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The British Grand Prix provided the latest drama to an already touchy subject in 2013…tires. The exploding tire issues claimed five left-rear tires during the weekend and while Pirelli are keen to get tot he bottom of the issue, speculation as to the cause has ranged from steel belts to serrated curbs and low tire pressure. The eventual cause may be discovered by Pirelli but they too have a brand equity knife in the fight and will be very careful on the verbiage they choose to explain the reasons for the blowouts experienced on Sunday.

One of the lingering issues that springs to the forefront is the fact that Pirelli had announced they would be bringing a new tire compound to the Canadian Grand Prix but that idea was scuttled as the FIA reminded them that changes to the tires could only take place in the face of a serious safety issue. Pirelli had experienced several delaminating tires in previous races but were not too excited to call the issue a full-on safety problem for obvious brand-sensitive reasons.

This reminder was compounded as  calls for a tire change earlier in the year were met with Pirelli publicly stating that changing the tires would benefit Red Bull in particular. As the year wore on, it was clear that a change from the current steel-belted tire back to a Kevlar-belted tire may be the change needed to prevent the delaminating issue but teams such as Ferrari, Force India and Lotus would not consent to the changes as they felt their cars were running relatively well on the current tire specification. They had designed and built their cars around this spec and were not keen to change it mid-season.

The British Grand Prix exacerbated the issue of tires to a point that Pirelli will meet on Wednesday in Germany with the Sporting Committee to discuss a solution as team bosses are calling for immediate action on safety grounds alone. Red Bull’s Adrian Newey has lashed out at the teams who opposed the changes for the Canadian Grand Prix telling AUTOSPORT:

“It’s a sad state of affairs but such is the nature of Formula 1, really,” said Newey.

“It’s been fairly clear that there’s been a number of worrying tyre failures through the year.

“Pirelli came up with a solution for that, with a different construction, and that was being offered initially for Montreal.

“But two or three teams vetoed that because they were worried it would suit some other teams more than it would suit them.

“As a result of that short-sightedness, Formula 1 ended up putting up the worrying performance it did [at Silverstone] and concerns about driver safety.”

Red Bull were upset with the tire performance from the first grand prix in Australia and have been calling for changes for some time but in the competitive world of Formula One, sizable requests such as a complete tire change can be viewed as a competitive advantage against a team that has been dominating F1 for the last three years. While Red Bull’s call for a change to the tires may have been read as a cry for help, their current dominance on the 2013 season betrays the notion that the current specification tire has hobbled the team allowing others to take the lead. Sunday’s debacle will surely lead to a change in tire construction regardless of Red Bull’s perceived gains with a new tire specification.

Pirelli have been fighting a brand equity battle in 2013 but clearly some of the blame can be brought to their doorstep as they  seem to have inserted themselves into the competitive nuance of the sport by trying to out-smart the engineers and add even more knife-edge performance characteristics that would stump even the best of team engineers and designers.

On the other side of that coin, Pirelli were asked to make a tire that has degradation as its main characteristic and to work with the sport to increase the entertainment value by hobbling to teams tactically. Some quarter should be given to any tire company that engages in making a tire antithetical to the kinds of products they actually make. As the teams head to Germany, the big question on everyone’s mind now is, will Pirelli be heading to the Ring with a new tire?

 

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An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry and as a CTO, he focuses on technology integration in commercial workspace design, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.
  • The lack of FIA decision before Canada effectively told the teams it wasn’t a safety issue, so it should have surprised nobody that some teams didn’t want Mercedes to get an unfair advantage. Quite why Adrian was surprised is a mystery. He might have thought it was dangerous back then (as I did) but that’s not going to be sufficient to win a unanimous vote unless every team thinks it’s a safety issue.

    Which they now do (as far as I can tell), and therefore a unanimous vote should work – assuming the FIA doesn’t figure it out and downright order Pirelli to alter the specifications.

