Relief as Formula 1 survives scary weekend at Spa
Formula 1 can count its lucky stars after Sebastian Vettel and Nico Rosberg escaped unscathed from high-speed tyre blowouts at the Belgian Grand Prix.
Had the incidents involving Germany’s top two current drivers happened moments earlier, the sport could have been heading for a very dark place indeed so soon after the death of French racer Jules Bianchi.
Bianchi’s demise, nine months after he suffered severe head injuries in a Japanese Grand Prix crash last October, put safety back in the spotlight and the dramatic events at Spa raised more concern.
“Things like that are not allowed to happen. Full stop. If it happened 200 metres earlier, I am not standing here now,” said four times world champion Vettel after his Ferrari’s right rear tyre exploded on Sunday’s penultimate lap.
Moments before, the German had blasted through the famed and feared Eau Rouge at more than 300kph.
Compatriot Rosberg, second in the championship and battling Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton for the title, also suffered a right rear failure in Friday practice.
“For either of us — for me on Friday or for him (Vettel) — if that would have happened a couple of metres earlier or later we would have had huge shunts,” he said.
“I mean the biggest shunts ever, because this track is just so fast.
“The next track is Monza, the fastest track of the year, so they have to think of something to try and improve that situation,” added Rosberg, whose wife is due to give birth to their first child this week and will not have been calmed by events in Spa.
Vettel, who lost out on a podium finish, did not hold back on the expletives and said the drivers would have to discuss matters before the Italian Grand Prix.
Monza is a home race for both Ferrari and Pirelli, the sport’s sole tyre supplier, and the timing is bad news for the latter.
The Italian-based company are bidding against French rivals Michelin, who want to provide a bigger and much more durable tyre, for a new contract from 2017.
Commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone will ultimately decide who gets the contract and while it may come down to other factors, safety concerns cannot be ignored.
While some questioned Ferrari’s aggressive strategy in trying to get Vettel to the finish on just one stop, others felt the tyres should have been able to last.
Certainly, Vettel was overheard remonstrating with Pirelli motorsport head Paul Hembery after the race: “Forty laps, you told us,” he said.
Pirelli issued a subsequent statement to point out that, after a spate of six failures at the 2013 British Grand Prix, their request for a maximum number of laps to be allowed on the same set of tyres had been rejected.
“These conditions, if applied today at Spa, would have limited the maximum number of laps on the medium compound to 22,” it added. Vettel had done 28.
Lotus trackside operations manager Alan Permane, whose French driver Romain Grosjean finished third, questioned whether tyre wear was really the reason.
“They (the tyres) would generally get to being undriveable before they became unsafe; you would pit stop way before anything like that happened,” he told reporters.
“I’d be very surprised if it was a wear-related failure, because they lose performance as you wear them down.”
Ferrari principal Maurizio Arrivabene said the team’s strategy was “absolutely right” and based on data.
“We are not so stupid or so crazy to take a risk for the driver,” he added, pointing out that Pirelli had an engineer embedded with the team. “Don’t worry, our job was done right.”
Vettel was one of several, along with Hamilton and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, to voice concerns about the tyres in the pre-race drivers’ briefing.
“I don’t know what else needs to happen,” the German said after the race. “It’s probably not as bad as it was in Silverstone some years ago but it’s not acceptable.
“If Nico tells us he didn’t go off the track, he didn’t go off the track. Why should he lie to us? Same with me. I didn’t go off the track. It’s just out of the blue, the tyre explodes.”