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David Tremayne: Tyres overshadow Mercedes pace
2 July 2013 In his latest exclusive feature on Crash.net, David Tremayne - three time Guild of Motoring Writers Journalist of the Year Award winner and multi-award winning F1 author - takes a look back over the British Grand Prix, where the issues of tyres again came to the fore…
The British GP raised two outstanding issues, one of which almost completely overshadowed the other.
The first, of course, was the spectacular failure of Pirelli's tyres on the left rear corners of Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes, Felipe Massa's Ferrari, Jean-Eric Vergne's Toro Rosso and Sergio Perez's McLaren.
It should also be noted that, unseen, Esteban Gutierrez had a problem with the left front on his Sauber, while Alonso's left rear failed as he came into the pits for his first stop (you don't get luckier than that except, perhaps, for the millimetres by which he subsequently avoided contact with Perez's car when the Mexican's tyre failed). Both winner Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel were also warned of signs of imminent problems.
Why did this happen? Pirelli is still investigating, but suggests the failures were different to those suffered earlier in the season by Hamilton, Massa and Daniel Ricciardo. Instead, Pirelli initially blamed the kerbs at Silverstone, though they were unchanged from 2012.
You could write a whole essay on this subject but several things were clear, among them the fact that the return of in-season testing for 2014 is a good thing from the tyre safety viewpoint, and that had a few teams who have been making the tyres work all season not protested, Pirelli's structurally modified rubber could have been used at Silverstone.
The tyre issues grabbed the headlines and tended to mask the fantastic progress that Mercedes has made.
The W04s were easily fastest in qualifying - Hamilton in particular right back on his old, spectacular form now that he has the brake feel he's been seeking – but the big story was their race pace. Rosberg's fastest lap was 1m 33.531s set on lap 50, compared with Mark Webber's overall fastest from lap 52 of 1m 33.401s. And despite reasonable temperatures – 30-34 degrees C track temperature and 21-22 ambient, there was no real sign of the excessive tyre degradation that has blighted Mercedes' season.
With a haul of 37 points, the team overtook Ferrari for second place in the Constructors' Championship.
Meanwhile, Red Bull's and Mercedes' rivals floundered. Ferrari had very high hopes for this fast track, yet was nowhere in qualifying - Alonso 10th, Massa 12th – and the Spaniard's third place in the race owed much to the feistiness of his driving and a few large dollops of luck. On this form, the Scuderia won't be challenging for the title.
Likewise Lotus, whose season is falling apart. The team made a major error in not bringing Kimi Raikkonen in for tyres at the end, as Mercedes and Red Bull did Rosberg and Webber, but also it just wasn't quite hot enough for the E21 to come into its own. Throw in the fact that Webber's switch to Porsche for 2014 finally became official over the weekend, and the Enstone team could be in serious danger of losing its star driver to Red Bull next year.
The less said about McLaren's race the better, as the MP4-28 again lacked aero grunt and race pace - Button's best lap was three seconds off Webber's – while Force India continued to get it wrong for Paul di Resta after yet another outstanding qualifying performance from the Scot, whose car was found to be a whopping 1.5 kg underweight. Fingers need to be extracted there.
The other noteworthy thing was the performance of Toro Rosso's STR8, a very nice piece of work from the underrated James Key.
Overall, Red Bull still have the car to beat but if you looked behind the tyre fiasco, Silverstone showed that in Mercedes it now has some serious competition.