|Felipe Massa was left with the shredded remains of the left-rear wheel of his Ferrari on Sunday during the race at Silverstone, England.|
Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Plenty of Bang at Silverstone as Rosberg Wins
SILVERSTONE, England — A series of exploding Pirelli tires turned the British Grand Prix into a spin of the roulette, as driver after driver — including an early leader — found his left-rear tire bursting at high speed.
But it was a gearbox failure just 10 laps from the end that robbed Sebastian Vettel of a certain victory after he had led the race from Lap 9 onward in his Red Bull. That left Nico Rosberg in a Mercedes, who then was in second, to take the lead and hold it to the end.
It was the third victory of the German driver’s career, and his second this year after he won the Monaco Grand Prix last month.
“A fantastic race, and it was very special because it was a home Grand Prix for this team. The factory is just 10 minutes away,” said Rosberg, but he added of the tire failures: “That’s a problem: There were too many tire failures today and they must look into that and see what’s got to be done.”
The first victim of the tire fiasco was Rosberg’s teammate, Lewis Hamilton, who started on pole position and led until his tire burst on Lap 8 and he returned to the pits on three tires to put on a new set.
On the following lap, Felipe Massa, then in fourth in a Ferrari, went skidding off the track with a burst left-rear tire. Then on Lap 15 the left-rear tire of Jean-Éric Vergne in a Toro Rosso burst while he was in sixth position.
During the morning practice on Saturday a tire had exploded on the McLaren Mercedes of Sergio Pérez. It was Pérez who became the fourth and final driver in the race to suffer an exploding left-rear tire, on Lap 46.
“It’s just unacceptable,” Hamilton said. “Someone could’ve crashed. I was thinking behind the safety car that it’s only when someone gets hurt that something will be done about it.”
Pérez agreed. “This is unacceptable. We are risking our lives and we shouldn’t wait until something happens to all of us,” he said.
Paul Hembery, the director of Pirelli’s motor sports program, said that he did not yet know the cause of the failures.
“Obviously today wasn’t foreseen,” Hembery said. “We’ve seen something new, a different type of problem.
“We’re currently performing our analysis,” he added “We’ve got to go away and understand what’s happened today. When we’ve got the facts we can understand what’s happened and get to the core of the issues. We take these things seriously.”
The chaos and frequent use of the safety car to allow track marshals to clean up the tire rubber from the track was good for some other drivers, however, and Mark Webber, who had a bad start in his Red Bull and dropped to the back of the pack, managed to climb up to finish in second place. Fernando Alonso, in a Ferrari, who started ninth, finished third.
Hamilton also fought back to finish fourth, and Kimi Raikkonen in a Lotus, finished fifth.
Vettel’s failure to score points breathed life back into a championship that he had begun to dominate. He now leads the series with 132 points, while Alonso is second with 111 points, and Raikkonen is third with 100 points. Hamilton and Webber are fourth and fifth with 87 points each, while Rosberg is sixth with 82 points. A victory is worth 25 points.
But the race itself was not just a lottery for the drivers, it became an emergency session for Pirelli and the team engineers to figure out how to deal with the bursting tire problem. When the safety car was deployed after Lap 15 to allow track marshals to clear the track of hundreds of bits of shredded rubber, there was a flurry of activity over the radios from the team engineers to their drivers.
Red Bull informed Webber that after Vettel’s first pit stop the team had found cuts in his left-rear tire, and they instructed the driver to keep off the curbs.
Rosberg’s engineer also warned him: “There has been a multitude of rear tire failures, it is happening when the tires are hot, when they are going over curbs.”
“We’re not sure if it is a tire problem or a curbing problem at this point,” an engineer said to Vettel. “So try to stay away from the curbs and try to preserve your rear-left tire.”
The biggest story of the 2013 Formula One season has been about the Pirelli tires and their quick wear creating challenges for the teams and drivers.
Although Pirelli said the failures on Sunday were a new problem, their tires had delaminated several times at previous races and the company had employed the help of the Mercedes team to fix the problem during a private test session in Barcelona after the Spanish Grand Prix in May. Because testing with the 2013 racing car and drivers is outlawed during the season, both Mercedes and Pirelli were reprimanded and Mercedes was excluded from a forthcoming test session for young drivers.
In 2005, when both Michelin and Bridgestone provided tires to teams, there was a fiasco at the United States Grand Prix when the teams with Michelin tires refused to race after the tires were found to be unsafe, after a couple of incidents earlier in the weekend. Only six of the cars — those using Bridgestone tires — raced, causing the spectators of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, to request their money back.
After the race on Sunday resumed on Lap 22 when the safety car left the track, Vettel’s engineer again instructed: “Watch out for exit curbs, high speed corners, with your left-rear.”
With 30 laps left the race had become a question of who would be the next victim. Then, on Lap 29, Esteban Gutiérrez of the Sauber team had his left-front tire burst and he had to replace his tires, and also replace the front wing that the tire had damaged.
When Vettel pulled off the track slowly after 42 laps, the safety car again came out to remove his car from its unsafe position on the straight. The race started again at the beginning of Lap 46 in a final seven laps of close racing, and Webber finished only .7 second behind Rosberg.
“It’s quite disappointing to retire when we were only a few laps from the end,” Vettel said. “We had a gearbox issue, I think fifth gear broke and damaged the rest of the gearbox as well, so it was not possible to carry on.”
Light slap for Rosberg
Formula One stewards decided not to punish Nico Rosberg for an alleged flag infringement that might have cost him the victory, Reuters reported Sunday from Silverstone.
A spokesman for motor racing’s governing body, F.I.A., said that Rosberg had been reprimanded for failing to slow for yellow flags through turns three to five.