Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Silverstone, 2020

Pirelli in race to solve tyre troubles after Hamilton’s three-wheeled win

2020 British Grand Prix review

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It was a home victory without a home crowd.

Lewis Hamilton has been able to celebrate grand prix success with the Silverstone faithful six times previously, but not his record-breaking seventh. Good thing he didn’t attempt to crowd-surf.

So we were left to imagine what the atmosphere would have felt like had Hamilton’s last-lap drama unfolded in front of the usual capacity crowd. After his front-left tyre collapsed, a flying Max Verstappen tried in vain to close down a 34-second deficit to the Mercedes driver in a single lap. He fell short, and Hamilton had his third win of the year.

But as the champagne corks popped, thoughts were already turning to the dilemma F1 now faces. It is supposed to race at Silverstone again in six days’ time, it has just witnessed three late-race tyre failures with no warning, and softer rubber has been selected for next weekend.

Silverstone has been a problematic circuit for Pirelli in the past. The 2013 race saw a series of tyre blow-outs, one of which struck Hamilton while he was leading, costing him a likely win. Four years later both Ferrari drivers suffered tyre failures in the penultimate laps.

This year Friday practice was held in very high temperatures – far hotter than the cool race conditions. The second session, where teams usually work on the race performance, was also disrupted by a red flag when Alexander Albon crashed. Teams therefore may have generated less useful data than usual about tyre performance.

Pirelli did observe some blistering, but it was on the front-right tyres. Sunday’s failures caught them and the teams by surprise.

Mercedes lead away

Start, Silverstone, 2020
Hamilton kept Bottas behind him at the start
Of no surprise was the occupants of the front row: Lewis Hamilton on his 91st pole position, Valtteri Bottas alongside. Depressingly for their rivals, everyone else was at least a second away.

Bottas made a fractionally better start than Hamilton, but not enough to be able to assert his place alongside his team mate in the flat-out sprint through Abbey and Farm. As they wound their way through the Arena section, Hamilton drew clear.

Behind them Verstappen held third from Charles Leclerc. The top four had all started on the medium compound tyres, while the soft-shod McLarens went on the attack. Lando Norris didn’t make a particularly good start, and team mate Carlos Sainz Jnr took over in fifth place.

The early exchanges were halted when Kevin Magnussen’s Haas bounced off the Club barrier at the end of lap one. He’d run wide in the previous corner, Alexander Albon had taken a look at the inside of him and the pair collided.

Although it’s an unusual place to make a pass, some of the support race drivers had demonstrated it was perfectly possible to go two-wide through there. Having made the initial mistake, Magnussen had been unwise to turn in as if no one was going to be there, and Albon had cause to feel aggrieved at copping a five-second penalty for the move. It seemed like exactly the sort of the thing the spirit of ‘let them race’ should have permitted.

That brought out the Safety Car. After it returned to the pits there were few changes of position until it reappeared on lap 13. Daniil Kvyat had just found his way past Antonio Giovinazzi when the AlphaTauri driver speared into a barrier at Maggotts. He apologised to his team on the radio, but later investigations suggested a tyre failure at the rear of the car may have been responsible – another potential problem for Pirelli.

That Safety Car period sent virtually the entire field into the pits, and put in motion the sequence of events which led to the dramatic tyre failures at the race’s conclusion.

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Punctures cause late-race drama

Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso, Silverstone, 2020
Kvyat emerged unscathed from a high-speed shunt
Mercedes ‘stacked’ their drivers in the pits, which meant any hope Bottas had of finding a strategic means of fighting Hamilton vanished. When the race resumed, he pressed Hamilton hard, and the race leader suspected his team mate was taking too much out of his tyres by doing so.

“Certainly, they were pushing each other maybe a little bit beyond what we would have wanted as a team,” said team principal Toto Wolff. “But I guess you need to let them race.

“We warned them that the tyres needed to make it to the end. They were both aware that they could lose first or second with a failure. And they are very experienced, so it’s then down to their decision once they got all the input from us.

“I don’t want to interfere into the racing. We can’t say to Valtteri ‘back off, let’s cruise home’ and we didn’t do that.”

As the laps ticked down, however, Bottas became increasingly concerned about the state of his rubber. “Valtteri was complaining about heavy vibration that almost went to a point that his vision was heavily impacted,” said Wolff.