    • I would assume the FIA, through it’s own investigation and wisdom, could mandate a change regardless of what the teams think if it is on safety grounds. then again, I am not sure how the contract between teams and the FIA are worded. That sounds logical but then there is a level of trust that is implied because if I am Red Bull or Ferrari or Macca, I wouldn’t want my millions jeopardized just by some random FIA decision (not implying this tire issue is random…I am referring to other situations that could arise).

      • Article 12.5.3 of the Technical Regulations specifically allows the FIA (specifically its technical delegate to a given Grand Prix) to intervene in cases where circuit safety is to be maintained, either to accept the recommendations of the tyre supplier or to unilaterally alter aspects of the tyre specification, specifically contact patch sizes. Furthermore, Article 12.5.2 of the same document authorises the stewards to authorise a different tyre if the ones initially proposed are unsuitable (though Pirelli and the FIA technical delegate would both need to agree).

        All teams agreed to the Technical Regulations by implication when they signed up for F1, so they can’t really argue now. You will be reassured to know that non-tyre aspects cannot be similarly altered without the standard due process (unless the component itself is unduly hazardous).

        • Thanks for looking that up. I was assuming that the FIA reserved that right. Cheers mate.

  • nofahz

    I highly recommend the piece Gary Anderson wrote on the BBC website, “Formula 1, Tire problem has existed all year.” I would quote the entirety of the section: “TOO MUCH TALKING, NOT ENOUGH ACTION” as it had me laughing and basically tells it like it is. But, I’ll spare the inches here in the comment section and let other folks read it themselves. http://bbc.in/13m7HV9

    • Ouch!! Especially if you’re McLaren or Martin…wow!

      • cconf1

        I wish I could disagree with Gary, but I can’t. We suck this year. Plain and simple. We finished behind BOTH of the Williams cars this race. The last time that happened (and all 4 cars were race-classified) was June 2009. Next stop, finishing behind a Caterham!

      • nofahz

        I feel the quote: “I have been involved in this sport for 41 years and I am fed up of listening to pure waffle from a bunch of people who are supposed to be intelligent.” Sums things up well

  • Schmorbraten

    I’m starting to like how F1 2013 is so non-stop always about tires, tires, tires. If you step back from the current hullaballoo, whatever it is this week about the tires, what gets more interesting is how some key figures act or react. I think Jean Todt never liked the concept of improving the show by artificially prescribing key parts of the cars as basically unsafe, or as components which are designed to make the drivers lose more and more control over their cars if they keep them on too long. Jean Todt is …:::SafetyMan:::… , don’t forget. And he’ll never openly bully someone or just impose his will, Mosley-style, if it’s avoidable. He rather lets the problem escalate by itself so that the proponents of Tire-Deg F1 have the best possible chance to fall on their own sword.

    I wouldn’t want Pirelli to develop a competitive attitude against the teams, but I don’t think that you can hold it against them that they tried to raise the bar from last year to this year. Had they kept the old tires and had the races become predictable processions again, everyone would have complained that Pirelli forgot to do their homework.

    For the next GP, either Pirelli have sufficient stock of a usable type already AND the FIA agrees to just impose the change by force majeure or on safety grounds (if thats possible, maybe the FIA doesn’t even have that power), or (more likely) everyone squabbles with everyone else about it, no one is responsible but nothing can be done or agreed (sounds like Indy 2005), and then after some impotent threats of a driver bocott, everyone goes racing on those Silverstone tires.

  • Steve C

    Didn’t the FIA want some tire (sorry, can’t bring myself to spell tyre) degradation built in to the design so that teams would always have to be on their toes. Aren’t the teams responsible for the safety too? Aren’t the teams running as low pressure as they can? I think this is good for racing but perhaps Pirelli needs to look at theor construction a little more closely to ensure the tires will work and be safe. We need more testing (as the teams have always ask for).

  • If the worry is that a switch back to a Kevlar tire would give Red Bull an unfair advantage, why not throw a 16-17″ wheel at the teams so the are all put on their back foot in terms if development?

    Really dug the “engineer in a box” discussion on the Silverstone podcast. It’s amazing we’re even messing with tires that limit the performance of the car. Give the teams a damned constant dependable tire and get on with it.