When it comes to tyre failures in F1, tyre companies get rather defensive. It’s not surprising. It’s a standing joke in F1 circles that all tyre failures are caused by debris because tyre suppliers don’t want to use F1 to promote failure. That’s logical. Pirelli doesn’t have to be in F1 and if the firm decided to leave, it would not be easy to find a replacement. But it is also fair to say that there is no need for failures as Pirelli has no competition and thus there is no need to push the envelope for any competitive reason. It’s better to build solid tyres and put up with drivers complaining that the tyres are too hard.
This year, however, Pirelli went for softer compounds across the board, to try to improve the F1 show. The two failures in Baku were perplexing in that while debris was a possibility the similarities between the two incidents hinted at something else. The tyres let go with no warning or vibration, but checks on tyres on other cars that had done similar distances, or more, showed no signs of the same problem.
Pirelli said that an investigation had revealed that the causes of the failures had been clearly identified as being down to “a circumferential break on the inner sidewall, which can be related to the running conditions of the tyres.” It added that this was “in spite of the prescribed starting parameters (minimum pressure and maximum blanket temperature) having been followed” by the two teams, which could thus not be blamed because they followed Pirelli instructions. Red Bull issued a statement saying that it had adhered to “Pirelli’s tyre parameters at all times and will continue to follow their guidance.”
Pirelli added that the investigation “established that there was no production or quality defect on any of the tyres; nor was there any sign of fatigue or delamination.”
Pirelli also said that it and the FIA had agreed a new set of protocols, with an upgraded technical directive distributed to teams, for monitoring operating tyre conditions during a race weekend.
If it all sounds like a game of Cluedo, in which the reasons for the failures is established by a process of elimination, the next question to be asked must surely be that if the failure wasn’t caused by the way the teams used the tyres or by the tyre production process, and it didn’t affect other cars, was the problem one of the design of the tyres, in relation to specific cars with specific drivers?
Lance Stroll has a reputation for keeping tyres alive longer than others, but then so too does race winner Sergio Perez, who didn’t have a problem. Nor did Sebastian Vettel, who has the same car as Stroll. And as we have heard this year, the design philosophies of the Red Bulls and Aston Martins are very different, notably when it comes to rake angles.
So, right now, it’s all rather mysterious. Although that is not unusual with the “black round rubber things” in F1 that few understand, which work sometimes but not always in the way the drivers want.