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The tyre row behind Red Bull’s Belgian Grand Prix win
Posted By: James Allen  |  29 Aug 2011   |  10:19 am GMT  |  171 comments

Sebastian Vettel may have led team mate Mark Webber home in a triumphant 1-2 for Red Bull yesterday, but behind the scenes feelings are running high between the team’s technical chief Adrian Newey and the F1 tyre supplier Pirelli about the safety of what Vettel did yesterday.

Pirelli were unhappy with Red Bull for running extreme camber angles, outside of their recommendations. The reason for doing this is to get better turn in to the corners. But the problem is that with the unique vertical loads every time the car goes through Eau Rouge and then the high wheel rotation speeds on the Kemmel Straight leading to Les Combes, the inside shoulder of the tyre overheats and there is a risk of it coming away, which at 310km/h would be an aircraft accident.

“Around 5pm yesterday evening Pirelli came to us and said that having looked at our tyres from qualifying they were concerned about the safety of the tyres and that they could be suffering structural damage in the junction between the sidewall and the tread,” said Newey. “They felt that failure of the tyre could be imminent on both cars. It was very concerning… We then entered into a lot of debate with Pirelli about what we should do. They recommended that higher front pressures would make the tyre safer, as would reduced camber – but without permission from the FIA, reducing the front camber would be in breach of parc ferme regulations, so we would have to start from the pitlane.”

“We took that risk,” said Vettel after the race. “We had as much confidence as we could get before the race. We had some long discussions straight after qualifying, yesterday night and this morning. Now we are sitting here it all went well and we finished one-two but it wasn’t an easy decision to make and not an easy race especially at the beginning to manage. You are driving into the unknown.”

Pirelli’s point was that they should not have been in this situation in the first place and it was only because of Newey’s push it to the limit attitude to racing that it arose. It must be said that Newey has always pushed design to extremes and as a result has had significant success in his career, such is the way of F1.

But when it comes to safety, it’s a different matter. Newey tackled this head on in an interview post race with the BBC in which he said that they had taken a risk but had got away with it.

“I have to say, it is one of the scariest races I have been involved in ever. It is heart-in-the-mouth stuff, because first and foremost our duty of care is to the drivers’ safety, and you are trying to make that call or making sure the car is safe while not excessively handicapping ourselves from a performance point of view.

“I found it quite a difficult judgement to make, and at the end of the race I was very relieved that both our drivers were safe.”

As the FIA pushes its Make Roads Safe agenda, this kind of thing isn’t what F1 should be projecting. FIA race director Charlie Whiting was across the situation and the stewards agreed to allow 17 new front tyres to be brought into the circuit, should they be required, as a back up for the start of the race.

Hembery had to make a decision; whether to move the goalposts and give Red Bull and other teams who were pushing the limits on set up a get out of jail free card, or make them work around the situation, such as by running the harder tyre, as Mark Webber ended up doing.

Essentially it boils down to Red Bull saying that the Pirellis were bordering on an Indianapolis 2005 situation, where the tyres weren’t safe for the circuit. In that instance the FIA refused to change anything to accommodate the Michelin teams, whose tyres were not safe for one of the high speed turns. This led to all the Michelin teams withdrawing from the race, leaving six Bridgestone cars only to race.

Pirelli, meanwhile, feels that the situation only arose because everyone has been getting more and more edgy on set up, as is the timeless way of racers. Other teams noticed some blistering in qualifying and in the race, but according to Pirelli, only Red Bull went past the recommended set up limit.

“We were in a little bit of a rock and a hard place situation,” said Pirelli’s Paul Hembery, “Because it was a situation that if we had run with some dry conditions on Friday and Saturday, ordinarily it is a situation that would have been minimised. So were left in a situation where one team in particular was stretching the limits of our recommendations and we felt that that in a race situation would create difficulties, and blistering.

“In the end, what do you do? Do you make a change and end up creating a precedent? Do you make a change that would be seen to assisting one team and all the other teams, particularly with the result we had at the end? If we had, I think today you would not be asking me about this, you would be asking me why we helped Red Bull win the race? So it was a very difficult situation to be in.

“We don’t appreciate being put in that position. It is a slightly unfair position to be put in. Of course it could have been avoided.”

This will carry on for a while; it is likely to lead to more cautious set up recommendations from Pirelli, with Monza the next race, where wheel rotation speeds are even higher than Spa.

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I wonder what the legal or occupational health and safety issues would have been raised if the RBR management had knowingly placed their driver in danger and an accident had happened?


Loved the clip on Vettel speaking to Pirelli personel. There were concerns from Sebastian’s finger gestures, brilliant.


