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Tyres making the difference

Alan Baldwin | June 02, 2005 15:50 IST

Before the Formula One season started in March, two predictions were widely made.

Most pundits felt that Ferrari's Michael Schumacher, chasing his eighth world championship after a dominant year, would remain the man to beat.

There was also a consensus that tyres, now having to last for qualifying and the whole race, would play a critical role with the new rules favouring those drivers who looked after them best over the distance.

If bets on Schumacher do not look so clever now, with Ferrari's losing streak extending to eight races and the German languishing in ninth place with just 16 points, the tyre experts have been right on the money.

McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen would have won Sunday's European Grand Prix at the Nuerburgring, and trimmed Spaniard Fernando Alonso's now commanding overall lead for Renault, had it not been for self-inflicted tyre damage.

Locking his brakes as he tried to lap Canadian Jacques Villeneuve's Sauber, while leading some 25 laps from the end, the Finn 'flat-spotted' his front right tyre.

The imbalance caused vibrations which led to the last lap suspension failure and crash that handed victory so dramatically to Alonso.

"This is part of motor racing," said team boss Ron Dennis afterwards. "Looking after your tyres and ensuring you don't flat-spot them is part of the skill expected of the team in setting the car up and the driver in driving it."

SAFETY CONCERNS

McLaren and Raikkonen were hardly in a position to complain, having benefited from Renault's tyre problems to win the previous race in Monaco.

They took a gamble at the Nuerburgring and lost.

They accepted the situation but others were concerned about the safety implications of rules that say tyres can only be changed if damaged or about to fail.

"The FIA position is that the drivers make the decision but they are asking us to throw away our races by coming in to change tyres," Red Bull's David Coulthard told the Times newspaper.

"That would have happened to me. I could hardly see from the vibrations late in the race but I couldn't afford to lose my fourth position.

"In one way the rules have been good for overtaking and entertainment but there is no question that it is more dangerous."

Raikkonen had the option to pit for a replacement, and might even have finished second had he done so.

But with just a few laps remaining, that was an option that was not seriously entertained. Staying out at least offered a chance of winning.

Ask any racing driver to choose between a potentially more dangerous but winning car and a safer but slower one and the decision is inevitable.

Ideally, of course, the car would be both fast and safe but motor racing is inherently dangerous and nobody wants to be 'first of the losers'. Other teams said they would have done the same as McLaren.

Had McLaren opted to call Raikkonen in for a replacement, there remained the risk of a penalty because the team would have had to show that the tyre was unsafe and in the end it was the suspension that failed.

Rivals might also have questioned whether it was fair for a team to be allowed to replace a tyre when the problem was caused not by accident but by the driver failing to look after it properly in the first place.

"I don't think they could have pitted," Renault's Pat Symonds told British weekly Motorsport News.

"If your driver has induced that problem then you've got to live with it."

 


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