- British Grand Prix - The Final Stint
Bang! And the tyre is gone!
A round-up of the good, the bad and the downright ugly from the 2013 British Grand Prix
- British Grand Prix
Pirelli has had a rough season this year but nothing has compared to Sunday's British Grand Prix. Four dramatic tyre blow outs came close to red flagging the race and provided a glimpse of what the farcical 2005 US Grand Prix at Indianapolis could have been like had Michelin - then supplying 14 cars on the grid - allowed its teams to race. The warning signs have been littered throughout the season with the odd delamination here and some intense degradation there, but nothing has compared to the explosive failures at Silverstone. According to Pirelli that is because the failures in Silverstone were of an entirely different nature, but in many ways that is even more worrying. The 2013 spec tyres were controversial enough without the added danger of instant blow outs at high-speed circuits and several drivers expressed their concerns after the race. Thankfully no-one was hurt and the one positive to come out of the situation is that the teams can no longer block Pirelli's attempts to alter the construction - should that be the best solution. There is no doubt that the tyres are now a safety concern and as a result Pirelli is free to make changes to them without the teams' agreement. Nevertheless, it is a PR disaster for the Italian manufacturer just as the company's board had been persuaded to stick with the F1 project amid tricky negotiations. For a tyre company, images do not come much worse than exploding rubber at high speed and the full impact of the blow outs will be felt in Pirelli's sales and deals with car manufacturers. What that means for the 2014 tyre situation remains to be seen, but Pirelli may now be keen to go ultra conservative for the rest of the year and that could also have a big impact on the championship.
All part of the Mercedes masterplan?
Nico Rosberg's victory at Silverstone was by no means a straightforward one. It required all of his main rivals to have a problem: Lewis Hamilton's blow out, Sebastian Vettel's gearbox gremlins and Mark Webber's shocking start. But that's not to take anything away from Rosberg, who only narrowly avoided a blow out himself and managed his race to perfection to win by 0.7s. But perhaps the bigger surprise was that Mercedes managed to last the distance without suffering chronic tyre degradation. That fact did not escape Red Bull boss Christian Horner and Lotus team principal Eric Boullier who both pointed to the fact that Mercedes has won two races since its private test with Pirelli following the Spanish Grand Prix. While there's no doubt that the test will have helped, it's still unlikely Mercedes has found a silver bullet for its silver arrow. Although Silverstone is tough on its tyres, degradation is front limited due to the lack of traction zones. Mercedes' issue has always been with the rears and this weekend it has been able to protect those more than it could in Spain due to the way the tyres wear on all four corners. The last front-limited circuit was China and Lewis Hamilton took pole and finished third. If both Red Bulls had been running in fine fettle throughout the race, Mercedes would have struggled to finish any higher than third. Nevertheless, a win is a win and from now on Mercedes is likely to be a stronger force at all circuits for the rest of the season.
The Story of the Weekend
- Shock: Nico Rosberg - On a hot, high-speed circuit his Mercedes managed to hold on to its tyres for the win
- Shocker:Pirelli - Five tyre blow outs in one weekend amounts to a serious issue for the tyre company
- Best overtake: Mark Webber - Went wheel-to-wheel with Kimi Raikkonen in Copse corner to prove that he's not past it just yet
- Best lap: Fernando Alonso - At the end of lap 48 he passed Ricciardo and then Sutil within a lap
- Worst lap: Adrian Sutil - Lost two places on lap 49 to Alonso and Hamilton to drop out of podium contention
- Drive of the day: Mark Webber - On a weekend when he made the headlines on Thursday by announcing his retirement, he came within 0.7s of making then again them on Sunday by winning the race. A poor start saw him incur damage but he fought back to second with a brilliant drive through the field
The race for Red Bull
Mark Webber caught much of the Formula One paddock by surprise on Thursday morning when he announced his decision to switch to the World Endurance Championship (WEC) with Porsche at the end of the season. While Webber wasn't expected to stay, attention would have started turning to his future after this race - when his new contract was announced last year - not before it. Webber says he has done Red Bull a favour by allowing it to get on with making a decision on who will replace him and, even though it appeared the team was caught by surprise too, Christian Horner was quick to name a shortlist of three to replace him featuring Kimi Raikkonen, Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne. It's expected that the Toro Rosso drivers would be named - and Vergne and Ricciardo have both impressed recently - but Raikkonen has to be the heavy favourite. He's a marketing dream for Red Bull - a team which has been losing the brand's fun-loving image in recent years - and the fact that he is named as a candidate speaks volumes. Horner was asked about Paul di Resta but said "I'm not sure what Paul's situation is but as I say I think our focus will primarily be on those three guys." That would suggest he knows Raikkonen's situation, because he wants him to make the move and has already made contact.
McLaren admitting defeat
Speaking ahead of the race weekend, McLaren managing director Jonathan Neale was keen to stress the team would not be switching extra resources prematurely after what appeared to be some encouraging running at Idiada. Come Friday evening it was clear McLaren had not made any inroads in to the cars ahead of them and now Martin Whitmarsh has admitted the team will be turning its attention to the 2014 car. Ultimately, it's the right thing to do; Force India was concerned that McLaren would overhaul it soon after the start of the season, but if anything Force India is pulling away in fifth in the constructors' championship. The team needs to cut its losses, take some short-term pain - like Mercedes did towards the end of last season - and get everything right for next year. It started a new set of regulations badly in 2009 and has failed to win a title since; it can't afford to make the same mistake next year. Saving fifth in the constructors' from its current position is not going to live long in the memory, it'll still go down as a shocking season, but winning a title next year could erase all that.
Paul di Resta could have scored his elusive podium this weekend had it not been for his bizarre grid penalty on Saturday night. From fifth on the grid he would have been in a position to take advantage of the mistakes and bad luck of those ahead of him and, assuming Force India pulled off a better strategy than it did with Adrian Sutil, landed some serious points. Instead he started from the back of the grid because he and his car did not meet the minimum weight in qualifying. The strange thing was that he had been at the correct weight after final practice but by the time he weighed in after qualifying he was 1.5kg under where he needed to be. The team could not explain the discrepancy - such things are very closely monitored over a grand prix weekend - but that only makes it all the more frustrating. As it happened, di Resta pulled off an impressive performance to finish ninth, although he will be hugely frustrated that he didn't come away with more from his home race.
New life in the championship
The signs were ominous after Sebastian Vettel extended his championship lead to 36 points in Canada, and even more so when luck appeared to be going his way at Silverstone. Lewis Hamilton's puncture had elevated him in to a race-winning position and he too had a cut to his left rear tyre in the first stint that the team noticed once they took the tyres off the car at the first pit stop, but he didn't suffer the same fate as Hamilton. Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen were squabbling for relatively minor points and Vettel's lead was set to reach almost 50 points. Then, on lap 41, it all changed. As Vettel ground to a halt the Silverstone crowd celebrated, not out of hatred for the championship leader - though some will have been voicing displeasure - but mainly because it gave his title rivals the chance to close the gap. The safety car period turned the race for Alonso too and allowed him to take on fresh rubber to charge up to third. Crucially, the gap at the top is now less than a race victory and we've had a reminder of how quickly things can turn. It really is a long old season…