The “rights and wrongs” have already been heavily discussed already so I won’t go into that debate, but I will raise a hypothetical situation:

What if Vettel, who is leading the championship by almost 4 race wins, had an enormous accident and broken his leg like Schumi did in 99 or had his arm crushed in a rollover accident?

Red Bull would be remembered as the team that threw away an “unloseable” championship and would be the laughing stock of the F1 world.

Wouldn’t do their PR machine any favors either, would it?


It’s common knowledge that all season long, Pirelli have been supplying tires that fall apart after a given period of time, because they were asked to do exactly that. Now, when the setups some teams need to use for Spa cause the tires to be unsafe, Pirelli cries innocent and blames the greedy teams.

Excuse me, Pirelli – I don’t ever remember Bridgestone telling teams what setups they could or could not use. In a single supplier environment as we have with Pirelli, it’s the tire manufacturer’s responsibility to ensure that the tires being supplied can withstand the forces being applied to them by all teams in all races and do so safely and with a reasonable wear rate.

It’s just bad form to point a finger at one team (and even go so far as to imply that Pirelli was defamed by them) because Pirelli’s tires started flying apart faster then even Pirelli anticipated.



As far as I remember Bridgstone has “suggested” three pit stop strategy for Hamilton in Turkey 2008 because they were afraid a tire could explode otherwise. I think this is pretty similar to the situation from last weekend.

The quick web search gave me this link (among others):


Redbull management needs to be pulled aside by the FIA, they endangered the lives of their drivers and that is totally unacceptable. It is a sport not war.


Adrian Newey is a very lucky man. I can’t believe they took this risk after looking at the tyres after only a handful of laps after Saturday qualifying. Especially at a high speed track such as Spa. Moreso they disregarded Pirelli’s advice before the race.


It does seem a very strange decision by Red Bull to take the risk of a tyre failure at a track where the consequences of a crash are likely to be extremely serious.

Pirelli are obviously not at fault – if teams exceed their recommendations then that is their business; although by calling it a recommendation they are not making it mandatory. Equally the FIA rules do not specify a maximum camber angle. So it is up to the teams as to whether they decide to exceed a recommendation. It’s also in the nature of things at the level of F1 that if a recommendation can be exceeded for performance, then it’s likely to happen.

My impression is that the majority of the drivers are happy to risk life and limb for performance, especially when they’re in the car. Every driver has had a numerous big shunts; it is more or less inevitable that another big one will be round the corner sooner or later. And the drivers routinely take such risks when overtaking – witness graphically Webber v Alonso which could have been a huge accident.

And I would also point out that it’s by no means clear that the decision to start the race on those tyres was Newey’s (on the contrary, I seemed to get the impression that although the risk analysis was ultimately Newey’s responsibility, that he was not necessarily happy with the decision taken).


For clarification, the moderators have deleted part of this post. Although I understand the reasons for doing so and have no complaint about that, it has completely reversed the point which I intended to make.


The blame lies with Pirelli in my opinion, RBR cars were tuned within the FIA’s regulations in terms of camber so why aren’t the tyres able to take the stress of all configurations?

James if Pirelli wanted the teams to stop running so much camber wouldn’t they have told all teams about it, RBR have said if they knew about it they wouldn’t have done so, so it seems to me Pirelli cocked up.


Erm, Pirelli DID tell the teams! They made recommendations to say what the limits of the tyres’ performance were. Red Bull exceeded them, and they did it knowingly. Then they were upset when it left their tyres in a potentially dangerous state.


Agreed. Vettel should be disqualified for remainder of the year for knowingly driving an unsafe car. Webber was in a safe car so he’s okay to race for remainder of the year. Button should be banned too as there is no way that he or McLaren could be 100% sure that his rear-wing was truly safe after it was damaged. I mean, a piece could’ve flown right off and hit a bird or something ! They should also go to jail with Newey for this horrendous situation. And I saw a sauber (i think) with a bent front wing : ban him too for pushing the recommended limits, he should’ve pitted for a new wing.

Now, in all seriousness, RBR did not break any rules and, after hearing from Pirelli, they then took proactive action to mitigate any possible risks. Really can’t see what the fuss is about.


For goodness sake Adrien read the articles properly . Because they had no dry running and this was Pirelli first race at Spa there was no data about those tyres in the dry . It was only after Q3 when Newey noticed the blisters he asked Pirelli about it and they told him that their camber setting was too much for the track. Newey went to stewards but they told him his options were start from pit lane or take risk. The team (Red Bull)had meetings that night and next morning involving both drivers and decided on a managed risk strategy.


The tires are junk, maybe better next year, but worst of all for me is kers and the wing and their respective rules.


Frankly this astonishes me.
Not only is it grossly irresponsible, but from a tactical standpoint it makes no sense.
Red Bull are miles ahead in both championships.
One of the few ways they could possibly be beaten is for Vettel to have an injury and be forced to miss several races… and then they deliberately send him out in a car set-up to deliver such a scenario… that’s just plain dumb!


