F1 British Grand Prix: Safety Dance

f1-2013-britain-rosberg-victoryThe story of the day at the British Grand Prix was the same as what it always seems to be this season. Tyres have been an issue all season but it came to a head in Britain. The race was exciting but it had an unexpected added aspect of danger as there were a number of tyre failures. Nico Rosberg may have crossed the line first but he certainly wasn’t the story of the race.

The race started with a top driver getting a fantastic spot and another top driver getting a terrible start. Felipe Massa started in 11th after missing Q3 but was able to slice his way through the field to get to 5th. Meanwhile, 4th place starter Mark Webber had a terrible start which saw a slow start from the lights compounded by contact in Turn 1.

Lewis Hamilton led away from the lights after scoring a dominant pole. He also took off early in the race but his progress was quickly slowed after his left-rear tyre suffered a spectacular failure that forced him to spend half-a-lap crawling back to the pits and ending his challenge for the win. That put Sebastian Vettel into the lead.

f1-2013-britain-hamiltonTwo laps after Hamilton’s tyre blowout, it was Massa’s turn as his early progress was derailed by a tyre failure. Five laps after that, it was Jean-Eric Vergne’s turn to have a spectacular tyre issue. At that point, Charlie Whiting deployed the safety car so the track marshals had the opportunity to clear the track of any debris.

When racing resumed, Vettel set off into the distance but he wasn’t going to hold that lead to the end of the race. With ten laps to go, Vettel’s car ground to a halt with a gearbox failure. That forced another safety car period to retrieve the stranded Red Bull.

That put Nico Rosberg on the point. His biggest challenge would come from the other Red Bull. Webber climbed from 5th to 2nd and might have been able to get by Rosberg for the win if he had another lap. However, it was a little luck and a safety car (and a 1000 km private tyre test following the Spanish Grand Prix) that gave Rosberg the win.

The win was Nico TyreTest’s second win in the three races since the Mercedes’ tyre test following the Monaco Grand Prix. It also means he has scored the most points of anyone since that tyre test. Surely that’s just a coincidence. Mark Webber finished second but might have won if only for a bit more luck. At least he won’t have to deal with standing starts next year. Fernando Alonso had an uncharacteristically quiet day as he climbed to 3rd late in the running.

Lewis Hamilton finished 4th after coming back from that flat tyre. Kimi Raikkonen’s 5th place finish seemed slightly reminiscent of last year’s Chinese Grand Prix when his tyres started to fade at the end which left him as easy pickings late in the running for Webber, Alonso and Hamilton.

Felipe Massa’s stellar start which saw him quickly climb from 11th to 5th ended just outside the top five in 6th despite his own tyre issues. Adrian Sutil looked like a threat for a podium finish  but could only manage 7th. Daniel Ricciardo’s latest audition for a Red Bull seat ended in 8th. Paul di Resta started 21st after being excluded from qualifying due to his car being underweight but managed to climb into the points in 9th. Nico Hulkenberg snapped a five race pointless streak with a 10th place finish.

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The big subplot of this race and this weekend was a few tyre failures. In Friday practice, Sergio Perez saw his left-rear tyre pretty much explode. Tyres failed in a very similar fashion during the race too. On Sunday, four drivers had spectacular tyre failures including Hamilton, Massa, Jean-Eric Vergne, and Perez again.

f1-2013-britain-turn-4-kerbSome of the teams and media seemed to think that there was a kerb at Turn 4 (the left-hand hairpin leading to the straight in the new part of the circuit) that was “razor-sharp.” I’d accept that it could be a dangerous kerb but why is this the only curb in F1 to have this issue and why didn’t we hear about this in GP2 or GP3?

In Pirelli’s defence, they have offered to bring harder tyres and tyres with different construction. However, several teams voted against using these tyres. Pirelli have been trying to get these tyres into the hands of the teams since the tyre issues first became a big deal in Bahrain.

