It is very rare for Grand Prix drivers to threaten to boycott a race.
So the actions of the drivers ahead of this weekend’s German Grand Prix should be taken seriously.
They met to discuss a response to the five tyre failures experienced during last week’s British Grand Prix, which came close to being stopped by Race Director Charlie Whiting.
But it wasn’t stopped and following a meeting of the Grand Prix Drivers Association in the Nurburgring paddock on Thursday, a strongly worded statement was issued, which ramps up the heat in this situation significantly.
“The drivers of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association wish to express their deepest concerns about the events that took place at Silverstone.
“We trust that the changes made to the tyres will have the desired results and that similar problems will not occur during the German GP weekend.
“We are ready to drive our cars to the limit, as we always do, and as it is expected by our teams, sponsors and fans.
“However, the drivers have decided that, if similar problems should manifest themselves during the German GP, we shall immediately withdraw from the event, as this avoidable problem with the tyres endangers again the lives of drivers, marshals and fans.”
Pirelli has so far been unwilling to use the word “safety” in regards to the problems they have had with delaminations in April and May and now failures in June. Pirelli’s Paul Hembery insisted that the tyres are safe if used correctly. McLaren’s Sam Michael confirmed yesterday that the team had not run lower tyre pressures, extreme camber angles or swapped tyres around and yet Sergio Perez had suffered a failure.
New rear tyres this weekend, featuring a kevlar belt rather than the troublesome steel one, should mean that the characteristics of the tyres are quite different.
As the people on the front line, the drivers usually do what they are told – as they did at Indianapolis in 2005 when the Michelins were failing in practice on the banking. The Bridgestone teams, led by Ferrari, were not willing to allow a chicane to be built so that the race could go ahead will all competitors, even though the Michelin runners offered to let the Bridgestone runners have the points. They just wanted to put on a show. The then FIA president Max Mosley would not compromise, so the Michelin drivers were instructed by their teams to pull in at the end of the parade lap.
Michelin left the sport soon afterwards.
Ironically it is Michelin that may now return to the sport if this developing situation were to lead to Pirelli departing.
So it is interesting that here the drivers are taking their own political stand, one that will reverberate around the world, as fans and casual observers take note of anything to do with personalities far more than more dry talk of “tyres” – the dominant theme of this 2013 season.
However many observers in the F1 paddock here in Germany question why the drivers waited a week to issue this pointed statement, after Pirelli had done a lot of work on analysis, rather than after Sunday’s race. It may be a question of lack opportunity to meet after the race last Sunday, but the timing makes it seem even more political.
That said, the feeling is that the drivers are entitled to express themselves in this way, given the seriousness of what happened at Silverstone.