Formula one’s tyre-dominated 2013 season has shifted into an even higher gear, as drivers threaten to go on strike unless immediate action is taken.
Crisis struck the Silverstone paddock on Sunday, after Pirelli’s already-controversial tyres inexplicably exploded while others deflated or showed visible damage, in a safety car-interrupted and almost red-flagged British grand prix. There is talk of a drivers’ boycott ahead of the weekend’s Nurburgring race. “Well, for sure we are going to discuss about that,” said Felipe Massa, who almost died in 2009 when debris struck his helmet.
The retiring Mark Webber was furious. “It’s not December yet, so I’ll stay quiet,” said the usually outspoken Australian, but he did admit that F1’s authorities have displayed “deaf ears” to the drivers’ concerns since Pirelli entered the sport. But even FIA race director Charlie Whiting admitted after the race that he came “quite close” to waving the red flag on Sunday on safety grounds. “I would have understood that perfectly,” Massa agreed.
The Ferrari driver said the situation cannot be left to chance, particularly with circuits like Spa and Monza looming. “These things cannot occur on these circuits,” said the Brazilian. Lewis Hamilton, who was leading on Sunday when his tyre spectacularly exploded, revealed: “That’s the first time in my whole career that I’ve felt the danger. “I was thinking of stopping (retiring from the race),” he claimed. “I don’t know why I have to put my life at risk for these damn tyres,” the 2008 world champion told broadcaster Sky.
Niki Lauda, the triple world champion who was almost burned to death in 1976, and now Mercedes’ F1 chairman, said: “If that (tyre) tread hits you on your face, it would break your neck off.” FIA president Jean Todt was at Silverstone, and according to Germany’s Bild newspaper, he summoned Whiting and Pirelli to an immediate crisis meeting late on Sunday. The Frenchman has also called a more formal emergency meeting with Pirelli and the F1 teams for Wednesday. “Our priority is the safety of the drivers,” said Todt. “We must make the right decisions and not react emotionally,” he told France’s Canal Plus television.
One mooted solution, albeit suggested most loudly by those who have often struggled competitively on the 2013 tyres, is to simply revert to Pirelli’s 2012 tyre. “I don’t know if that will happen,” said Mercedes’ Toto Wolff, “or whether the structure can be changed, but it is a fact that it is very dangerous.” Lauda, and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, rubbished suggestions Silverstone’s kerbs were to blame. “We have kerbs at every circuit and everyone drives over them,” Lauda blasted. “That’s what they’re there for. “If the tyres cannot handle the kerbs, then you don’t change the kerbs, you change the tyres,” he told German broadcaster RTL. Alonso agreed: “I think the kerbs were perfectly ok.”
Already in Pirelli’s pocket is a new internally kevlar-belted tyre that was designed to stop the delamination problems seen earlier this season. Teams like Lotus and Force India vetoed the change, but only because Pirelli insisted the problem was merely aesthetic rather than a pressing safety issue.
Now, safety, danger and looming death are the words on everyone’s lips. “If Pirelli says the tyres are not safe, then we would not stop the necessary changes from coming in,” Lotus engineer Alan Permane told Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport. Speaking to Canal Plus television, team boss Eric Boullier agreed: “Now that we are talking about safety, it’s a different thing. “We will all sit around a table and do everything we can to help Pirelli.”
The biggest problem, however, is that the FIA meeting is taking place only on Wednesday, where two days later practice will kick off at the Nurburgring. “For Germany you can’t do anything,” Lauda acknowledged. But beyond that, according to Brazil’s O Estado de S.Paulo newspaper, some teams are proposing that the forthcoming young drivers test at Silverstone become a full-blown tyre development test, with race drivers allowed to run. “It’s an idea that should be discussed in the coming days,” said Ferrari team boss Stefano Domenicali.
Info: GMM, Image: AFP