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Why F1 teams are right to demand more transparency over tyre failures

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Formula 1’s tyre suppliers face a thankless task. When their product crosses the line ahead it is invariably the team that takes the glory; in defeat it is usually the four round objects that are maligned, either directly or obliquely.

For sole suppliers – such as Pirelli at present – there are no bouquets in victory and only brickbats when things go wrong, for whatever reason, as they did so horribly in Baku for Max Verstappen and Lance Stroll.

One wonders why any tyre company would annually sink tens of millions into such an activity only to face such criticism. Are Pirelli credited with shodding the winner – the entire field, in fact – of each race? Hardly, if at all. Is the brand remembered for those potentially dangerous Baku blowouts? Absolutely.

There have been calls – mainly rhetorical, it must be said – for an alternative supplier or, at the very least, a major shift in philosophy from Pirelli. Therein lies F1’s conundrum: The sport, frankly, needs Pirelli more than Pirelli needs F1 for there are no viable replacements in sight, certainly not immediately. Should Pirelli choose to walk for whatever reason F1 would be reduced to racing on alloy rims or rock hard rubber.

Verstappen is unhappy with the explanation for his crash
The last time Formula 1 invited tyre companies to bid to supply the grid there was just one credible applicant: Pirelli. True, Hankook lodged documents, but the Korean company’s application seemed insubstantial, to put it mildly: When contacted the company’s media folk were unaware that a tender had been lodged!

Bridegstone made clear after its 1997-2010 tenure that it had no further interest in F1, while participation by Michelin has been predicated on open competition rather than sole supply mainly for reasons outlined above, Goodyear has shown no inclination to enter F1 after withdrawing in 1998, having been in both open competition and sole supply since 1964. Thus, F1 needs to keep Pirelli sweet until, at least, the end of 2024.

That said, Pirelli’s handling of the Baku failures has perplexed many stakeholders, whether it be the teams, drivers, fans, media, and even the governing body given that it found it necessary to issue a 12-page amendment to tyre operating directives at short notice. Indeed, all paddock figures spoken to by RaceFans lamented a lack of hard information about the turn of events in Baku and subsequent handling.

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“What is disappointing for us is the lack of transparency,” said McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl, referring to what he dubbed a “carefully worded press release” before adding “we still don’t know exactly what happened. It would help everyone in the paddock if this topic was treated with more transparency.

Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo, Paul Ricard, 2021
Teams must obey new running parameters this weekend
“Because, in the end, it is a safety-critical topic which is worrying to all of us, especially the drivers. That’s what we are disappointed with.” Crucially, McLaren was not one of those teams affected in Baku.

On the flipside, Verstappen, who most certainly was affected after spearing out of the lead and into the barriers at over 320kph after his left-rear Pirelli burst, said on Saturday he was “still not happy with the explanation of what happened in Baku because I don’t think it’s fully clear, at least for people outside, the fans.

“I know what happened. The team knows what happened but it’s very confusing what they put out. But it’s fine, life goes on, we just keep on going. Hopefully from now on we can just be safe in the car, and nothing happens.”

Compounding the issue are guarded insinuations that Red Bull and Aston Martin ran outside of Pirelli’s operating parameters in Baku (a circuit which exerts relatively low energy upon tyres compared to other venues) but these are based on assumptions, for even Pirelli, which has full access to the data and tyre carcasses, openly admits that no definitive proof of running outside of the guidelines exists.

Yet Pirelli’s press release implies otherwise by distinguishing between “prescribed starting
parameters” and “running conditions” – creating perceptions that the teams involved circumvented prescribed parameters while the cars were running on the track.

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Unless proven these insinuations are grossly unfair to the teams involved, for they create suspicion their cars were being operated unsafely. As such only full transparency within the bounds of team data confidentiality can (or not) exonerate the implicated teams and provide utmost confidence to all drivers that Pirelli’s products are safe at 320kph on all circuits, whether low or high energy.

Such confidence is currently lacking, with guarded comments and vague press releases adding to widespread perceptions of opaqueness over what is deemed by many paddock figures to be a safety issue. However, to most minds, perceptions are reality until disproven, and thus the imperative that confidence in Pirelli be restored ASAP.

Simply put, full disclosure is required, or Pirelli may discover the buying public loses confidence in its products, thus negating all the commercial and technical reasons that led it into F1 in the first place. Michelin discovered just that after the infamous 2005 United States Grand Prix.

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Author information

Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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  • 21 comments on “Why F1 teams are right to demand more transparency over tyre failures”

    1. Two points, one of which I’ll accept is pedantry:

      1) Even before Pirelli was supplying Formula 1, I stopped using their tyres as they didn’t last long enough. Totally wasn’t the 21 year old me’s driving style, oh no.
      2) Please can we stop abbreviating kilometres per hour as “kph”, that runs the risk of being confused with “knots per hour”. The correct abbreviation is “km/h”, or “kmph” at a push. K is short for kilo (as with all SI units), km is short for kilometre.

      1. @nvherman Nothing wrong with kph. Everyone recognizes it as an alternative for km/h anyway, so zero confusion. This is the first time I’ve ever seen anyone being negative about the kph acronym, LOL.

