Formula 1

Formula 1 stars call for changes to risky Pirelli wet tyres

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Formula 1 drivers are having to take too many risks with Pirelli's wet tyres; that is the claim from two of the sport's biggest names.

As F1 remains emotionally subdued following Jules Bianchi's horrific crash in Suzuka earlier this month, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel are calling for changes to how the tyre supplier approaches its wet weather rubber.

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Extreme concerns

The main focus is on the extreme or full wet tyres which are used in cases of standing water on the circuit, in recent years the use of the blue-marked Cincuratos has been reduced particularly in race situations .

This is because drivers are complaining of a very narrow window of operation and also of their inability to clear the puddles off the circuit.

"They're not great tyres. That's no secret," - Lewis Hamilton

Pirelli claim the 2014 specification wets clear 65 litres of water per second at 120mph, 15 litres more than the 2013 spec, however, for Hamilton at least he believes more should be done to help disperse the water more quickly and therefore reduce spray.

"They're not great tyres. That's no secret," the championship leader told the BBC.
"There's always going to be spray but we need to work hard," he added.

"It's an area that's not always focused on so much. The slicks are always being improved and worked on but there is not so much focus on the wet.

Taking risks

While it is common sense that the intermediates, the shallower grooved of the two types of wet tyre, is faster due to the general conditions it is designed for and the greater level of grip it provides, four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, who took his first F1 win in a very wet race at Monza in 2008, said drivers were taking excessive risks to use the quicker wet tyre as much as possible.

"If you have a lot of water, you obviously need to have a tyre that gets rid of a lot of water very well so you don't suffer aquaplaning," the 27-year-old explained.

"The problem we have is that the extreme tyre has an extremely narrow window.

"The intermediate is quicker so as soon as you have got rid of most of the water you try to put the inters on, taking a lot of risk into account, just because it's a quicker tyre. That's something we need to work on."

Conservative approach vindicated?

The drivers' concerns vindicate something that has become a considerable pain for fans to accept and understand, and that is the conservative approach by race stewards and the race director Charlie Whiting.

After the initial downpours led to a safety car start and red-flagging of the race early on in Japan, the period behind the safety car before the race began for real again seemed excessively long.

Several drivers, including Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo, were on the radio for a few laps saying the race should be started but Whiting and his colleagues continued to bide their time and pick the moment when they deemed it safe to race.

But when the race did began very soon almost every driver was on the intermediate tyres, highlighting the point of Hamilton and Vettel

Because of this eagerness to get onto the intermediates then, it does make Whiting's case for waiting perhaps a few laps longer than usual before let them race at full speed. 


Also, in an era when the tyres have become a major factor during the race weekends, with Pirelli offering much less durable compounds than their predecessor Bridgestone, the same philosophy also seemed to be used while designing the wet rubber.

Obviously how a wet tyre behaves and how quickly it wears is very dependent on the type of track and the condition of the circuit, as the surface dries more heat is put in as the drivers go faster therefore wearing the grooves much more quickly.

It was this that was also a factor in the crash of Jules Bianchi, after around 25-30 laps on the intermediate tyres, when the rain returned the usual tread depth of the tyre was reduced so whereas a new intermediate could have coped, Bianchi's and other drivers round him, were struggling more with their old tyres.

Therefore something I would look consider an area for Pirelli to improve is how they can make the compound soft enough to offer grip but hard enough to not wear out the grooves.

F1's speciality

Driving in the rain has been something Formula 1 made into a speciality and some of the greatest drivers ever to get behind the wheel made their name when the sun didn't shine, from Ayrton Senna and Sebastian Vettel to Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher.

In a time where the safety of cars and racetracks has improved massively, when the rain comes down it takes F1 back to a time when it is man and machine taking risks to succeed in the most challenging of conditions and no panel of safety experts can ever tame what nature can provide.

That doesn't mean, however, that the sport can't at least try and adapt so that the art of racing in the rain is not lost in the name of health and safety, Bianchi's accident at Suzuka was a culmination of various factors coming together with the weather and tyres only part of the story and while the events were horrific most wet races do go off largely without incident.

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