Red Bull's Adrian Newey was caught on camera admitting to drivers Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber that he was 'relieved' to see them at the end of the Belgian Grand Prix, having spent the entire 44-lap race concerned about the safety of their cars running on blistering Pirelli tyres.
The chief designer, whose RB7 has been the class of the F1 field for much of 2011 - as its predecessor was in 2010 - later confirmed that it had been one of the 'scariest races' he had ever been involved in, having had the FIA refuse requests to replace tyres that had been damaged in qualifying. Red Bull was not the only team to suffer from the blistering problem during qualifying, but led the arguments that fresh tyres should have been allowed in the pursuit of safety ahead of the race. However, the governing body decided to follow the letter of the law, which insists that teams qualifying in the top ten have to start on the same tyres as used to set the qualifying time.
"Pirelli were telling us after qualifying that our tyres were very marginal and they wouldn't say whether it was after half a lap or five laps, but they were going to fail," Newey, who was part of the Williams team during the fateful Imola weekend in 1994, revealed to BBC Sport after the race, "I have to say it was one of the scariest races I've been involved in, it was heart-in-the-mouth stuff, as first and foremost our duty of care is to the driver safety. Trying to make that call in making sure the car was safe, while not handicapping ourselves from a performance point of view, was quite a difficult judgement to make. Frankly, at the end of the race, I was very relieved that both our drivers were safe."
Newey explained that deviating slightly from Pirelli's recommended camber settings may have led to blisters appearing on the inside shoulder of the RB7's front tyres, and admitted that, had the team known of the outcome, would probably not have followed that route. When the FIA refused the request for fresh tyres, RBR was left with the choice of changing the camber settings, which would have forced the team to start from the pit-lane, or increase tyre pressure and go for an early pit-stop. Naturally, with Vettel and Webber first and third on the grid, they went for the second option, with Webber stopping on lap three and Vettel on lap five. They eventually came home first and second, with the German extending his championship lead over Webber and the rest of the field.
Pirelli's Paul Hembery later confirmed said the problem was mainly of Red Bull's making, although the early weekend rain also played a part in limiting the data that could be gained by any of the twelve teams.
"We've never had a safety issue," he insisted, "It was created by two things - one, the lack of running on Friday and, two, going to the limits of our [camber] recommendations. If you were concerned there was a safety issue with your set-up creating issues with the tyres, you could have started form the pit-lane, put a new set of tyres on, change your geometry and off you go."
Webber reported after the race that he had fed more information back to the team than during the average grand prix, in an effort to ensure that the right decisions could be made about the tyres.
"Communication was probably higher than it needed to be at other venues was because there was no running on Friday, so we were in a new situation in this grand prix, putting the tyres on the limit for lap after lap after lap, which we didn't get to do on Friday," he explained, "When I was sitting behind the safety car, I was really pissed off, as I was on the 'wrong' tyre and out of position. I thought that the options were going to be much much stronger. I still don't think they were a disaster, but the prime, the medium worked very well.
"All I could do was give the information, keep pushing - for sure, those tyres weren't going to go anywhere for me and that's generally the case when we make a pit-stop, one's tyres are pretty tired. So, as you say, it was a bit on an experiment, more so than at most grands prix this year because it's pretty rare you get such limited running into the grand prix. That was why there was a lot of nerves going in on many fronts."