The team wasn’t sure whether this might be the sign of a serious problem, as trackside operations director Andrew Shovlin explained. “Valtteri [had] complained about some vibration a while ago, but you often you often get that when the tyres are very worn if they wear unevenly.

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Silverstone, 2020
Bottas had to do a whole lap on his punctured tyre
“Sometimes it’s just been a pick-up on the tyre. We were a little bit worried about it but all the indications were that the tyres should have been fine to get to the end.”

Despite the real-time data available to the teams, Bottas’s tyre failure on lap 50 of 52 took Mercedes by surprise, said Shovlin. “The things you measure on the tyre are essentially the temperature and the pressures. We can detect a puncture very accurately because from the temperature you can actually work out the number of moles of air in there.

“Obviously if a tyre cools down the pressure drops, but we can distinguish between it cooling and losing air. But these were relatively rapid deflations. Almost without warning.”

With cruel luck, Bottas’s puncture occured as he passed the pit lane entrance, forcing him to complete a full circuit of the second-longest lap on the 2020 F1 calendar (Baku having been cancelled) with only three tyres intact. Verstappen, who’d taken big bites out of the gap to Bottas in the laps leading up to the tyre failure, passed him on the track. By the time Bottas had made it in and out of the pits and resumed on the penultimate lap, he’d fallen to 12th place behind Sebastian Vettel.

Hamilton hangs on

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Silverstone, 2020
Verstappen was five seconds away when Hamilton took the flag
Verstappen pitted at the same time, taking on a set of soft tyres to go after the bonus point for fastest lap. It may have been a good thing they did, for they discovered around 50 cuts on one of his tyres, lending weight to the theory debris had contributed to the punctures.

“There was a bit of debris around,” said Shovlin, adding that neither Hamilton nor Bottas had mentioned it. “You could see the little bits and pieces in various places on the onboard camera but not at a level that had us more worried than normal at any other race.” It may have been significant that Kimi Raikkonen’s front wing failed in the Maggotts-Becketts sequence shortly before Bottas’s tyre let go.

Verstappen’s pit stop gave Mercedes enough of a gap to bring Hamilton in for a fresh set of rubber on the final lap. Somehow this opportunity was missed, and as he loaded the front-left tyre up in the right-hander of Luffield on the final lap it gave way. The track is bordered by a gravel trap and a close barrier here, and had Hamilton not already been driving well within himself he could easily have lost the race in this moment.

Over a fraught final minute, Hamilton coaxed his car around the remaining bends. As he approached the sharp left-hander of Vale he stamped on the brake pedal as hard as he dared, the shredded tyre sending up a cloud of smoke, but car the car turned in. With Peter Bonnington counting down his gap over the charging Verstappen behind, Hamilton made it to the line with just five seconds to spare.

Having been 34 seconds behind at the beginning of the lap, Verstappen caught a glimpse of the Mercedes as he braked for Vale. The bonus point for fastest lap robbed us of the chance to see whether Red Bull would have dared to leave him out in the hope of putting one over Mercedes.

Daniel Ricciardo, Renault, Silverstone, 2020
Ricciardo put one over the McLaren drivers
Mercedes weren’t the only team to suffer late punctures. Sainz ran fifth most of the day, though was causing some concern to Norris who felt he was losing time behind his team mate. His tyre failed on the penultimate lap. Daniel Ricciardo had already passed Norris by this point for a fine fourth place.

Both Renault drivers scored their best result of the season so far: Esteban Ocon took sixth. Pierre Gasly made some excellent passed on his way to seventh, while Albon was fifth despite serving his penalty and being one of few drivers who made a second pit stop after the Safety Car periods.

It was a hugely disappointing home race for Racing Point. Having lost Sergio Perez pre-race due to his positive Covid-19 test, substitute Nico Hulkenberg failed to even start the race as a sheared bolt jammed in his Mercedes power unit. Lance Stroll’s tactical advantage of qualifying on the medium tyres failed to pay off due to the Safety Car period, and he went backwards in the second stint. He would have finished outside the points if it hadn’t been for the spate of late-race punctures.

Sebastian Vettel’s last-lap defence of 10th place and the final point from the recovering Bottas was about the only upside to his desperate weekend.

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Pirelli need answers fast

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Silverstone, 2020
Pirelli will be anxious to prevent further failures
This weekend Silverstone is due to hold a second F1 race, named the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix. But the punctures seen on Sunday will inevitably prompt concerns over further failures, especially as a softer set of tyres have been nominated, which was done in a bid to add a different challenge to what would otherwise be a repeat of exactly the same event.

