirelli's motorsport director, said: "Something went into the tyre, pierced it, and then came out again, in the direction of travel.  Whether that was a piece of debris or the edge of a kerb is hard to say at the moment, but it is important to point out that this incident was unrelated to any of the delamination issues we have had in the past.”
The kerbs at Silverstone's turn 4
No-one knows why the tyres punctured at Silverstone.  The evidence seems to point not to inherent problems with the tyre, but with the kerbs or possibly debris on track - remember Grosjean's clumsy move on Webber at the start which sprayed the track with carbon fibre.

The FIA has called an emergency meeting to discuss the situation.  In the past the FIA have over-ruled the squabbling teams and introduced changes in the name of safety, most severely in the aftermath of  Imola 1994.  They can do the same again.  Whether this means smoothing out the kerbs at the Nurburgring for the German Grand Prix, or some other action remains to be seen.

But for now we should stop criticising Pirelli.  It is poor form to blame the company when there is no current evidence that any tyre failures are their fault.  It seems they are damned if they do and damned if they don't.

For those screaming ninnies who say F1 should boycott the German Grand Prix the final word goes to one of the most sensible and level-headed men in Formula 1, Martin Brundle: "Having driven both circuits for thousands of laps I'd be pretty sure the Nurburgring will not stress the Pirelli tyres like Silverstone."