British Grand Prix: Drivers threaten boycott as tyre fears explode

Felipe Massa calls for action over safety issues caused by shredded wheels at Silverstone

In the first flush of disappointment, Lewis Hamilton was cursing his luck after an exploding tyre cost him his shot at victory when leading the British Grand Prix. In the end the win claimed by Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg was almost irrelevant. Hamilton was as relieved as the rest of the field that Formula One was not engulfed in an altogether bleaker tale.

After a race obliterated by disintegrating rubber at perilously high speeds - six in total, four attached to rear left wheels - relief turned to anger with Felipe Massa, one of the six to suffer a failure, calling on the drivers to consider a boycott of next week's German Grand Prix at Nurburgring if a solution to the crisis is not found.

"What happened today was very dangerous for us. We were lucky that all the places it happened the driver was able to carry on and not to crash. For sure there are places here where if it had happened maybe it can be much more dangerous. It is unacceptable really. For sure we are going to discuss about that [boycott]. I am 100 per cent sure that every driver is complaining about today. When I changed the tyres I was thinking 'maybe this will happen again' but I said 'God will protect me'."

Red Bull's celebrated designer Adrian Newey spelled out how lucky we were not to be discussing serious injury or even loss of life. "Safety-wise there are potentially two issues: the car that has the failure but also suddenly you have three kilos of tread flying around. If that hits the following car in the helmet it doesn't bear thinking about. That has to be a risk, and as such there is a lesson that should be learned from today and I will be very surprised if it isn't," Newey said.

Don't hold your breath. Tyre manufacturer Pirelli has been called to a crisis meeting by the ruling body, the FIA, in Paris on Wednesday, but this is Formula One, remember. Concerns about the integrity of the tyres have been at the centre of the narrative all season. The Italian manufacturer, under instruction to produce a "sporting" tyre that would spice up the action, delivered with rubber that on some cars, Hamilton's in particular, falls apart alarmingly quickly. Pirelli responded to criticism by offering an improved compound at a meeting during the Monaco Grand Prix, but when the issue was put to a vote the teams could not agree.

 

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"From what I understand, had we gone for a new construction we would not have had the catastrophic failures we had today," Newey said. "The nature of the circuit aggravates the combination of kerbs and high-speed corners. Whether that is a problem at the Nurburgring I wouldn't like to say, but ultimately Pirelli appear to have a solution. That needs to be rolled out as soon as possible. Whether it is possible to do so for the Nurburgring or not is clearly a matter for Pirelli.

"They have a different construction on offer. It was initially going to be the tyre for Montreal. Two or three teams voted against that in Monaco because they felt it would not suit the characteristic of their cars. But that is Formula One. I imagine the FIA will become involved. The teams are never going to agree. It is a concern for the whole paddock - both from a safety point of view and if the championship is decided by car failures, which would not be satisfactory." 

What a mess. And all this on a day Silverstone was blessed with the weather so often denied it. The old place looked a picture, the sun shone, flags fluttered in the breeze, cottonwool clouds floated decoratively across an azure sky and Hamilton was taking it to Vettel. Wake me up, I must be dreaming. If only. The happy ending promised went ker-boom, rubber everywhere as Hamilton's tyre was torn from its rim, his car suddenly a limping carcass. Hamilton made it back to the pits but his chance of a second Silverstone triumph had gone.

Nevertheless he set about demonstrating what might have been, exemplified by his cut and thrust with Paul Di Resta after emerging behind the Force India following his second stop. Hamilton attacked, passed, was attacked himself as the pendulum swung, passed and then, when the momentum careered back his way, dealt conclusively with the Scot. And all this for 11th spot.

Hamilton wasn't counting places at this point, just racing. Disaster had removed the chains of responsibility from his day. He was free to have a crack rather than manage a race. The subsequent failure of others ultimately lifted him to fourth and left him with mixed emotions - frustration at a victory he felt would have been his but optimism after fighting his way back from the brink of catastrophe on a day when the championship leader Sebastian Vettel retired.

"At the time I was just thinking, 'Jeez, I'm going to lose the race'. I was just thinking how quickly I could get back to the pits. That's the first time in my whole career that I've felt the danger. You are just trying to drive and do your best to look after the tyres. But I don't think this is about looking after tyres. It's a much bigger problem. The car becomes very loose and out of control; you have to fight to keep it in a straight line. You become a passenger when the tyre goes; the rear drops, the left front comes up. You only have two tyres on the track at any one time, which at that speed in not the best place to be."

As the debris of a dramatic day was finally being swept away Hamilton's boss Ross Brawn appealed for calm in the coming 48 hours. "Pirelli need to analyse what went wrong," he said. "It is important they don't jump to conclusions. They might be the wrong ones. We need to know what went wrong. That's the important thing."

Getting tyre-d: Silverstone slip-ups

Lap 8 Race leader Lewis Hamilton's hopes of a home win are all but ended as he suffers a puncture to his rear left coming on to the Wellington straight.

Lap 10 Fernando Alonso's right rear fails before his first pit stop.

Lap 11 Felipe Massa also falls victim to turn four as his Ferrari suffers the same tyre failure.

Lap 14 Jean-Eric Vergne is forced to pit after his rear left also loses its structure, leaving debris on the track.

Lap 28 Esteban Gutierrez's Sauber suffers a left-front tyre mishap.

Lap 46 Sergio Perez suffers his second tyre failure of the weekend, forcing him to retire from 18th position.

ROSS GREGORY

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