Monday, July 01, 2013

British Grand Prix: Both the Best and the Worst Race of the Season

Who in Europe is happier than Nico Rosberg after the British Grand Prix? The Michelin people in France and the Porsche people in Germany.

Pirelli's faulty tires more than just influenced Sunday's race, they posed a real danger to the drivers, both in the cars that suffered tire failure, and in the cars behind that were showered with shards of rubber and steel. There have been whispers of Michelin returning to F1, and the tire failures at Silverstone will only turn those whispers into shouts.

Why are Porsche happy? Because of how well Mark Webebr performed after a bad start. And keep in mind that Les Mans has a rolling start, so Webber's most glaring weakness as an F1 driver won't matter in his sports car career. Les Mans is also a race that's all about recovering from adversity and keeping a cool head while doing so, waiting for the race to come to you. Mr. Webber has that cool head that Porsche will need at Le Mans in 2014.

Back to Pirelli...

A tire manufacturer shouldn't be the biggest story of the World Championship. In the early season an epidemic of wear-phobia had engineers slowing their cars down and dictating conservative lap times. Then Pirelli and Mercedes had their 1000km test, which weirdly coincided with Mercedes finally figuring out how to improve the previously atrocious wear-rates on their rear tires. And now this weekend's tire failures not only dramatically affected the results of a race, they put the drivers in unacceptable jeopardy.

Thankfully Silverstone has generous run-off areas. Otherwise Sergio Perez's car might have tattooed a wall instead of harmlessly skidding over asphalt and gravel. The same goes for Felipe Massa. Thankfully the debris that sprayed Kimi Raikonnen's face wasn't that substantial. Thankfully when Fernando Alonso was behind Perez, at the very last instant before the failure Alonso moved to his right instead of left, a nanosecond before Perez's tire disintegrated. Had Alonso gone left, his car and possibly his skull would have been struck at high-speed by a large, and heavy, slab of rubber.

The cause of the failures is still being investigated. Had Pirelli not been at the focal point of issues all year long, then perhaps the initial speculation would focus more on the track being a problem, not the tires.

The importance of driver safety will hopefully unite all parties involved (the FIA, the 11 teams, and Pirelli) to strive for solutions to these tire issues. Allan Simonsen's death at Le Mans a week ago reemphasizes how dangerous racing is. And how even though there hasn't been an F1 fatality since Ayrton Senna in 1994, the reason behind that impressive safety record is relentless effort to keep the drivers as safe as possible.

It's a shame there's such a short time between now and Germany. Usually I can't stand waiting longer than a week for the next F1 race, but with so many tire issues, and another old circuit with old curbs in the Nürburgring, I'm not sure everything can be satisfactorily resolved in time.

As far as the non-tire related elements of the race, which have been a secondary story all year long, Vettel was finally bitten by bad luck, as Alonso prophesied a few weeks ago. He was cruising toward another impressive-yet-boring Vettel victory when he lost drive on the pit-straight.

Vettel might be lucky that Raikonnen was unable to fully capitalize on the misfortune. Although Alonso is closest to Vettel in points, Alonso's car doesn't seem capable of winning a Championship, no matter who drives it. Especially as other cars like the Red Bulls and Mercedes improve their pace on a much steeper curve than Ferrari has. In my opinion, Raikonnen in a Lotus is much more of a threat to Vettel than Alonso in a Ferrari.

Raikonnen didn't stop for tires during the last safety car period and it cost him. He tumbled from 2nd to 5th and lost 8 precious Championship points. He started the season maximizing the point opportunities available to him, grinding out the best finish he could given circumstances. Lately, though, that team has left points on the table.

Thankfully for Vettel, Rosberg and teammate Webber are not contenders for the Championship. Then again, Rosberg has scored 60 points in the last three races, all since that secret "safety" test with Pirelli. Rosberg only scored 22 points in the previous 5 races. Mercedes and Rosberg have certainly figured out quite a bit since that test. The Silver Arrows have had speed in them all season long. Now that they've apparently resolved their wear problems, both Rosberg and Hamilton could climb their way up the standings.

Photo Credits:
Lars Baron/Getty Images
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

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