The British Grand Prix provided the latest drama to an already touchy subject in 2013...tires. The exploding tire issues claimed five left-rear tires during the weekend and while Pirelli are keen to get tot he bottom of the issue, speculation as to the cause has ranged from steel belts to serrated curbs and low tire pressure. The eventual cause may be discovered by Pirelli but they too have a brand equity knife in the fight and will be very careful on the verbiage they choose to explain the reasons for the blowouts experienced on Sunday.
One of the lingering issues that springs to the forefront is the fact that Pirelli had announced they would be bringing a new tire compound to the Canadian Grand Prix but that idea was scuttled as the FIA reminded them that changes to the tires could only take place in the face of a serious safety issue. Pirelli had experienced several delaminating tires in previous races but were not too excited to call the issue a full-on safety problem for obvious brand-sensitive reasons.
This reminder was compounded as calls for a tire change earlier in the year were met with Pirelli publicly stating that changing the tires would benefit Red Bull in particular. As the year wore on, it was clear that a change from the current steel-belted tire back to a Kevlar-belted tire may be the change needed to prevent the delaminating issue but teams such as Ferrari, Force India and Lotus would not consent to the changes as they felt their cars were running relatively well on the current tire specification. They had designed and built their cars around this spec and were not keen to change it mid-season.
The British Grand Prix exacerbated the issue of tires to a point that Pirelli will meet on Wednesday in Germany with the Sporting Committee to discuss a solution as team bosses are calling for immediate action on safety grounds alone. Red Bull's Adrian Newey has lashed out at the teams who opposed the changes for the Canadian Grand Prix telling AUTOSPORT:
"It's a sad state of affairs but such is the nature of Formula 1, really," said Newey.
"It's been fairly clear that there's been a number of worrying tyre failures through the year.
"Pirelli came up with a solution for that, with a different construction, and that was being offered initially for Montreal.
"But two or three teams vetoed that because they were worried it would suit some other teams more than it would suit them.
"As a result of that short-sightedness, Formula 1 ended up putting up the worrying performance it did [at Silverstone] and concerns about driver safety."
Red Bull were upset with the tire performance from the first grand prix in Australia and have been calling for changes for some time but in the competitive world of Formula One, sizable requests such as a complete tire change can be viewed as a competitive advantage against a team that has been dominating F1 for the last three years. While Red Bull's call for a change to the tires may have been read as a cry for help, their current dominance on the 2013 season betrays the notion that the current specification tire has hobbled the team allowing others to take the lead. Sunday's debacle will surely lead to a change in tire construction regardless of Red Bull's perceived gains with a new tire specification.
Pirelli have been fighting a brand equity battle in 2013 but clearly some of the blame can be brought to their doorstep as they seem to have inserted themselves into the competitive nuance of the sport by trying to out-smart the protagonists and add even more knife-edge performance characteristics that would stump even the best of team engineers and designers.
On the other side of that coin, Pirelli were asked to make a tire that has degradation as its main characteristic and to work with the sport to increase the entertainment value by hobbling to teams tactically. Some quarter should be given to any tire company that engages in making a tire antithetical to the kinds of products they actually make. As the teams head to Germany, the big question on everyone's mind now is, will Pirelli be heading to the Ring with a new tire?