British Grand Prix: The Aftermath: Pirelli, Mercedes and Red Bull Reliability

We witnessed a remarkable race today, one that shed light on three talking points that could dominate the rest of the season.

After much doubt early on in the season about the legitimacy of Mercedes’ pace, the British Grand Prix cemented the Brackley-based outfit’s position in the title hunt. A one-off win in Monaco was a good and well for the team’s morale, but after the tire test debacle and the tribunal’s ramifications, further questions were being raised about Mercedes’ potential this season.

The mere fact that Mercedes remained competitive in Canada proved two things: one, that Mercedes did gain an advantage from their test in Barcelona, and two, that a glimmer of hope was emerging on the horizon. While a bit more traditional than Monaco, the Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve is still not Silverstone, or Barcelona for that matter. Mercedes’ decent result in Canada offered up some validation of the team’s hard work to end their tire woes.

Mercedes went into the British Grand Prix still apprehensive about their prospects in the race. The Red Bulls were the fastest car over long distances and, with Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber right behind the two silver arrows on the grid, hopes were wearing thinner and thinner. Both cars prevailed, however, and Nico Rosberg’s impressive win and Lewis Hamilton’s monumental fight from the back of the field both prove that Mercedes have indeed solved their issues. No longer will the likes of Red Bull, Ferrari and Lotus be able to automatically give themselves two extra places at the end of a race. They will have to earn them. Now, we’ll just have to see if missing out on the Young Drivers’ Test will balance out the advantage they gained in Barcelona.

Red Bull’s reliability reared its ugly head for the first time this season. After capitalizing on Hamilton’s unfortunate tire failure, it looked like the British Grand Prix would be another Vettel win. He controlled his gap to Nico Rosberg with expert precision, and managed his tires beautifully when he knew that at any moment, he could be the tires’ next victim. For all of that work to amount to nothing with just 10 laps to go can be nothing short of heartbreaking for him and his Red Bull team.

This is not the first time we have seen the Red Bull’s reliability plague them in the early part of the summer. This time last season, Sebastian Vettel retired from the lead of the European Grand Prix with an alternator failure. That was the start of a summer full of reliability issues. Sebastian would later retire from the Italian Grand Prix with the same exact issue, while his teammate Mark Webber would retire from the U.S. Grand Prix with alternator troubles.

Could this be the start of another string of issues for the World Champions? Perhaps. Red Bull assured us last season that Vettel’s Valenica hiccup would be a one-off, but it reappeared two more times before season’s close. Red Bull now have to take extra precautions to ensure that Vettel’s gearboxes (the failure in the British Grand Prix) in the future do not suffer similar failures. Fernando’s prediction in Canada that Vettel would have his own run of bad luck proved true today, and it has opened a door for the rest of the field to exploit.

Finally, I want to end with Pirelli. Today can only be considered the worst day in the company’s time as F1 tire supplier. Sergio Perez’s tire failure in Free Practice Two was down to debris on the track. All fine and dandy right there. In the race, however, Lewis Hamilton’s tire failed in dramatic fashion on a straight section of track, out of the danger of any debris. It was completely out of the blue, and can only put pressure on an already stressed-out company.

Add to that the failures of Felipe Massa, Jean-Eric Vergne, Esteban Gutierrez and Sergio Perez, and you have a very worrying trend.

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If these failures are all put down to debris on track, then the problem should not return, lest debris be a large factor in next weekend’s German Grand Prix. If the failures are put down to a construction flaw of the tires themselves, then I would not be surprised if this was Pirelli’s last season in the sport. It may be a long shot to hire a new manufacturer for 2014 so late in the current season, but if safety is so blatantly compromised by a construction flaw down to the manufacturer, then there can, realistically, be no other option but to make a serious change.

We can, however, take solace in the fact that another reason for the tire scares today can be put down to the teams. Speaking in yesterday’s NBC coverage of the Grand Prix, Will Buxton explained that the tire failures can be traced to all of the teams’ lack of unanimity in regards to changes to the tires. Remember, Pirelli desperately wanted to bring back the Kevlar-lined tires from last season to limit the number of delaminations that came to the fore in Bahrain this season. But the teams were unable to make a decision regarding this paramount situation, so can only take a lot of the blame for what happened. Again, if the tire failures today were only down to unfortunate coincidences regarding on-track debris, then what I just explained is of no interest. If we learn that there is a fundamental flaw in the tires, however, then all the teams along with Pirelli need to reconvene and work out these serious issues.

The sport is doing nothing to make Pirelli’s life easier, yet Pirelli are the first ones to take the blame. That is not a feasible working relationship, and it needs to be sorted out for the sake of Formula One.

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