They’re black, they’re round and every driver has four of them between his car and the tarmac. Yet on Sunday it was the state of the tyres that dominated a British Grand Prix that at times was simply farcical.
Five drivers suffered tyre failures – six failures if you include Sergio Perez’s problem during Saturday’s final free practice session – leaving the paddock stunned at the spectacularly dangerous game of Russian Roulette facing the drivers.
After a weekend of success for the home drivers – wins in GP2 and GP3 – Lewis Hamilton was looking good for his first victory with Mercedes. The Brit romped to pole position and led away at the start.
Team-mate Nico Rosberg was usurped by reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel, leaving the Red Bull as the meat in a Mercedes sandwich. Vettel’s sparring partner Mark Webber suffered a terrible start and dropped down the order even before Abbey. Webber’s woes were exacerbated when he encountered an errant Romain Grosjean, sending the Australian wide and down into fifteenth place. Adrian Sutil left the line like a scalded cat and rose to fourth place and behind him was the Ferrari of Felipe Massa. The Brazilian driver made a phenomenal getaway, taking to the outside of the circuit and sweeping into fifth place having started from eleventh place on the grid.
Hamilton edged away from Vettel during the opening laps to ensure that he was not under threat from DRS. The gap stabilised around the two second mark, with Rosberg a little behind and Sutil’s Force India slightly further back. But then the first of the afternoon’s moment of madness struck as Hamilton’s tyre exploded halfway down the Wellington Straight. The 2008 world champion did well to keep control of his car but he tootled around the circuit for a pit stop and dropped way down the order.
Mere moments later it was the turn of Massa to have a tyre go bang. Massa was far less fortunate than Hamilton as his tyre let go exiting Aintree, sending the Brazilian pirouetting into the run off.
Two failures, hmmm. It’s starting to look suspicious.
After a brief period without drama, Toro Rosso’s Jean Eric Vergne was the next to hit gold on the wheel of (mis)fortune. Vergne’s failure was the most spectacular as his tyre exploded under braking for Stowe, sending the Frenchman into a journey of discovery at the run-off. By now the 2013 British Grand Prix was starting to resemble a 200mph version of the Keystone Cops and the safety car was deployed so marshals could retrieve bits of Vergne’s tyre that was now littering most of the Northamptonshire/Buckinghamshire border.
The safety car allowed Hamilton and Massa to close in on the field and they soon began cutting through their rivals; Hamilton engaged on a lap long battle with compatriot Paul di Resta while Massa made light work of the midfield on his way back towards the front. The race still resembled a game of dare – leaving many people feeling fairly uncomfortable – but a few laps passed without any issues. Mexican driver Esteban Gutierrez was the next to hit woes; the Sauber driver was seen entering Stowe amid a plethora of debris and while cameras missed the initial problem, the team later confirmed it as a left front failure.
Up front a fight for the win was threatening to break out. The usually edgy Guillaume Rocquelin was particularly nervy, urging Vettel to stay off of the kerbs and not to damage his tyres, as Red Bull had seen cuts in the German's first set of rubber. But all of that advice was rendered meaningless on Lap 41 when the German went to accelerate out of Vale and discovered that the gearbox had failed. Vettel stuttered over the line, parked up, got out and tripped over his front wing for good measure.
Vettel’s car was parked in a particularly unhelpful place and subsequently the safety car was deployed so that his RB9 could be retrieved. Rosberg dived into the pits, as did Webber and Alonso. Lotus opted not to pit Kimi Raikkonen from second place, while Webber’s steely determination and optimum timing meant that he was now in fifth place. What of Fernando Alonso? The Spaniard enjoyed a typically feisty race and his stop dropped him to eighth place.
Upon the restart Alonso rapidly dispatched with Jenson Button – whose miserable season is slowly getting worse – and was lining up a move on Sergio Perez when the Mexican’s left rear tyre let go entering the Hangar Straight. Alonso admitted the incident had scared him, which is hardly surprising when a three kilogram belt of rubber is flying towards your helmet.
Webber quickly got past Daniel Ricciardo and Sutil and also battled past Raikkonen with a few laps to go and began hunting down race leader Rosberg.
Alonso also surged past Ricciardo and the struggling Raikkonen, with Hamilton following suit. The Brit put in a starring drive after his earlier woes, wowing the home crowd but ultimately finishing just 0.6s shy of a podium finish.
Raikkonen clung on to fifth, ahead of the recovering Massa and Sutil. The Force India driver had looked to be on for a podium but his strategy came up short. Ricciardo completed a strong drive in eighth, ahead of di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg.
The Williams duo of Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas just missed out on the points, while Button’s Silverstone jinx continues as he limped home in thirteenth place. There was a certain irony in the term 'ultrafast' being plastered to the side of the MP4-28 as, combined with Perez’s retirement, it was McLaren’s worst race in exactly four years.
Up front Webber tried desperately to take a third British victory but he fell 0.7s short as Rosberg held on to take a second win of the year. He had a brief scare when he was called to the stewards for failing to slow sufficiently for yellow flags, but escaped with a reprimand.
Unlike Rosberg, Pirelli will come under harsher scrutiny. Such a farcical situation cannot continue.