Pirelli Faces F-1 Backlash Over Tire Blowouts at Grand Prix

Pirelli & C. SpA faces a backlash from Formula One drivers after four tire blowouts at yesterday’s British Grand Prix.

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton was leading from pole position, in front of his home crowd, when his left rear tire exploded on the eighth lap at Silverstone. He battled back to finish fourth.

“It was quite dangerous, I was thinking of stopping,” Hamilton told Sky Sports. “I don’t know why I have to put my life at risk for these damn tires.”

Ferrari’s Felipe Massa, Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne and McLaren’s Sergio Perez also had tire failures as track temperatures reached about 31 degrees Celsius (88 Fahrenheit).

Formula One’s ruling body has called Pirelli into a meeting to discuss the matter on July 3. The next race is the German Grand Prix at the Nuerburgring on July 7. Pirelli, Europe’s third-largest tire maker, is the sole tire supplier in Formula One. Its shares were down 0.9 percent at 12.05 p.m. in Milan today.

At one point yesterday the safety car was introduced to allow debris from shredded tires to be removed from the track, and teams urged drivers to avoid hitting curbs.

Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen was hit by parts of Vergne’s tire. McLaren’s Jenson Button added his concerns on safety.

‘Very Scary’

“It’s very scary,” Button told reporters. “It’s not right and it’s not just dangerous for the driver in the car, but it’s dangerous for all the cars behind. He could lose control at that speed, but also the cars behind are getting hit with a massive belt of rubber, which has got metal in it, so it’s got to change.”

Red Bull principal Christian Horner said his team was “very nervous about the tires.”

Pirelli and Mercedes were reprimanded by the FIA last month after wrongly having an in-season tire test.

Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery said the company needs to analyze the data before deciding what caused the blowouts.

“We are currently performing our analysis, we have to go away and understand what has happened,” he told reporters. “When we’ve got the facts then we can understand and get to the core of the issue. When we have the answers we will let you know. We need to analyze it properly to give the correct reply.”

‘Negative Publicity’

Former McLaren driver David Coulthard said he sympathized with Pirelli because the tire-maker was asked to produce “high degradation” rubber to ensure at least two pit stops per car to make racing more unpredictable.

“Pirelli should not cop all the flak for this state of affairs,” Coulthard wrote in a column for the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph newspaper published today. “They could easily come up with tires which have no degradation, which last the whole race. And maybe they will do just that because at the moment they are getting a whole lot of negative publicity, which they do not need.”

Michelin & Cie., one of the series tire suppliers in 2005, refunded $10 million of tickets for the U.S. Grand Prix that year after 14 of 20 drivers refused to race because of problems with its tires. Michelin quit Formula One at the end of the 2006 season.

Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg won yesterday’s race. Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel didn’t finish because of a mechanical problem, though he keeps his lead in the drivers’ standings.

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