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As the dust settles on a Red Bull 1,2 finish in Belgium, the debate continued into Sunday evening over the concerned about the tires the team used to start the race with. The qualifying tires Red Bull used were in the early stages of blistering and while technical director Adrian Newey said he was scared about the safety of his drivers, the team had little choice as a tire change would have relegated them to starting from the pit lane.

Newey and team boss Christian Horner have shared their concern and admitted that they were slightly over four degrees of negative camber on the front wheels while Pirelli’s Paul Hembrey said that four was the maximum they would recommend. We offered Newey’s perspective here but Sunday evening Hembrey met with the press and offered his side of the equation:

Q. Can you talk through how the tyre situation developed from post qualifying yesterday through to the build-up to the race?

Paul Hembery: Post-qualifying we were approached by one team that had some ideas and concerns. We then analysed the situation with all the cars that we were running. Overnight we had some tyres sent over to give ourselves the option of changing front tyres if we felt there was an underlying issue with all the teams. But following investigations on Sunday morning that was found to not be the case. We spoke to all of the teams that were in Q3, and the majority consensus was that the rules should be adhered to. That was also the rule point of the FIA.

We were in a little bit of a rock and a hard place situation, because it was a situation that if we had run with some dry conditions on Friday and Saturday, ordinarily it is a situation that would have been minimised. So were left in a situation where one team in particular was stretching the limits of our recommendations and we felt that that in a race situation would create difficulties, and blistering.

In the end, what do you do? Do you make a change and end up creating a precedent? Do you make a change that would be seen to assisting one team and all the other teams, particularly with the result we had at the end? If we had, I think today you would not be asking me about this, you would be asking me why we helped Red Bull win the race? So it was a very difficult situation to be in.

We don’t appreciate being put in that position. It is a slightly unfair position to be put in. Of course it could have been avoided. Teams have the ability to start from the pitlane with a different set-up and a new set of tyres. That was an option that was decided not to follow – but that is obviously the prerogative of the people making the decisions. The problem we have, of course, is that our name is on the side of the tyres and we have to live with that. So we felt a little bit powerless from that point of view.

Q. What was your recommendation pre-race? Did you want them to change the tyres and start from the pit lane?

PH: We just said four-degrees camber. That is it.

Q. But they could not change that pre-race could they?

PH: Well they could do, but they would have to start from the pitlane. So they could have done.

Q. How far beyond the recommendation of four degrees was Red Bull Racing operating then?

PH: I cannot say that.

Q. Were they the only team going beyond that limit?

PH: There was quite a good correlation between camber and the level of blistering with the teams.

Q. Going forward from here, will you now be stricter with the teams in terms of camber recommendations so you are not put in this situation again?

PH: Well we will be more conservative (with our recommendations), particularly for somewhere like Monza. You would have to look back at it and say we were confident with the structure of the tyre, to be honest. We knew that the structure of the tyre was extremely strong, and that was proven to be. There weren’t any issues at all. Graining and blistering are aspects of compound performance in motor racing. It is not exactly a new phenomenon, but there are limits. And ordinarily in free practice, when you see something like this, teams would change their geometry and you would not go into a race in that situation, so it was a combination of circumstance in reality

Q. Overall, how did the compounds shape up?

PH: Yeah we were surprised considering the suggested complaints beforehand. The number of laps people were doing on the softer tyre was surprising. It is a 7km circuit and they were doing similar lap numbers on the 5km circuits. Despite the comments they were making, even more distance than they ordinarily would on other circuits. So that was a surprise – certainly for some teams.

Q. You’ve mentioned in the past that some teams have been pushing the limits about your camber recommendations, but this is the first time the issue has been so public. Has it been a problem for you all season?

PH: It is very circuit dependent. I’ve already said that the tyre structure is very strong – but the first thing we worry about is the structure of the tyre. You will find that people want to push to the limits because the tyres have been proven to be so strong. But bear in mind that what we give is a guideline – that that is as far as we want you to go; it doesn’t mean you have to do it. But clearly if now people are saying that is what they are going to do, then we will have to reduce the limits.

Q. Will you be stricter with teams from now on, saying that your guidelines must be stuck to?

PH: Well we have to rely on them to measure it and tell us what they are using. And we have to believe what we are being told.

Q. Will you be writing to the teams and letting them know what you feel?

PH: We do every race, but we will remind them that this was not an ideal situation.

