• Belgian Grand Prix

Red Bull nearly started Belgian GP from the pit lane

Laurence Edmondson at Spa-Francorchamps
August 28, 2011 « Massa endures 'strange' race | »
Both Red Bulls nearly started from the pit lane but finished the race one-two in the end © Getty Images

Red Bull admitted it gave "a lot" of consideration to starting from the pit lane at the Belgian Grand Prix because it did not feel "completely comfortable" about their front tyre blistering heading into the start of the race.

After very limited dry running before qualifying, several drivers from the top ten found that their tyres had suffered from blistering due to the soft compound overheating. The reason was narrowed down to the camber settings the teams were running, which it has been speculated may have been outside Pirelli's recommendations in some cases. However, correcting the issue by changing camber settings between qualifying and the race would have breached parc ferme regulations and that would have resulted in drivers having to start from the pit lane.

Discussions between the teams, the FIA and Pirelli took place on the morning of the race with one option being replacement front tyres for the top ten, who had to start the race on the tyres they qualified on. However, several other teams believed that that would be unfair and vetoed the measure. As a result the likes of Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari were faced with the dilemma of whether to allow their cars to start with their existing set-ups or change them and start from the pit lane.

When asked how much considerederation he had given to starting his cars from the pits, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, whose drivers finished first and second, said: "A lot, a lot. You have to take into consideration safety at the end of the day. We had great support from Pirelli and working with their engineers and the information they provided to us we were able to make a decision.

"We spoke with the drivers about it and said, 'Look, this is the information we have about it: we sat down with the Pirelli guys and said we believe that the risk is minimal, are you comfortable to race?' And they had to buy into that."

He added: "I don't think any of us felt completely comfortable, but we had to believe in the information that we had from the specialists and we had great support in that respect."

Red Bull technical director Adrian Newey revealed the extent of the problem after qualifying in an interview with the BBC.

"Pirelli came to us and said, having looked at our tyres from qualifying, they were very concerned about the safety of the tyres and suffering structural damage in the junction between the sidewall and the tread, and felt that failure of the tyres could be imminent on both cars.

"It was very concerning and we then entered into lots of debates with Pirelli as to what we should do. They recommended that higher front pressure would make the tyre safer, as would reduced camber."

In the end Red Bull decided not to change the camber and altered the pressures and front wing settings at the first pit stop instead, as they are allowed to do under parc ferme regulations. What's more, both their drivers pitted for fresh tyres within the first five laps of the race.

Race winner Sebastian Vettel said he had had some concerns, but trusted the tyres would hold up: "It was our main concern going into the race. We had reason to be confident. The alternative would have been to change the set-up and start from the pit-lane. Maybe it would have been a completely different race. We took that risk. 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. No-one has really had a lot of laps around here, in particular on Friday with the conditions so everyone was a bit in the same boat."

McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh said his team had felt comfortable after making the tyre pressure adjustments and revealed that he had talked to Newey about the situation.

"Our tyre engineers were comfortable that with the pressure adjustments we could make, which may impact a little bit on performance, that we would be OK," Whitmarsh said. "Otherwise I would not have done that. I've just spoken to Adrian and Adrian wanted to talk to me because he felt very distressed about it and I can sympathise with his plight. I think there were various teams that were in various positions, and when you put a team in a dilemma that they're going to make a safety change but they'll have to start from the pit lane, then that's an uncomfortable position to be in. They made their decisions based on their data and we made ours. No one had a real amount of information to be as comfortable as you would like to be normally."

Whitmarsh said camber change would not have made much difference for McLaren, but believes Red Bull had a more complex decision.

"We discussed it and our chassis and tyre engineers reviewed it, and we believed that the camber change, in our situation, was not going to assist the situation and we believe that it was going to be safe," he said. "I think Red Bull had a bigger dilemma than that because their analysis led them to believe that a camber change would have been a safer thing to do. But they were put in a very uncomfortable situation, I think.

"I'm going to talk to Adrian about it because I know he feels very uncomfortable. Other teams were quite adamant that, 1) we shouldn't be allowed to replace the damaged tyres and 2) that we shouldn't be allowed to make the camber change without undergoing the penalty of starting from the pit lane."

Whitmarsh confirmed that McLaren did not exceed Pirelli's recommendations.

"No, and we didn't and we don't [go beyond the recommendations]," he said. "I think ultimately we are responsible for the safety of these drivers and they [Pirelli] reduced the camber [recommendation] coming here as you may know, and that was giving away some performance but it was the right thing to do as it turned out.

"I think we should run our team as I see fit, other teams should do what they are comfortable with. I think there are rumours that other teams have a different view. That's the dilemma, but I think everyone takes driver safety pretty seriously at all the teams and I'd be surprised if people were exceeding the limit. I know there seemed to be some ambiguity with one of the teams this morning, but that's their business not mine."

Ferrari boss Stefano Domenicali also confirmed that his team was running within Pirelli's recommendations.

"All I can say is that from our side we absolutely follow the instructions of Pirelli," he said. "I think they have given instructions to make sure the tyres are used in the best and safest way possible - that's all that I can say."

Pirelli's motorsport director Paul Hembery confirmed the tyres are supplied to the teams with recommendations and that there will not be any problems in the future as long as those those recommendations are followed.

"There was an issue with the front tyre blistering but we are confident that a similar scenario will not arise again, provided that our usage recommendations are followed," he said. "Of course, if any team had been concerned about their situation, they had the option to change their set-up and start from the pit lane. However, the majority of teams felt that no change was necessary.

"The problem was seemingly a consequence of some cars placing an excessive load on the inner shoulder of the front tyre due to their set-up and so overheating the compound, but it did not at all affect the structural integrity of the tyre. As there was no safety issue and because it would have been unfair to the teams that were unaffected, the decision was taken to start with the qualifying tyres as per the usual regulations. Although we did have the capacity to substitute the soft tyres after qualifying it turned out not be necessary."