Before the race weekend began Pirelli had already made arrangements with teams to obtain their data from the race earlier than usual, so they can make any necessary adjustments to their plans.

“If the level of downforce is higher than expected, maybe then we have to react with different prescriptions,” explained Pirelli’s head of motorsport Mario Isola. “We have the possibility to investigate if the level of load on the tyres was in line with the simulation or not. In that case, we can react with a higher starting [tyre] pressure. It’s a possibility. We don’t want to exclude anything.”

They may also change their plans for Friday. Teams were originally due to test new prototype tyres this coming weekend, but that could be shelved to ensure they get the maximum data possible for Sunday.

“If it is better to give the teams the full free practice two for testing the tyres, we are not here to say ‘no, we have the first half hour for our prototypes’,” said Isola.”

“Also, because now we know that we will have more races in Europe, we can also review the plan in order to test our prototypes at a later stage if it is better to give them the option to run the full 90 minutes of second practice next Friday.”

Pirelli had developed new tyre compounds for 2020, which the teams decided last year they did not want to use. But Isola suspects today’s failures would not have been avoided had those tyres been used instead.

Carlos Sainz Jnr, McLaren, Silverstone, 2020
It wasn’t just Mercedes who suffered punctures
“If we are talking about wear it doesn’t make a change because the 2020 construction was developed mainly to have a higher resistance to integrity so those tyres can be used at a lower pressure,” he said. “So if we are talking about fatigue or something like that, it’s one thing. If we are talking about wear it is a different story.”

That leaves Pirelli with some difficult questions to answer ahead of this weekend’s race, including whether it’s wise to press ahead with plans to use the softer rubber.

“I don’t think that having a harder compound is the solution because it’s against the principle to have different strategies and more than one pit stop. We are working on a tyre that is able to generate the ‘cliff’,” Isola added.

“Unfortunately the point is that today we had a race where in the last few laps they were fighting for the position and with the early Safety Car, the second stage was very, very long. Longer than expected. In a normal situation. I struggle to believe that the teams were planning to stop the car at lap 13 and go to the end of the race.”

Hamilton “lucky and unlucky”

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Silverstone, 2020
Hamilton took his seventh home win and a 30-point lead
Verstappen’s race engineer remarked Hamilton had been a “lucky boy” after the race. But speaking to the media afterwards, Verstappen reckoned his rival had been “lucky but also unlucky because he got a puncture”.

The world champion couldn’t recall a similar drama during his 14-year spell in the top flight.

“There was a race when I was in Formula Renault, at Croft,” he recalled, “where the rear suspension, there was two springs and one had snapped off. So I remember driving through the corners, through the left-handers with one wheel in the air, and through the right-handers it was fine.

“So that was a race where I was in the lead and I managed to still win the race – just. I don’t even know how I managed to make that one work. So, that was a little bit similar to today but of course it was more extreme today and the cost was obviously a lot higher.”

His last-lap heroics brought a huge reward: With Bottas finishing only 11th, Hamilton’s lead has ballooned from five points to 30.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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20 comments on “Pirelli in race to solve tyre troubles after Hamilton’s three-wheeled win”

  1. Maybe Hamilton was lucky as Max says, but maybe it was also exceptional talent to drive on 3 wheels, maintaining the pace but not picking up so much damage that the speed was compromised. A really tricky balancing act in all senses.

    1. According to Mercedes he was only doing 230 km/h; 143 mph down hanger straight. Who needs four wheels? :)

    2. Hamilton wasn’t lucky, Max was.

    3. Can we all just agree:
      – Lewis was luckier than Valtteri
      – Lando was luckier than Carlos
      – Max was luckier than Lewis
      – Daniel was luckier than all of them
      – No was was more unlucky than Hulkenberg

      But in racing as in life, you make your own luck which explains… absolutely nothing.

  2. If Pirelli fail to ‘solve’ the issue it may just mean an even better race this weekend.

    1. An “even better race”!? That’s a low bar to clear.

  3. The world champion couldn’t recall a similar drama during his 14-year spell in the top flight.

    I think he needs reminding of how he won his first title!

    1. May be he is specifically trying to recall drama generated by loss of parts in the car as opposed to tricky conditions?