This is motorsport. Usually the winner is the guy who managed the compromise best. If you ask redbull /SV/MW, they would be fairly happy with the outcome. I think they’d be pretty satisfied. Every weekend these guys make compromises and balance risk. There needs to be fewer rules, not more!


No one should be crying about this: Neither RBR nor Pirelli. If the camber angles were legal, the tires should be OK. In the end, running only a few laps on them proved to be a good strategy. This is why F1 is interesting!


Surely teams should simply be banned from exceeding the tyre manufacturer’s recommended maximum camber…

In no way was this Pirelli’s fault, teams trying to shunt the blame onto them is frankly outrageous


They are recommendations from Pirelli, not rules



I have a couple of clarification questions.

When were RBR made aware of the issue, and the recommendations for the operating envelope?

If they were told before qualifying that there was a safety issue with running extreme camber and they still went against this, then I’m very concerned about RBR’s apparently cavalier attitude to safety.

If, on the other hand, the issue came to light after qualifying, then to expect them to give up 1 and 3 on the grid for a start from pit lane is plainly a bit extreme. They did make changes to their strategy in the race to limit that risk, so what we have in that case is a bit of a tempest in a tea cup, IMHO

At what point during the weekend did they have knowledge that they were risking failure of the tyres? Your article suggests that they had already qualified the car by that point, and were stuck between a rock and a hard place by then. Did they know before qualifying that they were pushing the safety limits, and have they a history of doing this with the Pirelli tyres this season?

Also. do you have any info on how much more extreme RBR’s camber angles were than the other top teams? Are we talking a 10% difference, 50%, more?


As far as I know teams have been running more camber as a general trend recently, so it’s been going on for a while. This was the inevitable result of racers pushing the envelope. Because of all the wet running through the weekend the only time anyone got a real clue what the tyres would do at Spa over 6 laps or so was after Q3, because there everyone did a number of laps on them as the track improved. It was only after post quali analysis that the extent of the issue was brought up by Pirelli. But as I said, it’s something they’ve seen as a trend lately and I think they wanted to stop it.


This incident shows a loophole in the regulations that allows safety to be sacrificed for speed. I place that blame on the FIA. Was it ethical for RBR to risk their driver’s lives? No. But teams are always looking to gain an advantage and the line at which things become risky is blurry. To a much lesser extent, placing the mirrors so far away from the driver as to make them essentially useless was an example of trading safety for speed, and it took a regulation to fix that. The FIA needs to enforce safety, not worry about limiting cylinders in an engine (but that’s a completely differnt issue).


It’s interesting how many readers thought of Senna’s accident when reading this. I read about Newey’s emotional rollercoaster ride after the death of Senna and it made me to sympathize with him.

But after reading this… how Pirelli really instructed them to camber-down for the sake of safety and they didn’t choose to. Now for the first time I am able to feel some slight sympathy for those who felt it was just to prosecute Newey in the aftermath of Imola 94.

Would it maybe be a good thing if official suppliers like in this case Pirelli can have a final word in this on the grounds of safety? And inform the FIA to act?

Team not following safety guidelines, they get overruled by the FIA.

Here are some precedents:

Benetton didn’t follow the safety guidelines when it came to the refueling installations in 94. Look what it brought… explosion in the pitlane.

What happened then: they got punished.

So we have a precedent.

Same thing would be true if a team doesn’t respect of having these cables/chords on the tires to prevent them from flying into the crowd.

Same thing would be true if a team would modify those plugs or pens that they put in the wheel for safety during pit stop. Modify it and you have a faster pit stop.

Same thing would be true for many more examples…

But bottom line is: these guidelines are there for SAFETY. If Red Bull chooses to runs unsafe.. (which is what they did) and it is allowed.. it will encourage other teams to follow.

I do not think Red Bull were taking a calculated risk her. Sebastian said: we were in the unknown.

I saw Newey’s body language when the cars crossed the finish line.. I thought we was emotional because they fought back and finally won after a drought. But it was rather the body language of immense relief.

This is going the wrong way, James…


I guess Newey’s tears at the end of the race were those of relief…

Overall, though, I don’t see the fuss. Pirelli made Red Bull aware of the situation and gave them recommendations for set-up changes. Red Bull decided to not incur the penalty of changing set-up in parc ferme and instead managed the tires with strategy instead.

One can argue about the lack of testing, or parc ferme rules, but those are the same conditions for all the teams.

Purely a Red Bull matter I think. There are many decisions made by teams which potentially are “less safe” for a driver (e.g. leaving a car out when the other one has a failure).


