As the cars prepare to take to the track for the first time ahead of Friday’s first practice session at the inaugural Grand Prix in Azerbaijan, Pirelli Motorsport boss Paul Hembery has admitted the tyre company is concerned about potential issues arising at the new Baku City Circuit.
He fears the nature of the course, with its 2.2-kilometre long start/finish straight sequence with an expected top speeds of 340 kilometres per hour could trigger a phenomenon known as ‘standing waves’.
This poses a threat to the integrity of the tyres; and in extreme cases under particular combinations of high speeds and cornering forces, it can lead to a complete tyre failure.
Standing wave issues lead to the infamous and farcical events at the 2005 United States Grand Prix where, out of 20 starting cars, only the six entrants running Bridgestone tyres started the race while the remaining 14 Michelin-shod runners retired after the parade lap amid safety concerns.
The most recent case of a ‘standing wave’ failure occurred at last year’s Belgian Grand Prix when Sebastian Vettel’s right rear tyre exploded as he left Eau Rouge at over 300 kilometres per hour. Admittedly, however, another factor in that failure was Ferrari’s decision to run that particular tyre set for more than the recommended distance stipulated by Pirelli.
“Long straights can create standing wave issues,” Hembery explained. “It seems to be a circuit that shouldn’t be too dramatic, but it has that straight, so we have to be very careful on that in terms of what’s going on with the standing wave management.
“If you go to a new circuit, it can throw up some surprises,” he admitted. “The tendency to new circuits in recent years is smooth surfaces with very low levels of wear, but there is quite an aggressive straight and standing wave is something we have to manage, so there is an aspect of tyre integrity that we have to monitor well.”
There are also fears forecast high temperatures between 32-34 degrees Celsius could see the cars lift the temporary tarmac laid over cobblestones on parts of the track.
“These things, you have to check them, because sometimes they do appear banal, until you actually get into them,” Hembery added.
“A temporary surface, if it does start breaking up, you have a major issue, because repairing it is a major issue.
“That’s something that needs to be monitored and needs checking. In fact, Singapore’s got something similar. We go over some paving this year where they’ve slightly changed the routing of the circuit.”
Image via XPB Images