    2. Maybe you do since that didnt involve one of his tyres failing?

  4. They should keep the same tires for next race and not go softer on the compounds, but also rate them lower in durability. If Pirreli drops the number from 40 laps (or whatever it was) to 30 or even lower for the hard tire, then the teams will have to do a 2 stop. Which would hopefully mean more strategic options and a bit more excitement for us.

    1. I’d wait for the results of their investigation. If the debris on the track turns out to be the root cause then it makes sense to keep the currently planned tires to keep teams on their toes by not letting them reuse last week’s data in its entirety. It introduces another variable to potentially make it a bit more unpredictable in terms of pit stop strategies.

      1. @rockgod Pirelli have been blaming debris, curbs and whatever else for their inferior tyres. No, being asked to make tyres that wear and allow 1-2 pit stops per race has nothing to do with random “delaminations”, easy to get a puncture or random explosions. Never in the Bridgestone or Michelin years did we ever have these issues.

        1. +1. Pirelli can’t take the downforce, the pressure or the heat.

        2. I see your point @s2g-unit, but I still think Pirelli has been given almost impossible requirements of designing and producing rock solid tires until they hit the performance cliff and at the same time gracefully deteriorate right after. With so many factors that influence the stress on the tires: car design, camber, corner speeds, track temperature, aero to name a few, how can anyone achieve what the fans want?

          Bridgestone and Michelin has it easy because they had no degradation requirements whatsoever.

          1. @rockgod I get what you;re saying but without me having any real knowledge, I personally don’t think Pirelli has the technology or data or engineers to do what they should actually be doing. I’ve paid more attention to comments by drivers in WEC & other series who rave about how amazing Michelin’s tyres are. Like their “slick-inter” https://michelinracingusa.com/latest-technical-stunner-michelin-invents-the-hybrid-tire/. Or how drivers say they can push endlessly on their tyres at a very fast pace.

            Where as Pirelli has been trying to emulate the 2010 Canadian GP, where drivers stopped 2-3-4 times that race BUT they were pushing in now like today or even worse a few years ago, where drivers drove to what they would say was 70% of the cars performance to a time delta just to make the tyres last.

            Now don’t even get me started with their wet weather tyres. Never before I have seen so many drivers just loosing control behind a safety car on barely wet track, safety car starts since Pirelli.

            In my non knowledgeable opinion, it’s like AMD vs Nvidia or Intel. They have been getting closer in to Intel or Nvidia but the data, technology they use and/or the path they take over all the years of accumulating data, research etc. They just can’t make a product that is superior in every way.

  5. That leaves Pirelli with some difficult questions to answer ahead of this weekend’s race, including whether it’s wise to press ahead with plans to use the softer rubber.

    I don’t see that they have any questions to ask. By the sound of it Pirelli said the tyres would last x number of laps but the teams data suggested it would last x+y laps. If the teams ignore the advice of the manufacturer then it’s not Pirelli’s fault.

    “I struggle to believe that the teams were planning to stop the car at lap 13 and go to the end of the race.”

    The key point. I thought Pirelli said 30 laps was the hard tyre limit and if so then the teams attempted to do 133% of the recommended distance on one set. I think the teams only have themselves to blame and tbh I’d be far happier if Pirelli stick to their plans and go with softer rubber for next weekend.

    1. This sounds logical. The onus is on every team to try to prove their car does comply with the rules and the manufacturers recommendations.

    2. 40 laps was Pirelli’s estimate for the hard tyres I believe, at least that’s what Crofty said in the commentary.

  6. “That leaves Pirelli with some difficult questions to answer ahead of this weekend’s race, including whether it’s wise to press ahead with plans to use the softer rubber.”

    No it doesn’t. From memory Pirelli said the hard tyre would do 30 laps. The teams data suggested it would do more. It’s the teams fault if they ignore the manufacturers advice – that is certainly the case for the rest of us.

    “I struggle to believe that the teams were planning to stop the car at lap 13 and go to the end of the race.”

    The key point. Attempting to go 39 laps on a tyre rated to do 30 is asking for trouble. The teams only have themselves to blame if the rubber failed because it was ran for longer than Pirelli said it could manage. I hope they do go with the softer rubber for next weekend – this is a situation created by the teams and they’re just trying to pass the buck as usual.

    1. Apologies for the 2nd post – I got a 403 timeout error that implied that the 1st had failed and it didn’t show up when I reloaded the page.

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