A furious Sebastian Vettel has slammed Pirelli following his tyre blowout on the penultimate lap of Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix which cost him a potential third-placed finish.
The German was running in third place in his Ferrari in the race’s closing stages, fending off Lotus’ Romain Grosjean, when on Lap 42 his right-rear tyre failed on the approach to the Kemmel Straight, just a few hundred metres after the Eau Rouge / Raidillon sweep.
He had bucked convention by running a one-stop strategy – the rest of the field stopped twice or three times – and his Medium-compound tyre set was entering the 28th lap of its stint at the time of the failure.
Speaking in the post-race open media calls, Vettel denied that Ferrari had been too ambitious with its tyre strategy, and rejected suggestions that the team’s call had contributed to the tyre failure.
“Things like that are not allowed to happen. If it happens 200 metres earlier, I’m not standing here now, I’m at 300kph stuck in Eau Rouge,” he fumed.
“We deserved to finish on the podium, but the other thing is if this happens earlier [in the lap] then…” he speculated, suggesting he would have had an enormous accident.
His tyre failure came in the wake of an earlier right-rear tyre blowout on the approach to Blanchimont suffered by Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg in Friday’s second practice session. Pirelli investigated that failure and ruled that the tyre had been punctured by an unknown external source.
“If Nico tells us he didn’t go off the track, he didn’t go off the track. Why should he lie to us?” Vettel continued, clearly having none of it.
“I didn’t go off the track. It’s just out of the blue the tyre explodes. As I said, if this happens earlier… I think we need to speak to each other. It’s probably not as bad as it was at Silverstone, but it’s not acceptable.”
Pirelli Motorsport boss Paul Hembery saw it differently, and in a subsequent interview indicated that Ferrari’s call to run a long stint was the primary contributor.
“It was at the end of wear-life,” he said. “Any tyre in the world, when it gets to the end of its wear-life, you’re going to have a problem.
“[He did] 28 laps, it was more we thought the strategy would be based on two or three stops, as the majority did, but they clearly felt they could make it work on the one stop. They obviously felt that was feasible.
Hembery was diplomatic when asked to respond to Vettel’s criticisms of the Pirelli brand.
“You’ve got to give him the benefit of doubt,” he added. “He’s a driver, he’s been out there and frustrated that he’s only one lap away from getting a result. So I’m not going to criticise him for that.
“If the race was one lap less, he’d be on the podium and we’d be calling it a genius move – sometimes the margins are very fine. So it’s tough.”
Hours later, Pirelli issued a rather bizarre media statement that will have done little to smooth things over between the tyre supplier and the teams. It blamed the teams for rejecting a rule change proposed in 2013 that would limit the maximum number of laps that could be driven on the same set of tyres.
“Since November 2013, Pirelli requested that there should be rules to govern the maximum number of laps that can be driven on the same set of tyres, among other parameters to do with correct tyre usage,” the statement, authored by Paul Hembery, read.
“This request was not accepted. The proposal put forward a maximum distance equivalent to 50% of the grand prix distance for the prime tyre and 30% for the option.
“These conditions, if applied today at Spa, would have limited the maximum number of laps on the medium compound to 22.”
Image via XPB Images; video via BBC F1