Tuesday 2 July 2013

Further thoughts on the British Grand Prix

No one emerges with credit
'You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it's an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.'

No, these are not the words of Paul Hembery - rather they were uttered by Rahm Emanuel, currently Mayor of Chicago - but they could have been. They're very apt.

It probably seemed impossible at the time, but at least some good has come of the British Grand Prix last weekend. It's whipped the notoriously difficult to herd F1 fraternity into order, in-season tyre testing to help Pirelli is to come back, first at the Young Drivers' Test and possibly at Brazil too, as well as that changes to the tyres are to be made incrementally in the next two rounds.

Adrian Newey - wide of the mark
Credit: Morio / CC
I've noticed however a certain amount of finger pointing at three teams - Ferrari, Lotus and Force India - who'd sought to minimise the changes before now, including the two changes to the tyres that we've now ended up with: reintroduction of the Kevlar belt and having 2013 compounds with 2012 tyre construction. Surprisingly, such finger pointing has also come from Red Bull's Adrian Newey - I say 'surprisingly' as Newey's public comments are usually considered, even-handed. But in this case he said: 'It's a sad state of affairs but such is the nature of Formula 1, really. 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 and concerns about driver safety.'

In fairness to Newey this was no doubt said when emotions still ran high after the often harrowing Silverstone spectacle. But nevertheless his words seem at best unhelpful, at worst rather disingenuous. Let's be clear on this point, all of the teams (yes, including Red Bull) - whether they wanted change to the tyres or whether they wanted the initial 2013 design retained as much as possible - based their position on competitiveness, safety didn't seem to enter into it primarily. If nothing else, the Milton Keynes team started to complain about the tyres in Malaysia, two races before the failures started, and look back through the arguments made and you'll struggle to find any safety references. Red Bull instead couched their arguments in terms of spectacle and allowing drivers to push, and lying under it all was the view that more durable tyres would help it win. Ditto with Mercedes. Those, including Newey, who now are claiming that their view was all about safety all along are guilty frankly of a rather shameful rewriting of history.

Further, one can recall the Belgian Grand Prix of 2011, wherein it emerged that Newey's Red Bulls were running with tyre camber in excess of what Pirelli recommended. Then, after Sebastian Vettel's tyres had blistered in qualifying, the team decided to start him on pole on those tyres rather than from the pit lane on fresh rubber, even though Newey admitted that he knew 'the failure of the tyre could be imminent' (and this was at Spa). There was also the Abu Dhabi race of the same year, wherein Seb went out with a tyre failure early, an outcome that's still shrouded in mystery but it's been suggested that Red Bull was doing something unusual in its handling of the tyres or of the wheel rims. Pushing things to the limit, as well as perhaps subjugating safety somewhat in the pursuit of results, isn't the exclusive preserve of a single team in F1.

And in fairness to the 'Montreal Three', Pirelli throughout also seemed reluctant to concede that there was a safety issue with the tyres in the first place. That was why there was general incredulity when Mercedes made an 11th hour claim at the 'testgate' International Tribunal that its participation in the in-season test was about aiding safety. As Graeme Lowden of Marussia noted at the time, that it was on Pirelli's mind was news to the other teams.

In other words, almost no one emerges from this sorry affair with much to be proud of.

You may have noticed that, so far, there's only one further thoughts article rather than the usual five. I've decided to put them up one at a time rather than all at once, to see what difference it makes. The remaining four articles will be up in the next day or two. Be sure to let me know what you think.


  1. I celebrate you call the things like they really are and you have the guts to write it down and share it with everyone on the Internet. This is another brilliant example of honesty and, let's be clear about it, not all your F1 colleagues can say the same. That is why I enter here all the time and I will keep doing it as you are going to have something new everyday, which I think it is a great idea.

    Keep the good work.

    I would like to ask you something, maybe it could serve you as the theme for one of your thoughts: What is your view about the silence of Domenicalli, Montezemolo and all the Ferrari staff? Don't you think they have become insignificant in the F1 politics and their refusal to raise their voices is only exacerbating this situation? Heck, they have just handed the Championship again with this episode. And just like that!

    Thank you mate.

    1. Hi Alvaro. Thanks very much for your kind words, and for being a regular visitor of this site. I'm very glad that you like what I write, it's very nice to hear :)

      Yes, like you I've noticed that Ferrari's been very quiet on political matters recently, which is a big difference from the days of Todt, Brawn etc. From reading this interview with Domenicali just done by the BBC, it sounds like it's deliberate for Ferrari to be less political: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/formula1/23162974

      Maybe it's more admirable that way, though whether it does them as much good in getting results I'm less certain!