A dramatic end to the F1 British GP saw tyres play a key role, and involved drivers, team principals, and the Pirelli boss explained the calamity.
On Lap 50 of the F1 British GP, the dynamic of the entire race changed. Pitwalls lit up with radio messages going in and out, as three cars – none of which were on particularly unusually strategies – had tyre failures in quick succession, seemingly without warning.
The first to go was Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, who fell victim to a deteriorating front-left tyre – 36 laps after he pitted. The 52nd and final lap of the race saw McLaren’s Carlos Sainz’s front-left implode, and only one cutaway shot in the global feed later, it was learned that racer leader Lewis Hamilton had an identical issue.
For the Finn, this incident was particularly costly, as he had to lap the lengthy F1 circuit once more before being able to pit. He would lose multiple positions thanks to this disadvantage and eventually finish outside the points.
This, compared to his teammate Hamilton, whose tyre issue presented itself only in the latter half of the final lap. P2 finisher Max Verstappen could have suffered the same fate, but Red Bull opted to pit him out of an abundance of caution and fastest lap on mind.
Some viewed this stop as a race win costing one. Another beneficiary of the drama was Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who ran fourth before Bottas’ falling through the field granted him an extra position as Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo was close for a F1 podium.
It was a big loss for Bottas as he is now 30 points behind Hamilton. The Finn complained of vibrations even to the extent of having visual problems, but had no sense of the immenent danger. His teammate felt fine with the F1 tyres, and adapted well to scrape across the line.
Bottas: “Of course, it is very disappointing, I am very unlucky, also, where I got the puncture, I had to go around the whole lap, not ideal. We knew it would be a long stint with the hard tyres, so I was trying to put pressure on Lewis and towards the end I was getting more and more vibrations. Then in the end, I had in my mind that something could happen like this, and so I was managing it. but it happened like this and I couldn’t predict.”
Hamilton: “I think in the heat of the moment you have the adrenaline going and I guess that fight for survival instinct comes out. I was able to stay calm and really measured and try to bring the car home but of course, I’m just sitting here thinking of all the things that could have happened, if the tyre gave up in a high-speed corner or something it would have been a much different picture. So I feel incredibly grateful that it didn’t and we just managed, but I heard that Max was catching at crazy speed.
“I think I got onto Hangar Straight and I could hear I think ‘You’re at 19 seconds’ at that point and I was trying to pick up the speed down that straight but the wheel was obviously making a real mess and I was thinking ‘Geez, how am I going to get through these last few corners without losing too much time’. But fortunately I got round 15 and then once I got to the last two corners that was really when it was a disaster. I could hear “seven, six, five…” and I just managed to keep it together.
“I had no warning as I was constantly looking at the tyre. It was quite smooth and was working really well through Turn 3, the thing was turning fine. So I was trying to gauge just how worn it was but I didn’t have any feeling of wear, it being particularly worn. And then it was just down the straight the thing, you could feel the RPM as I was full speed. The RPM drops as you start getting extra friction from the tyre as it’s not roiling at the same speed and you feel the balance shift to the left.
“So, it was a bit of panic for a second and I nearly didn’t make it round Turn 7 but after that I managed to make it through all the corners. Before that we were pretty flat-chat to be honest. Valtteri was obviously chasing and keeping the gap. It was between 1.2-2.0 seconds for a good period and then all of a sudden he started to fall away, so I managed to keep good pace and he started to drop away. I think we have to look into why we had this tyre problem. I know a few people did but maybe it was debris or something like that or maybe the tyre was just worn out.
Verstappen: “It’s away easy to say afterwards that I shouldn’t have pitted, but I think we were also lucky today that Valtteri had a puncture, so we gained a position, so I’m actually not disappointed at all, or anything. Once Valtteri had that puncture, OK, it’s an easy P2. So we just pitted for new tyres to make sure because I was also not sure what was going on with my tyres because normally, when you see other cars having punctures and you have pitted on the same lap you are like, well, might happen to you as well.
“So, you don’t want to have that problem, so we pitted just to be sure. We go out, of course with the Soft tyres and then Lewis has his puncture but also that’s unlucky. It could have been lucky for me but unlucky for Lewis. I could also pick up a puncture and I could lose a lot more. And who would have said that Lewis would have got a puncture? How often does this happen?
“Normally, never. So, I don’t regret anything. I think we made the right decision. It is what it is. Normally, you don’t really get punctures. They are also the deserved winners. It’s not like I’m sitting here upset or disappointed. I’m actually very happy to be second. Normally it would have been third.”
On the other hand, Sainz had similar thoughts regarding his failure. The Spaniard had hard battles early on but settled in then. He started to push a bit when Ricciardo passed his teammate Lando Norris, which may have worsened the compound as he ended up 14th.
Sainz: “It was a very long stint, so you always manage the tires very well at the beginning. Then when I saw Lando getting passed by Daniel, I started picking up the pace, forcing a bit more through the front left in the high-speed corners, but you never expect a puncture. It happened so immediately. There were vibrations from the graining, but you never expect that kind of thing to happen – especially 1.5 laps to the end, but that’s F1.”
From the team point of view, mysteriously, Mercedes were the only F1 team to have both drivers suffer from this issue. Some partially blamed this on DAS – a system that directly impacts tyres but team principal Toto Wolff ruled this out as a factor.
He felt DAS didn’t because Sainz also had the failure. Similarly, he dismissed that the use of 2019 F1 tyres affected this. On Hamilton and Bottas pushing each other, Wolff conceded that it could have had an effect but he wants Pirelli’s answers before adding more.
