2011 Belgian GP team review
Red Bull had grave tyre worries but Pirelli said the blistering was caused by their set-up.
|Sebastian Vettel||Mark Webber|
|Qualifying time comparison (Q3)||1’48.298 (-1.078)||1’49.376|
Red Bull drivers’ lap times throughout the race (in seconds):
Red Bull were not the only team concerned about how worn their tyres – which they had to start the race on – were after qualifying. McLaren and Toro Rosso had also seen blistering on their tyres.
But Vettel’s public remonstration with one of Pirelli’s technicians in the paddock before the start of the race highlighted how concerned they were about the situation.
After the race Adrian Newey explained their worries: “Pirelli came to us and said that having looked at our tyres from qualifying they were very concerned about the safety of the tyres, they were suffering structural damage in the junction between the sidewall and the tread, and felt that failure of the tyre could be imminent on both cars.
“It was very concerning. We then entered into a lot of debate with Pirelli as to what we should do. They recommended that higher front [air] pressure would make the tyre safer, as would reduced camber.
“Without permission from the FIA, reducing front camber would be in breach of parc ferme regulations, therefore we would have to start from the pit lane. Equally, the FIA weren’t willing to consider our tyres damaged, and therefore weren’t willing to allow us to start on a different set from that we qualified on.
“So our choice was to do what we could to make the tyre safer, which was to go to a much higher front pressure, particularly on that first set, that potentially were damaged after qualifying. Not using DRS helps, because the damage is a function of speed and load. With DRS of course, [there's] similar load at the front, it’s only the rear wing that loses load, and you’re going a lot faster.”
Newey added: “It was one of the scariest races I’ve been involved in, ever.
“Obviously, first and foremost our duty of care is to the drivers’ safety. And you’re trying to make that call of making sure the car is safe while not excessively handicapping yourselves from a performance point of view. I found it quite a difficult judgement to make.
“Frankly, at the end of the race, I was just very relieved that both our drivers were safe.”
However Pirelli refuted Red Bull’s claim of structural damage and insisted the problem was related to their set-up. Motorsport director Paul Hembery said: “There was an issue with the front tyre blistering but we are confident that a similar scenario will not arise again, provided that our usage recommendations are followed.
“Of course, if any team had been concerned about their situation, they had the option to change their set-up and start from the pit lane. However, the majority of teams felt that no change was necessary.
“The problem was seemingly a consequence of some cars placing an excessive load on the inner shoulder of the front tyre due to their set-up and so overheating the compound, but it did not at all affect the structural integrity of the tyre.
“As there was no safety issue and because it would have been unfair to the teams that were unaffected, the decision was taken to start with the qualifying tyres as per the usual regulations.”
Vettel claimed pole position for the ninth time this year with a fine late effort in qualifying: “I didn’t feel comfortable at the beginning of qualifying, but for Q2 I think we made a big step forward and I rediscovered Spa in a way!
“In the last session, I used the first two laps of Q3 to get temperature into the tyres and then for the last two I tried to push as hard as I could.”
Vettel discarded his first set of tyres after just five laps. But using the higher pressures he was able to spend 17 laps on his third set of soft tyres during the race.
He had made his way back to the front by lap lap 11, passing Nico Rosberg with a brave move around the outside of Blanchimont.
Vettel was handed a boost by the arrival of the safety car, allowing him to make his second pit stop while losing less time to his rivals.
At the restart he quickly passed Mark Webber and then took Fernando Alonso for the lead. He accomplished the latter without using DRS, presumably to spare his tyres as Newey described.
He made his final stop for mediums on lap 30, passing Button and taking the lead back on the next lap.
His seventh win increased his championship lead to 92 points with 175 left to be won. Worryingly for the opposition, Vettel feels the RB7 is now better equipped to be competitive on high speed tracks like Spa where the team have not been as strong in the past.
He said after the race: “I think in the past we were always quick here in sector two where there are no straights and a lot of corners. The thing that stands out this year is that we were quite competitive in sector one and sector three, where we have more straights.”
Webber celebrated his 35th birthday on Saturday and formally announced his deal to continue with Red Bull in 2012.
He was quick in practice and led the way late in Q3 to begin with before Vettel and Lewis Hamilton pipped him at the end. “I think I went a bit too hard on the slicks initially in Q3,” said Webber.
Webber made a dreadful start, the anti-stall activating as he slipped from third to eighth on the first lap.
On lap three he pitted to change his tyres which had even worse blistering than Vettel’s did. Unlike Vettel, he switched to the medium compound.
Fernando Alonso came out of the pits in front of him on lap nine and Webber snatched the place with an astoundingly brave and committed move at Eau Rouge:
“It’s more rewarding when you can do it with someone like Fernando because he’s a world-class driver and he knows when enough is enough,” said Webber afterwards. “Obviously my attitude might have been a bit different with someone else.”
“I was breathing in at the bottom, I got in and I looked in the mirror at the top and I saw he was still in… well, he had no choice, obviously in the end he had to… one of us had to lift and I had a slightly better line and it was he who had to lift.”
But he missed the opportunity to make an extra pit-stop during the safety car period: “We had a bit of a stuff-up on the radio.
“I was supposed to pit when Seb did with the safety car but we had a completely blocked radio. I was asking three times in the Bus Stop, ‘do you want me to stop, do you want me to stop’ and gave them the radio back but I heard nothing.”
That left him to do a 28-lap stint – more than half the race – on the medium tyres: “It was a long stint given the misunderstanding with the pit-stop around the safety car, so we had to commit to going very, very long on that set of tyres.
“I had a very, very big vibration on them, which is not unusual but that cleared up when I put the fresh set on.”
Webber stayed on medium tyres for his final, 13-lap stint despite Vettel having done 17 laps on a set of softs earlier in the race, suggesting the team still had some concerns over tyre life late in the race.
He picked off Alonso for second place with eight laps to go but wasn’t quick enough to close the gap to Vettel. The soft tyres would surely have given him the performance edge he needed, but it’s not certain they would have gone the distance.
2011 Belgian Grand Prix
- Rate the race result: 2011 Belgian Grand Prix
- In the Paddock Club and in the stands at Spa
- Leimer’s crash and in the pits at McLaren – fans’ videos from Spa
- 2011 Belgian Grand Prix: complete race review
- Vote for your Belgian GP driver of the weekend
- Red Bull: Newey relieved after “scariest race ever”
- McLaren: Button hit by debris in first-lap scare
- Ferrari: Harder tyres still the car’s weakness
- Mercedes: Schumacher climbs 19 places to fifth
- Renault: Petrov buoyed by R31 upgrades
Image © Pirelli, Red Bull/Getty images