Vettel overcomes tyre blistering to extend F1 championship lead
Blistering issues in qualifying with Pirelli’s Formula One P Zero tyres in Belgium did not stop Sebastian Vettel from converting his pole position into another Grand Prix victory over the 44 laps of the Spa-Francorchamps circuit. Pirelli was involved in pre-race discussions with Formula One competitors and administrators after its tyres appeared to degrade as a result of the cars’ set-up for the long, fast straights of Spa. Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery said that the “problem was seemingly a consequence of some cars placing an excessive load on the inner shoulder of the front tyre due to their set-up and so overheating the compound.” He also explained that this overheating “did not at all affect the structural integrity of the tyre,” an opinion borne out by Vettel’s victory, as he appeared to be one of those most affected by tyre blistering.
During the race, and for the first time all weekend, conditions remained consistently dry, following rain throughout the free practice and qualifying sessions. Vettel used a three-stop strategy to win, having started on the P Zero Yellow soft tyre before using the harder P Zero medium tyre to finish the race. His teammate Mark Webber stopped twice to finish runner-up, making excellent use of the P Zero White medium tyre to claim second place with nine laps to go.
All the drivers apart from McLaren’s Jenson Button and Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher started the race on the P Zero Yellow soft tyre. Both Button and Schumacher, who started further down the grid than they had hoped due to problems in qualifying, used a different tyre strategy to their rivals, starting on the medium tyre and finishing on the soft.
Blistering: Pirelli’s response
Pirelli’s statement on the weekend’s tyre performance explained: “Blistering occurs when the compound overheats, causing parts of the tread pattern to degrade. Following a comprehensive review of the situation overnight, the conclusion was drawn that this was a consequence of some car set-ups, affecting compound life rather than structural rigidity. As it was, the blistering did not cause any of the frontrunners significant problems during the race. None of the leaders stopped after lap 32, ensuring an exciting run to the finish after four changes of lead in the first eight laps.
Hembery commented: “Spa-Francorchamps always provides a thrilling race, although it was unusual not to see any rain at all during the grand prix this year. Heading into the race, all the teams had very little information about dry running in Spa, and this clearly increased the challenge. There was an issue with the front tyre blistering but we are confident that a similar scenario will not arise again, provided that our usage recommendations are followed. Of course, if any team had been concerned about their situation, they had the option to change their set-up and start from the pit lane. However, the majority of teams felt that no change was necessary.
Hembery explained the decision to start the race on the same tyres that had blistered in qualifying the previous day: “As there was no safety issue and because it would have been unfair to the teams that were unaffected, the decision was taken to start with the qualifying tyres as per the usual regulations. Although we did have the capacity to substitute the soft tyres after qualifying it turned out not be necessary. The harder tyres performed with no problems at all throughout the weekend. Both Michael Schumacher and Jenson Button started the race on the P Zero White, which formed an integral part of their great fight back up the field.”