Formula One drivers talk of boycott over tyres
Formula One searched for answers yesterday after headline-grabbing British Grand Prix tyre blowouts plunged the sport into crisis and triggered talk of a driver boycott in Germany this weekend.
Tyre supplier Pirelli, which has faced criticism from some teams throughout the season, began an immediate investigation after four drivers suffered rear-left tyre failures at Silverstone.
Ferrari's Felipe Massa, who was almost killed by debris shed from a car in front of him at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix, would not rule out drivers considering a boycott if solutions were not in place for Sunday's race at the Nuerburgring.
"I don't want to say that [drivers would walk out] because I don't want to create loads of problems but this is something that for our safety we can do," the Brazilian said after he experienced one of the blowouts.
McLaren's Sergio Perez, another victim of the exploding tyres, said drivers were risking their lives and needed assurances. "If something like this happens again, we don't want one of us to be killed," he said.
Australian Mark Webber, second for Red Bull in the race, said it had been like Russian roulette and he had been praying for a safety car because nobody knew who would be next.
Perez's team principal Martin Whitmarsh warned that driver action could not be ruled out. "I think there's that danger [of a boycott] and rightly so," he said. "If the drivers and the teams can't be convinced that they can do so safely, then they would have to resort to that.
"That's not what we want for Formula One. We've faced some of these issues before. We had it in Indianapolis and that was terrible for the sport."
Whitmarsh was referring to the 2005 US Grand Prix when only six Bridgestone-shod cars started after problems with the Michelin rubber.
"So we've really got to work together," he said. "This is not a time to point fingers. It's a time to work together, find the solution, get on with it."
Whitmarsh expected changes before cars appeared on track again in Germany and McLaren were not considering any drastic action at present.
The immediate question is whether the problem was track specific, with failures caused by debris or a particularly sharp kerb at Silverstone cutting into the tyres, or whether it was something related to the construction and design.
Pirelli's motorsport director Paul Hembery said the Italian company had ruled out the cause being linked to a new bonding process introduced ahead of Silverstone.
Red Bull boss Christian Horner and Whitmarsh both suggested reverting to the harder tyres from last year for Germany but the calendar is not on Formula One's side and substantial change may have to wait until Hungary at the end of the month.
A stop-gap solution might be to impose mandatory tyre pressures but that would be difficult to police, given the competitive advantage at stake.
"If we keep these tyres, we will have a safety issue," said McLaren's Jenson Button, the 2009 world champion. "We were lucky that nothing worse happened."