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Motor Racing

German Grand Prix: Sebastian Vettel back on top after testing time for Pirelli


Formula One breathed a sigh of relief as the first two German Grand Prix practice sessions on Pirelli’s new tyres went off without a hitch as Lewis Hamilton dominated the first session, while Sebastian Vettel did likewise in the second.

The Grand Prix Drivers’ Association had threatened a boycott if drivers experienced any more of the explosive punctures that beset the Italian company at Silverstone last weekend. Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren all admitted that they had contemplated withdrawing their cars from the British Grand Prix had there been further failures in that race.

“We considered it,” McLaren’s sporting director Sam Michael said, while Pat Fry and Paddy Lowe, the technical directors of Ferrari and Mercedes respectively, said they had listened to Pirelli’s advice to raise tyre pressures in a bid to alleviate the problems. “We had a second request to go up again on pressures, and you could see our performance drop off as we did,” Fry said.

Before the teams even began preparing to run yesterday, motorsport’s world governing body the FIA had laid down strict guidelines based  on Pirelli’s own exhaustive investigation into what went wrong at Silverstone, mandating minimum tyre pressures of 16 pounds per square inch and also limiting the wheels’ camber angles. They also forbade teams from switching tyres from one side of the car to the other, which some had done in an attempt to eke out a tyre’s longevity.

In the end, nobody had any problems and the finishing order was not so different from other practice sessions and races, even though teams had to adjust to the revised  settings and get the best out of their cars in the new configurations.

Pirelli motorsport director  Paul Hembery praised the FIA for being “extremely cooperative and supportive”. Responding to questions about whether the new tyres were safe, he said: “We wouldn’t be racing if we didn’t feel they were safe. You go into each race with the best information that you have, and we wouldn’t come to any races if we had any doubts.”

After setting the pace in the morning but falling back to eighth in the afternoon, Mercedes’ Hamilton said: “It’s been a reasonable day for us. This morning went pretty well and the car felt good, but then we made some changes which didn’t quite work out for us.

“The car felt a little off balance during the session so we’ll have a look into that overnight and probably backtrack on some of those changes for tomorrow. I’m sure we will be back on form for the third session.”

Red Bull’s reigning world champion Vettel was very happy with his afternoon’s work after topping the timesheets with a best lap of 1min 30.416sec. He has never won his home grand prix, nor taken a race win in July, but made it clear that such things were not of earth-shattering importance to him beyond his obvious wish to maximise his points score at each race.

“I wasn’t so happy with the car this morning and Mercedes were quick, but in the afternoon we were in better shape. So far I am happy,” he said. He added that he does not anticipate further problems with the tyres.

“To be clear about yesterday and the GPDA meeting: the general agreement was that we’re happy Pirelli bought a new specification of tyre for this event and want to thank them for their flexibility and reaction times – they were able to find a solution in only a couple of days. The circumstances that we raced under at  Silverstone were not what we can accept, but I don’t think we will see those issues again.”