Pirelli’s Problems at Baku

With an explosive finish at Baku, the reliability of Pirelli’s tyre guidelines and the safety of the drivers comes into question. Breanna takes a look at what happened on the streets of Baku.

Written by Breanna Hammond

June 19, 2021

After the 2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix witnessed two tyre blowouts in relatively the same place, questions surfaced surrounding Pirelli, the sole tyre supplier in Formula 1. Both Red Bull Racing and Aston Martin have publicly aired their grievances with the Italian conglomerate for their lack of answers and defensive statements surrounding the incidents. Pirelli has faced much criticism over the years for its influence in the sport, with many stating that tyre management is the number one factor in races rather than actual race craft. With new tyre regulations coming out for the 2022 F1 season, Pirelli needs to figure out what happened last weekend to prevent further damage to their reputation and maintain safety for everyone involved.

Pirelli has been the sole provider for tyres since 2011 when Bridgestone left the sport, and they continue to be the exclusive supplier for the foreseeable future. There are 7 tyre compounds regulated for F1 use, and the compounds selected for use each weekend are decided by Pirelli months ahead of the actual race. The 7 compounds are C1 (the hardest tyre in the group), C2, C3, C4, C5 (the softest tyre), Intermediates, and Wets. Each weekend 3 consecutive tyre compounds are listed for the race. The hardest tyre will always be white, the medium is colored yellow, and the softest is red. Intermediates are green and used for wetter conditions where there may be some dryness on the track, and full wets are blue and used strictly for the wettest of track conditions. For Baku, it was decided that the C3, C4, and C5 would be used, the softest compounds in the group. 

(Via @Pirelli on Twitter)

The tyres Pirelli chose are crucial to all teams’ weekend strategy and play a big part in how each team will manage tyres through practices and qualifying. 

In the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, there was not one but two incidents where essentially the inside of the tyre exploded. Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll was first to experience this when his rear left tyre completely eroded and spun him into the pit wall. Nineteen laps later, Max Verstappen’s rear left tyre also imploded just mere meters from where Stroll had spun out. Verstappen was only two laps away from another victory that would grow his lead over Hamilton in the World Driver’s Championship, but his unexpected tyre explosion took him out of the race. 

(Via @reuterspictures on Twitter; Photo by @Anton-Vaganov)

While questions about whether Max can recover from this in the championship are rising, the bigger question lies in what happened on the straight that caused both cars’ left rear tyres to give out. Pirelli’s first statement after the race said they believed it was caused by debris from Stroll’s Q1 accident in the same spot. After the race concluded, Pirelli found a long puncture in Lewis Hamilton’s rear left tyre and stated that it was also possible it could’ve been on the verge of exploding as well.

Max Verstappen told Sky Sports F1 after the race, “The tyre just blew off the rim, and it’s not a nice impact to have, it’s quite a dangerous place to have your tyre blowout at that speed.”

Stroll also had similar thoughts surrounding his accident, saying that he was unaware he was going to crash until it happened.

Although both drivers ended up okay, a serious issue could be developing. If Pirelli did choose the wrong tyre compounds for the race, especially with criticisms of their choice for Austria rising, what’s to say this is not the beginning of more tyre blowouts. 

Pirelli boss Mario Isola spoke about the procedure stating, “Obviously we didn’t have the time to perform a full investigation, and we need to send the tyres back to Milan. The plan is to send both sets to Milan by air freight tomorrow in order to have them in our laboratories as soon as possible and be able to make an investigation on these sets, plus some other sets used in the same stints.”

Isola again reiterated that what he was basing his statement off was only ‘preliminary’ and that more will be found out in the investigation. Still, he firmly believes that it was just debris since the teams received no warning before the failures. Typically, teams can gauge issues on the tyres in real-time and spend the entirety of the race communicating about them back and forth with their drivers. With a sudden drop in pressure followed by a tyre imploding, he believed there had to be one team whose data could support that conclusion.  

(Via @RedBullRacing on Twitter)

Following the investigation, Pirelli confirmed that the teams were not to blame for the tyre failures at Baku, writing, “In each case, this was down to a circumferential break on the inner sidewall, which can be related to the running conditions of the tyre, in spite of the prescribed starting parameters (minimum pressure and maximum blanket temperature) having been followed.”

“As a result of this analysis, Pirelli have submitted their report to the FIA and the teams. The FIA and Pirelli have agreed on a new set of protocols, including an upgraded technical directive already distributed, for monitoring operating conditions during a race weekend, and they will consider any other appropriate actions.”

Despite a healthy resolution, questions surrounding Pirelli and their tyres will continue as the season progresses. Many still have doubts and concerns about Pirelli’s tyre choices and what these new protocols mean for the teams. Above all else, everyone remains on the same page that tyre blowouts and red flags should not be the determining factors for races or the championships, and we all hope to not have any more incidents with Pirelli for the rest of the season.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Breanna’s earliest memories of motorsports come from Kyle Busch and his M&M car. Currently, Breanna studies journalism at UNLV, where she one day plans to become a sports journalist/broadcaster in motorsports. Outside of school, you can usually find Breanna crocheting a new blanket or baking cookies.

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