Two days after dominating Friday practice Nico Rosberg inherited a surprise win at the British Grand Prix driving his Mercedes Benz that was built at Reynard Park, Brackley just over 8 miles from the Silverstone circuit.
Rosberg was overshadowed by team mate Lewis Hamilton during qualifying on Saturday and again as the race got underway when Nico was then beaten off the line from his second place start by pole sitting Lewis and four time champion elect Sebastian Vettel who made a great start from third in his Red Bull.
Hamilton was leading when his left hand rear tire blew out on lap eight, forcing him to the back of the field and handing Vettel the lead which he held from Nico through two pit stop sequences and the first of two safety car periods.
The first safety car period was triggered by the third left hand rear tire failure of the day, the second befell Felipe Massa’s Ferrari on lap ten, that was experienced by Torro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne on lap fifteen. Fortunately no one was hurt in these incidents, but the track needed to be cleared of tire debris.
At the time of writing it is still not clear what caused the tire failures, possibilities include either a product failure or that the teams were running their tire pressures too low. Running low-pressure tires affords the cars extra grip, but also substantially increases the stress and heat loads on the tire structure.
It appears that this may have been avoided had all of the teams been unanimous in having Pirelli change the compound earlier in the season, the Canadian Grand Prix was the announced switch. All teams did not agree, as is the rule, therefore the change did not go forward.
The problem really lies with, as it often does, the teams themselves. Ferrari, Lotus and Force India refused to vote in the affirmative on the tire compound change. Pirelli wanted to revert to its Kevlar belted tire, with modifications, but remained with the steel belts in the face of opposition. The steel belts allowed the tire temperatures to rise beyond the graining effect, however they didn’t anticipate the failures Silverstone threw their way.
All the drivers were advised to take it easy on the kerbs over the radio with splits being found on further tires after the first round of pit stops. Hamilton and Massa drove back through the field to eventual 4th and 6th place finishes respectively. Vergne retired, as did Sergio Perez later in the race after his left hand rear similarly exploded, with body damage caused by the flailing tire remnants.
After his second pit stop Sebastian Vettel was advised that his tires had been inflated to a higher pressure as a precaution, but it mattered little his Red Bull lost drive on lap 41 and failed to cross the finish line to start lap 42. The safety car was called out a second time so that Sebastian’s car could be recovered from the start/finish straight triggering a third round of tire stops for most of the leaders, except a clearly less than impressed Kimi Räikkönen who temporarily moved from third to second on the road.
In the ten remaining laps after the second restart Rosberg held on to win from a fast closing Mark Webber, who had dropped to 15th from 4th on the grid on lap one after contact with the hapless Lotus of Romain Grosjean. Kimi on his old tyres lost out to first Webber then Fernando Alonso, starting from a poor ninth on the grid and lastly Hamilton on only slightly fresher tires than the Finn who finished fifth.
Poor pit work and tire strategy saw Adrian Sutil and Daniel Riccardo, who had both been circulating for much of the race in third and fourth, drop to disappointing 7th and 8th place finishes respectively. Adrian’s Force India team mate Paul di Resta was sent from 5th on the grid to the back after his car was discovered to be several pounds below the minimum weight limit at the end of qualifying. Paul did well to finish 9th in front of his home crowd, Force India really need to get on top of their qualification procedures, this was the third time in a row the team have let Paul down during qualifying.
Nico Hülckenberg salvaged a tenth place finish for Sauber, their first point paying finish since China five races ago. McLaren and Williams, the later celebrating their 600th Grand Prix start, again failed to score. There are signs Caterham are getting the better of Marussia with Caterham’s Charles Pic finishing 15th ahead of Marrusia drivers Jules Bianchi and Max Chiltern who all finished on the lead lap thanks to the intervention of the safety car.
After the victory celebration it was announced that Nico Rosberg was deemed to have ignored yellow flags during the race for which he was reprimanded but received no time penalty. Some are sure to question such a light punishment after the, lenient in some eyes, ‘tiregate’ ruling two weeks ago.
In the drivers championship standings Sebastian still leads by a comfortable 21 points from Fernando with Nico a distant 50 points in arrears the last man with any hope of a shot at the championship title. Mercedes Benz have moved into second place three points ahead of Ferrari but still 48 points behind Red Bull in the constructors championship.
Once again tire concerns have resurfaced and this time affected the outcome of a Grand Prix, four drivers are lucky to have avoided serious accidents not of their own making. Talk of boycotting this weekend’s German Grand Prix has emerged in the fallout with Felipe Massa suggesting that “such a move will be discussed by drivers” and is possible “for our safety”.
When tire failure issues surfaced in Sprint Cup several years ago NASCAR swiftly mandated minimum tire pressures and I would be very surprised if a similar ruling is not quickly implemented on safety grounds in Formula One, not for the first time where NASCAR has gone before, Formula One may well have to follow.
This weekend the Formula One circus reconvenes at the Nurburgring for the German Grand Prix where slower average lap times should be less demanding on tires. Expect to see Mercedes Benz and Red Bull fight it out for top honors again. The cooler temperatures likely in the Eifel mountains should favor Mercedes Benz and I expect to see to see Hamilton lead his German team mate Rosberg home in a one two Silver Arrows finish ahead of Vettel in third.
Coming up, The German Grand Prix Preview.