Horner, on the other hand, defended Red Bull’s call to pit Verstappen as he saw about 50 cuts on his F1 tyres when they had a look. He, like, Wolff conceded that hindsight is always a good thing but felt second was still a good result while he was destined to finish third.
Wolff: “Obviously the drama unfolded with Valtteri coming on the radio saying ‘there’s something wrong with the tyre’, and then 10 seconds later we had the puncture, we saw the puncture on the sensors and at the same time I saw where he was on track and he was exactly on the wrong side of the track.
“So, it was clear that it wasn’t going to be a great result and I felt very sorry for him and for the team because it would have been 18 points more in the constructors and 18 points for him in the driver’s championship suddenly vanished. That was already not a great moment and then obviously a lap later, the same situation with Lewis.
“It was exactly the same sentence, he said ‘something’s going on with my tyre’ and then ‘puncture’. Same place, same tyre and again it was on the wrong side of the track and we were just hoping to get to the end. Regarding the call for stopping Hamilton, we had enough gap to Max to pit, but it was only one lap to go, so the decision was taken not to pit and everything looked fine at that stage.
“We saw that Lewis’s tyre was in a better state, his front-left was in a better state than Valtteri’s and then it still looked a little bit random. And then obviously everything unfolded and suddenly the pictures of Sainz on the screen and a few moments later we saw that Lewis had the puncture. In hindsight, afterwards, a pitstop would have probably been better but at the end we don’t know the root cause of the failure.
“As well it could have been debris, the newer tyre would have had more integrity and more rubber and would probably have protected better against debris, so we learn from that and if we have the gap, probably we will pit if the tyre is in a bad condition. Remember, Valtteri was complaining about heavy vibration that almost went to a point where his vision was heavily impacted. And certainly they were pushing each other maybe a little bit beyond what we would have wanted as a team but I guess you need to let them race.
“We want them, that the F1 tyres need to make it to the end. They were both aware that they could lose P1 or P2 with a failure and they are very experienced, so it’s then down to their decision once they get all the input from us. I don’t want to interfere in the racing. We can’t say to Valtteri ‘back off, let’s cruise home’ and we didn’t do that.”
Horner: “The problem is we’ll never know really, because the tyre that came off the car had about 50 little cuts in it, so it had been through debris. If we had stayed out, we could have lost a second position with the same failure as Lewis, Carlos and Bottas. It was right on the limit. We’ll be grateful for what we’ve got rather than what we’ve potentially lost.”
And finally, Pirelli spoke about the failures and when the analysis can be done and what will be the future course to media including Racefans.net, Motorsport Network, BBC, Reuters and more. Mario Isola ruled out structural failure and pinned it to either debris related or wear. He admitted blistering was there but it was a normal and that it was front-right which was affected because of it and not the front-left.
Isola: “We will obviously investigate what happened in the last few laps. It’s a bit early now to give you any conclusion. It could be high wear, because for sure tyres with 38 laps or more on this circuit are quite worn, but I’m not saying that the wear is the cause of the issue. It can be debris, because we had the pieces of the front wing of Kimi that were on track, but also some other debris.
“So that’s why we want to investigate not only the tyres with a failure, but all the tyres used in the last few laps of the race, to understand if we find any other cut or any other possible indication on what happened. We don’t want to exclude anything, we want to analyse everything 360 degrees and avoid excluding any possibility because it’s a big mistake when you make these kinds of investigations.
“We have to consider all the possibilities. What we can do is to analyse the tyres from the race to understand if there is anything in the construction that was subject to excessive stress, or whatever, but this is one of the investigations. The level of wear is quite high, this is a factor, looking at the tyre from Grosjean the first stint, it was completely worn, and I had a look at some tyres coming also from the second stint, and the level of wear is close to 100%.
“Then we have to understand If this is the cause of the failures or not. What is clear is that when you have a tyre that is completely worn the protection of the tread on the construction is less. So if there is any debris, any small piece of carbon on track, it is easier to damage the tyre, because you don’t have any rubber on the tyre that is protecting the cord, and some cords are visible on the tyres.
“We have the possibility to do some analysis in our laboratory here on track. It is clear that we don’t have a lot of time to carry on with the investigation, because we have another race in less than one week. So, we have to come to a conclusion as soon as possible. The target is to have something more fully by Monday or Tuesday at the latest.
“If there is the need to run any tests that are not possible to run here on track we will send the van quickly to Milan where we have our facilities, laboratories, indoor testing, with obviously more possibilities, more testing we can do there. But I’m confident that we can have some good indication from the laboratories that we have here on track.
“There are a number of question marks at the moment and depending on which is the cause of the issue, we have to react appropriately. But the reaction can be different if we are talking about the wear, for example, it doesn’t matter if we go with the same compounds we use today, or the softer compounds, each tyre has a maximum number of laps that depends on each car. Each F1 car is different.”
Here’s the report for the F1 British GP
Here’s the story on Renault’s protest against Racing Point
Here’s the story on environmental protesters at Silverstone
[Note: FormulaRapida.net is on race by race accreditation from the FIA as our budget is not high enough for a permanent pass. In the unusual situation and decision from the governing body to not allow access for any of the grand prix to race by race sites, there is little way for us to get access for almost all of the races this year. We have friends in the F1 community who help us with material which we use and in addition to that, we have decided to use trusted and permanent media for quotes not available with due credit.]