The FIA have called Pirelli to an emergency meeting of the Sporting Working Group to address the safety of the tyres. When talking to Italian journalists after the race, Massa referred to safety during the race being “in the hands of God.” When drivers start talking like that, you worry if we’ve gone by typical driver melodrama and into a very serious safety issue.

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It looks like Mercedes’ 1000 km Pirelli tyre test using their 2013 car with their two race drivers wasn’t that big a deal in the eyes of the FIA. For their clear violation of F1’s testing ban, Mercedes was slapped with the devastating penalty of not being allowed to participate in the Young Drivers Test and a formal reprimand.

f1-2013-britain-rosberg-birthdayAs you can tell, I don’t think this is a fair punishment in this instance. Mercedes says that they are put at a disadvantage because the Young Drivers Test will be about a 1500 km test while they only got 1000 km. However, that’s 1500 km with drivers who don’t know the car or tyres. Whose feedback is more accurate and reliable: Your two race and pole position winning Grand Prix drivers or two rookies who have never driven in a Grand Prix? That’s not a hard question to answer.

Making this so-called punishment worse was the fact that Mercedes effectively dictated their punishment to the FIA’s International Tribunal. Mercedes’ lawyer told the tribunal that a fair punishment would be a reprimand and a ban from the Young Drivers Test. What did Mercedes get? A reprimand and a ban from the Young Drivers Test. Can something really be a punishment when you tell the panel handing out the punishment what punishment should be?

If it was up to me, I would have stripped Mercedes of points from all races between their tyre test and the Young Drivers Test which would have meant that they would have scored no Constructors’ Championship points for the four races from Monaco to Germany to eliminate any advantage they had from earning them more prize money. I’d also have banned them from the Young Drivers test and added a test day around a Grand Prix to allow the other teams to get an extra day’s running with the Pirelli tyres with their Grand Prix drivers.

Maybe my proposed solution would be a bit harsh on Mercedes but the testing ban is there for a reason. It’s also clear that Mercedes also gained a massive advantage from the test. Prior to the test, the W04 was probably the fourth-best car on the grid. Now, you can make the argument that they’re easily in the top three and maybe closer to the second fastest. It’s amazing what 1000 km can do for you.

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One of the worst kept secrets in Formula One is official. Mark Webber is retiring from Formula One at the end of the season and will be joining Porsche’s factory LMP1 team starting next season. And immediately after announcing his retirement, he put in the drive of the race. Not too bad for a #2 driver.

With Webber’s immediate future secure, the question becomes who will take over his seat at Red Bull next season. The current shortlist to replace Webber includes Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne, both of Toro Rosso, and Lotus lead driver Kimi Raikkonen. Who takes Webber’s seat might come down to whether or not Lotus can convince Raikkonen to come back. Also, don’t be surprised if one of the Force India guys gets a call from RBR.

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f1-2011-germany-trackThe next round of the 2013 Formula One World Championship is next weekend. It’s time for the German Grand Prix from the Nurburgring. There was some question as to whether the track would host the Grand Prix this year after they publicized their financial troubles last year. However, a deal was reached to make the race happen this year.

After this weekend, you have to look at the Red Bulls and Mercedes as the favourites for the German race. Coincidentally, it’s also the home race for both teams. If the race goes green for the whole distance, it’s Red Bull’s race to lose. The safety cars and luck gave Mercedes the win this weekend but can the race go their way two weekends in a row?

One thought on “F1 British Grand Prix: Safety Dance

  1. Spot on with the kerbs. Can’t see how they wouldn’t have been an issue for previous races/categories all weekend.

    Not so sure I agree with luck as the determinant of Mercedes’ and Rosberg’s victory. Sure, Vettel’s malfunction was a slice of fortune, but I think the Mercs may just about have had the pace to mix it properly with the Red Bulls.

    What we need is a nice boring processional race to see who’s got what in their pockets! Seems to be a buzz around Mercedes that they’ve sorted their issues and can mount a strong challenge in the 2nd half of the season. Whether you agree with them testing tyres or not, the byproduct looks to be that we might see someone chase down Seb for a close title fight.

    Like

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