It is a really tricky one. I like others immediately thought of senna. But for me the drivers were fully aware of the risks and had a choice as well as the red bull management.

Motor sport has always been about pushing limits but it is finding the line that matters and it’s clear that they took things over the recommended line from pirellis perspective. I think because of this it was correct that they wern’t allowed to adjust there car outside of parc ferme.

Is newey a bad boy though? Possibly, but I’m pretty sure he isn’t the only one pushing boundaries.


We can look at this situation from another perspective. Pirelli–for whatever reason–discontinued the hardest specification for this year (the P ZERO silver). Had the option tyre for this race been the Medium and the prime tyre the Hard tyre, this entire debate may not even have existed as the Medium tyre didn’t seem to suffer from graining on the left front.

Of course, I cannot help but be cynical as a decision to run the P ZERO silver in conjunction with the P ZERO white for this race could have been disastrous for a certain Italian team.

If the decision by Red Bull was a circumspect and well thought out “risk,” then I say well done Newey, Vettel and Red Bull! You thoroughly deserved this victory!


Surely you’re not suggesting that decisions in F1 occasionally deliberately favour a certain red team?

Heavens. That would NEVER happen


Adding to the insanity of the Newey decision making is RBR only really needed to come home in the points as they have such a long lead in the championship! They could even have sat the race out for that matter! IE nothing required Newey to take that level of risk that it concerned him as much as he has expressed. Problem is no one but the FIA can instill discipline into him or RBR as no one above him cares except about winning!


It was Newey himself who said in a recent interview that he suspects it was a puncture in Senna’s case. That interview was published here on JAonF1.

Who comes to my mind is Mr. Chapman who didn’t really care of safety when designing his cars. The result is well known…



The more I ready or hear anything related to the way Newey is handling situations and how is he religiously focusing of finding every bit of speed, I realize that other teams simply have no chance.

As long there will be limited resources, as long as Newey will be a free many at Red Bull….no other team is going to win.


When Mika Hakinnen had his tyre blow out at Hockenheim 1999, wasn’t it due to McLaren running the Bridgestones at below the recommended tyre pressures?

Is there a reason that the tyre manufacturers only offer recommendations rather than mandatory specifications to the teams? When an engine manufacturer supplies equipment I am sure the procedures and operational requirements (oils, coolants used etc) are set out in the contract?


Is there a biography of Adrian Newey? He seems a fascinating character.

As with Schumacher, his unparalleled talent and raging hunger for success sometimes leads him to the edge of dark places.


[mod] Pirelli needs to to make tires that as someone said earlier, “could handle 6 inch nails being driven through the sidewalls if it made the car faster and was allowed by the rules” there are strict rules for the formula but within those rules the sky is the limit and because the “sky” for one team is more aggressive than the “sky” for another they shouldn’t be punished for it… frankly I don’t care if a team runs such extreme camber that the wheels look like freaking hovercraft rotors if thats what works for them and is allowed within the rules of the formula the tire supplier better be prepared with a product that will hold up to the use it will be subjected to. Otherwise whats to stop them from making a tire that can only hold up to 250KPH sustained speeds? The current formula rules allow for cars capable of 300+ but we now have a speed limited series because of toy car tires, do we punish the teams because the RULES of the sport allow for a setup that cant be handled by the tires?
The FIA told them to make tires that were degraded more over a race, that has to deal with the contact surface not the carcass/structure of the tire which is what was failing on almost all of the front running cars not just Redbull. Hamilton and Alonso had bad blistering too and they supposedly complied with the camber specs, so yes this was like Michelin at Indy ’05 because the tires they brought didn’t work within the conditions and limitations outlined by the sport.
I had been a fan of Pirelli up until now because they do reward the complete driver not just a thrash and burn race to the end but trying to blame the teams because the product they brought to the track didnt function within the limits of the rules of the formula. Unless the rules say no camber greater than 4.5 degrees the teams shouldnt be arbitrarily punished for going beyond that.
And stop with all the sob stories about how Newey killed Ayrton, and stop with all the self righteousness about Redbull being careless and irresponsible, they built a car within the rules, and they are faster than everyone, get over it and stop whining just because your team was more conservative and isnt on top right now.
Yeah Im a Redbull fan, but regardless Pirelli got caught with their pants down on this one with tires that cant fullfill the needs and limitations of the sport and they’d better make sure this doesnt happen in Monza.
Also heres a question I have for James or the other technical minds on here, NASCAR many years ago mandated a tire with a sort of dual inner liner/ inner tube tyoe structure almost like military runflat tires that basically in the event of tread separation/main carcass failure the tire didnt immediately go down to the rim but allowed the driver a split second to slow and pull off the racing line before all the air escaped, this was implemented after a couple high speed blowouts ended the lives of a several racers. Why does this not exist in F1?

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