Q. We have had blistering in the past at Monza, so I guess this is quite an urgent issue?

PH: The issue is the same – it is all straight-line stuff in the shoulder. It is a similar phenomenon. But if you look at the medium tyre, you don’t get any blistering, it has higher heat resistance. What we had hoped here, if somebody was in difficulty, that they would have run the race on the prime tyre. Then they would have run without any issues whatsoever. However, everybody went for performance and that was disappointing.

Q. You tested at Monza a couple of weeks ago, so will that help you enormously for the grand prix there?

PH: Well. It gave us the confidence to know that for here the medium compound would provide a high level of heat resistance and not blister, which has proven to be the case. I guess what you ultimately hope would happen was that people would see such a phenomenon, you would switch to a product that is not demonstrating such a thing. That is something we need to think about. Performance counts a lot in F1 and it appears people are willing to compromise in order to get that performance.

Q. If blistering is left unchecked, can it lead to tyre failures?

PH: Yes, ultimately. If you keep using a tyre and wearing it down – it depends how stupid you want to be. Ordinarily there should not be any concern; it is something that should be self regulating. Some of the images I saw today on two cars made me think that maybe they were not looking at the same images as me – or they did not have a high definition television. I don’t know…

Q. Sebastian Vettel said a few times today that the team took a few risks. How do you feel about those comments?

PH: Well, they were taking the risk weren’t they?

Q. But it is your name on the side of the tyre?

PH: I know, but what do you do? Stop them driving? What do you do? We were confident that if you came to me and asked if it was a safety issue I would have said no, absolutely not. Is it a performance issue? Ultimately yes. Everything can be a safety issue if you continue beyond natural limits of using it, but you have to believe that the level of professionalism of people within the sport is such that they are not going to go that far. It is one of those chicken and egg situations. We don’t go out there and measure all the geometry ourselves and tell them, excuse me.

Q. Were you worried before the race then?

PH: Not with the majority, no. Absolutely not. We spoke to a lot of people and had a lot of different points of view, and we were quite confident that the majority of teams were quite comfortable with the situation.

While I understand his points clearly, I am intrigued that he is suggesting Red Bull were the only team who had experienced this issue and it was their call to start the drivers on the blistering tires.  If memory serves correct, and I could be wrong here, other teams were also experiencing this issue but perhaps not to the same degree.  Hembrey diluted that question and while I understand it is not an optimum situation from a brand perspective to face this issue, nor was it optimum for Red Bull to be told they should start from the pit lane if they were worried about it.  Both situations equally uncomfortable.

The overriding issue, for me, is that Pirelli have done an incredible job this year and even if they had a slight issue at Spa, given they had no testing there and the wet weather all weekend long played a part in hiding the issue, you could forgive them for having a wear issue on the soft compound.  Pirelli have no reason to feel down in the mouth over the situation as they have performed exemplary this season.  Nor should they squarely aim at red Bull if other teams were facing a similar situation even if it were slightly less than Red Bull.

Ultimately the race went off without a hitch and as it progressed, you could clearly see many teams struggling with the blistering of the front tires.  The engineers for each team are going to push the envelope and Pirelli know this.  It is important they factor this in to the safety equation as teams are looking for knife-edge performance and look to Pirelli for limits to the construction of the tire.

The teams know as well as Pirelli does at just how far tires can be pushed but if there is an extenuating circumstance, such as this weekend, then it is really incumbent upon the FIA, Pirelli and the teams to sort out the situation from a safety standpoint.  Simply suggesting that Red Bull had the option to start from pit lane is really not a realistic answer to the situation given they had secured pole position.  What may have been acceptable is for all teams to be allowed to change tires prior to the start as the grid had not had enough dry-weather running to suss out the issue before hand and for safety reasons, the FIA and Pirelli would be seen as playing it safe with the driver’s safety.

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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.
  • Shocks&Awe

    I dunno, seems pretty cut and dried to me. Red Bull chose to push the limits, and were faced with the possibility that they had gone over the limit. It was entirely up to them whether or not they wanted to continue pushing the limit, or err on the side of safety and start from the pit lane. I don’t see how it’s the FIA’s or Pirelli’s responsibility to save Red Bull from themselves. There are rules and there are recommendations.

    Responsibility for policing rules belongs to the FIA, recommendations to the teams. If that’s not acceptable, turn the recommendations into rules.

    • mark h

      a big +1 here

  • UK Blues

    Pirelli did not have a ‘slight issue’ at Spa. Several teams over-stressed a component (Red Bull more than others) to a point where it began to fail.

    If a driver attacks a curb too much and breaks a wishbone would you blame the manufacturer?

    I understand that F1 is all about pushing boundaries. I delight in it. But to blame a supplier for your own mistreatment of their wares is, as I said elsewhere, poor form.