Formula One strike fears fast receding
After a problem-free day with the controversial Pirelli tyres at yesterday's German GP practice session, drivers are feeling more comfortable
Sebastian Vettel edged German rival Nico Rosberg in practice for the German Grand Prix and the drivers eased their threat of a pull-out as new tyres went through yesterday without a blowout.
Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone also played down the threat of a boycott over tyre safety concerns and said the race would go on as scheduled tomorrow.
Three-time champion Vettel is seeking his first win on home soil and beat Rosberg by .235 seconds in the second practice, after finishing eighth in the slower morning session.
Vettel, a vice-president of the drivers' association that on Thursday warned of a pull-out if tyre problems experienced at the British GP last week persisted, sought to clarify their position.
"The general agreement was that we're happy Pirelli bought a new specification of tyre for this event and want to thank them for their flexibility and reaction times - they were able to find a solution in only a couple of days," Vettel said. "The circumstances that we raced under in Silverstone were not what we can accept, but I don't think we will see those issues again."
Vettel's fastest lap was 1 minute, 30.416 seconds. Mark Webber in the second Red Bull was third and Romain Grosjean fourth, ahead of Lotus teammate Kimi Raikkonen. Next was Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, who failed to complete a full lap in the morning because of electrical problems.
"Pirelli have done what they can and gone back to tyres they know work here," Webber said. "It's impossible to tell how they will affect the performance of the car, but it feels comfortable so far."
Lewis Hamilton, who topped the morning session ahead of Rosberg, dropped to eighth in the afternoon.
Ecclestone, who came to Germany despite facing possible bribery charges in a Munich case, said the drivers were right in stating that it was their neck on the line. But he told the German newspaper Die Welt the drivers understood that Pirelli would do everything to resolve the tyre issue, which turned serious when five cars endured blowouts at the British GP.
"There is a big difference between thinking about something and carrying it out. If the drivers boycott the race, they risk losing their super licences," Ecclestone said. "Such a boycott would serve no one and won't solve the problem faster."
There were no punctures in the practices, although some drivers complained about the quick degradation of soft tyres. Pirelli has asked teams to stick to operating requirements, backed by the International Automobile Federation.
Pirelli wants all teams to keep the tyres within prescribed pressure limits and to stop switching tyres from left to right and vice versa. They also put Kevlar belts on the tyres instead of steel to reduce the risk of punctures.
Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery said it underestimated the problems caused by switching left and right rear tyres, a practice widely used by teams until now.
"We got that wrong," Hembery said yesterday, adding that Pirelli had manufactured about 1,000 tyres with new specifications over 48 hours. "We wouldn't be racing if we didn't think they were safe," he said.
Rosberg, who won in Silverstone and took the checkered flag in two of the last three races, said he was pleased with his performance. "It was an interesting day for us as we had to adapt to the new tyres," he said. "They are different and require a different set-up, so today was a good opportunity to learn something. We want to understand them quicker and better than the other teams. Generally it seems that we are quick again over one lap and the long run was not bad."
Mercedes has held five of the last six poles, but has struggled to sustain the challenge in a race.
Former champion Hamilton is still seeking his first win since joining Mercedes this season.
"This morning went pretty well and the car felt good, but then we made some changes which didn't quite work out for us this afternoon. The car felt a little off balance," Hamilton said.
Meanwhile, maverick Kimi Raikkonen lived up to expectations yesterday when he said he had no intention of withdrawing from this weekend's race even if his fellow drivers did.
"I haven't seen it, I heard," he said, when asked for his reaction to the overnight statement made by the Grand Prix Drivers Association (GPDA), in which they threatened to pull out if they felt the tyres were unsafe to use. "I am sure it is not going to happen anyhow.
"I was once involved in 2005 and funnily enough there were some guys that didn't stop - and they drove. So for sure I will race whatever happens this time."
Associated Press, Agence France-Presse