High-Speed Blow-Outs Raise Tyre Safety Concerns

For the past few seasons in Formula 1, Pirelli have made tyres which wear faster in order to increase the excitement for watching fans. The idea has lead to teams using different strategies to gain an advantage over their rivals. At this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel suffered a right-rear tyre failure after running on the same tyres for 28 laps. Should the incident be dismissed as simply the risk taken with running longer on the tyres, or should there be genuine safety concerns?

The incident wasn’t the first of the weekend. During Friday practice, Nico Rosberg also suffered a right-rear tyre blow-out just 14 laps into his stint. While the two incidents may not be connected, the catastrophic nature of the failures means the results of both could have been a lot worse. Rosberg’s failure occurred at 305kph just before the fast left-hander of Blanchimont, while Vettel’s was at 320kph just after the high speed Eau Rouge and Raidillon corners. Had the failure been mid-corner, the drivers could have been seriously injured.

When Rosberg’s car was returned to the team, they said they had never seen a failure like it. After Pirelli conducted a full investigation, they could not find the cause of the failure. They concluded that it was most likely debris picked up from when Rosberg ran off the track. Rosberg says he did not run off track. This is something Vettel brought up in the drivers’ briefing on Friday. He was not happy with Pirelli’s excuse.

Vettel spoke out publically after the race, in an interview with the BBC, using colourful language to describe what he felt about the whole situation after his failure. To him the situation is simple. These sort of failures should not happen. I could not agree with him more.

Motorsport is dangerous, there’s no getting away from it. In the GP2 race on Saturday, Daniel de Jong fractured his spine in a crash where Rosberg had his failure. F1 cars are faster, so it doesn’t take much to imagine just how bad Rosberg’s failure could have been.

Pirelli claim the cause of Vettel’s failure was excessive wear. To me that makes sense, I can understand that tryes don’t last forever. However, the nature of the failure is unacceptable. Prior to the failure, Vettel’s lap times were good, he was keeping Grosjean behind him. There were no indications of a problem. It was a complete surprise that the tyre exploded.

If Pirelli knew that 28 laps would be too long for their tyres, they should have told teams. The fact that they didn’t makes me think they didn’t know the risk, and that is worse. If a tyre could explode, the tyre manufacturer should know when that will happen. It is not acceptable that catastrophic failure occurs without warning. There should be some warning signs at least, and when a tyre fails, it should fail in a controlled manner.

Since Vettel’s outburst, it’s clear that something must be done. A driver must have complete trust in his car, and he has clearly lost trust in the tyres. I hope this is the last time we see tyre failures like this. Safety isn’t something to play games with.