Red Bull boss Christian Horner say Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso is lucky to alive after he narrowly missed being hit by debris from the rear tyre of McLaren’s Sergio Perez which exploded on Hangar Straight during Sunday’s British Grand Prix.
Horner’s comments come as Formula 1 comes to terms with the shock of several tyre failures, many which happened at high speed, at Silverstone to raise questions about the drivers’ safety.
Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, Ferrari’s Felipe Massa, Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne and Perez all suffered left rear failures. Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez had a left front failure while Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg, who won the race, and Alonso both reported they had problems but were close to the pits so they were able to change tyres before an issue occurred.
“It’s a safety issue now,” said Horner in the BBC Radio 5 Live post race Programme. “We need to think of driver safety. Make no mistake about it, Alonso is a very lucky boy to be going home. It’s not right. Forget performance, forget who has an advantage and who doesn’t. The sport has to be safe. The most important thing is driver safety. I’m surprised they didn’t stop the race in many respects.”
F1 race director Charlie Whiting said that he nearly did red flag the race on safety grounds. “It was quite close to being red-flagged,” he said. “It did occur to me to do that. We haven’t seen a failure like this before; we have seen other types of failure – and that is what has been addressed. So we need to analyse it very carefully to see if we can establish the cause.”
FIA president Jean Todt has demanded that tyre supplier Pirelli meeting of the Sporting Working Group, which was already scheduled to take place on Wednesday, in order to find a solution.
But ahead of this Sunday’s German Grand Prix, Whiting said a solution is needed sooner. “Pirelli have got to analyse it, to try and find the cause,” he said. “We need to make decisions earlier than Wednesday.”
On Monday, F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone said the FIA will allow Pirelli to conduct two three-day tests so they can get to the bottom of the problems: “They (Pirelli) have complained in the past when these tyres have delaminated – which is certainly nothing to do with it (what happened yesterday).
“They’ve said they’d like to sort it out, but they don’t have a chance to do any testing because of these silly restrictions we have. But I spoke to Jean Todt over the weekend and he has said ‘Let them test’.
“So he has allowed them to run two three-day tests between now and… well, when they want, to try to do something for next year, as well as this year, so that’s exactly what’s going to happen.”
The medium and hard tyres which were used at Silverstone have also been used in Malaysia, Bahrain and Spain this year. In Bahrain, Hamilton suffered a failure – although it was a different to those suffered at Silverstone – as did Massa.
Alonso was lining up a pass on Perez when the Mexican’s tyre failed. The Spaniard took avoiding action and was lucky not to be hit by rubber and the metal belt. “That one with Sergio I was so scared and so lucky because I missed the contact by one centimetre,” said Alonso.
McLaren’s Jenson Button added that these failures are putting driver’s safety is at risk: “We’ve had five tyres over the last few days, it’s a big issue and something that needs to be sorted out,” said Button. “Incidents happening at 300kph, like for Checo [Sergio Perez], is not right. It’s not just dangerous for the driver in the car, it’s dangerous for all the other cars. The cars behind shouldn’t get hit by rubber that has metal in it. It’s got to change.”
McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh added: “F1 couldn’t possibly not respond to the events of this weekend. We have to be concerned about the safety of our drivers in this sport.”
And Rosberg said: “Well, we shouldn’t get into that situation. We need to do what needs to be done to sort it out and make the tyres last.”
Massa, who made an electric start from 11th to run fifth on the first lap, had his failure in the middle of Turn Five. “What has happened today is unacceptable,” said the Brazilian. “It was very dangerous for me and all the drivers racing. It’s not the first race we had this problem. I already had two tyre problems in Bahrain and another problem here.
When asked if he was surprised no one was hurt, Massa replied: “In a way yes. We were lucky that in all the incidents, the driver was able to carry on and not crash. But you have corners at Silverstone where if it happens, it could be much more dangerous and you could have a big accident.”
And on the subject of whether drivers could boycott this Sunday’s German Grand Prix, Massa said: “For sure we will discuss about that. I don’t want to say that now because I don’t want to create a lot of problems but this is something that for our safety we can do.”
He added that things would need to change for next month’s Belgian Grand Prix at the high speed Spa Francorchamps. “I hope they change something for Spa,” he said. “If you have this problem at Eau Rouge, you don’t know what is going to happen.”
Hamilton, who recovered from his tyre failure when leading to finish fourth, said: “It was the first time in my career I’ve ever felt it was dangerous. “After my incident, I was definitely nervous for the rest of the race that the tyres might go again. Safety is the biggest issue. It’s just unacceptable really. It’s only when someone gets hurt that someone will do something about it. It’s a waste of time talking to the FIA and if they don’t do anything that says a lot about them.”