      2. Knots is nautical miles per hour. I don’t think there is such a thing as knots per hour.

        1. @drycrust If my GCSE in Physics was telling the truth, knots per hour would be nautical miles per (hour) squared. Therefore it would be a really odd unit of acceleration. But yeah it is an odd unit anyway.

      3. knots per hour does not make sense*, knot is already a speed unit (a nautical mile per hour), so no possible confusion there.
        *It might make sense as an acceleration unit (your speed increasing by a knot every hour, or a nautical mile per square hour) but frankly, too convoluted.

    2. Pirelli’s response during all this debacle :

      “The debris are not to blame for tyre failures, nor are the teams responsible, we are giving new technical directives for tyres, but the issue is with not with the tyres”

      0% transparency vague and veiled reasoning.

    3. Full transparency like we had with the Ferrari engines….

      1. This. FIA are happy to fudge the public releases

    4. PirelliSchmirelli
      20th June 2021, 10:49

      FIA and F1 have never shown their desire to ditch Pirelli, as such all other manufacturers didn’t even bother, as the decision has already been made, even before any tender.

      Announce the new tender with for at least 2 suppliers (tyre war), some freedom to construction and materials – and EACH major manufacturer will apply.

      Reply moderated
    5. So basically Pirelli are aware that they can say anything and get away with it , sigh !

    6. I suppose it breaks down to whose responsibility it is to reveal this information, as max says, he and his team know exactly what happened but don’t seem keen on revealing what that was and potentially clearing suspicion on them. Pirelli know exactly what happened but if the reason for the fault is linked to a design element or secret strategy they probably can’t say. Which brings me to my main point. The FIA seem clueless at regulating the current cars, the cars are far too complicated, they don’t understand what teams are doing and they don’t seem to have the resources to completely scrutinise every element, which leads me to think current car design is a ‘wild west’ of rule bending and grey opportunities. All of this began when Ferrari were let off with a minimal fine after a season of cheating.

      1. @emu55 I don’t agree with your interpretation of Max’s wording. Saying that Max said they know exactly what happened is inaccurate. Max said they know exactly what their pressures were and Pirelli were privy to that as well, and they were always within Pirelli’s parameters. There is no suspicion to be cleared towards RBR as Pirelli exonerated them from blame days ago, as they did AM.

        I think if it is a Wild West of rule bending in F1 that would not be new, but I would suggest it is less so than in the past due to ever more stringent regs and FIA checks and this current tire problem is not an example of teams run amuck.

        1. @robbie @emu55 I saw it more as ‘Red Bull know what Pirelli are saying because they are stacked full of tyre engineers who are trained in tyre-speak’, versus the casual fans without a masters degree in thermodynamics who are a bit less aware of what Pirelli meant.

    7. This is becoming more than tyresome!
      On a sensible & serious note.
      100% All current F1 teams have some form of tyre pressure monitoring.
      There are various systems for monitoring in real time the tyre pressures.
      Witness how many times a team will call their driver to pit as a particular tyre is deflating.
      So why this constant lack of clarity about exactly why the tyres failed?

    8. Waiting on Sunday lunch to cook so had a look at the F1 regulations and spotted this:

      12.7.2 Any process the intent of which is to reduce the amount of moisture in the tyre and/or in its inflation gas is forbidden.

      As Pirelli advised teams not to do this in their recent instructions, it implies to me that this isn’t a safety concern, this a Ferrari style cover up which could involve any team on the grid, not necessarily the teams that had punctures.

      1. @emu55 You’re intent on ‘proving’ the teams cheated with the tires, but just because there is something you found in the rules which has already been brought up since the tire failures, does not mean that must have been what went on. If the teams were cheating why wouldn’t Pirelli happily say that and exonerate themselves?

    9. I can only imagine people are being deliberately unreceptive and pedantic about this.
      Pirelli is saying there is nothing wrong with the tyres or (perhaps begrudgingly) the way the teams followed their instructions.
      All they are doing is simply being careful to avoid the words “We gave the teams poor instructions, and they took advantage of that. We didn’t look far enough into the lengths that F1 teams will go to subvert the wording of the documents they are given.”

      Really, the answer is in the new instructions. Not necessarily the wording of them, but the fact that they exist.

      1. Pirelli upped the pressures in Baku on Saturday. It could also mean they just didn’t go high enough but don’t want to go out and straight up tell everyone they misjudged it.

        Assuming teams trying sneaky stuff and trickery is all fine. Good chance they do. But applying Occam ‘s razor here, we might need to consider Pirelly just made a boo-boo of the calculations.

        1. That’s exactly what I’m saying.
          The tyres are sufficiently capable, but the instructions that they gave to teams were not.

          Pirelli even said exactly that – “Maybe we should have added another 1-1.5 psi to the rears.”

    10. They won’t get any answers or transparency because I don’t think even Pirelli understand the awful product they are forcing the so called pinnacle of the sport to use.

      Such an embarrassment.

      1. I wonder what poor excuse Pirelli will use if/when tires start going pop again even with all this extra over-regulation.

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