Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturday: The Tire Topic and Monza Preview

After the race at Spa, four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, delivered a tirade attacking Pirelli and the tires teams were forced to use. Vettel, who had been holding down third in the race, suffered a failure at a high speed portion of the track, bringing severe concern for his safety while also hurting his result. Those two reasons fueled his angst and he let it rip to the media.

For these drivers, the tires are one of the main aspects that they can criticize that are not under the control of the race team, making Pirelli an easy scapegoat. While that may be one aspect of the situation, the criticism of Pirellis offerings has frequently been noted. They don’t degrade. They degrade too much. They aren’t optimal for certain tracks. They’re not optimal for the current car’s standards. The list of issues is lengthy.

That being noted, Pirelli has done the best they can in dealing with what Formula 1 requests. The tires supplied are built on the how the governing body encourages, and that seems to forever be a moving target. In addition, for as many angry voice about the Pirelli product, the tires have continued to perform decently with failures coming as aberrations.

After the Silverstone race in 2014, where the tires did prove to be a significant issue, Pirelli immediately made changes and the number of blowouts fell to near nil.  

What seems to be ignored frequently is that Pirelli can only do so much, it’s not like they can police the track and pick up debris during the race. That’s what they’re investigation into Vettel’s tire failure proved – that there was an abnormal amount of cuts on the tire and it finally gave out. It seems that the Spa track brought more debris onto the surface than others and created conditions that could bring about blowouts; Vettel just happened to be the one to suffer.  

Had it been someone on the Manor or Force India team, would it still have caused such a ruckus?

Odds & Sods

  • Nico Hulkenberg re-signed with Force India for two more years. There had been scant speculation about Hulkenberg and his expiring contract, but really, just where would he go? Ultimately, it looks like this year’s version of silly season is not going to be much of an affair. With Kimi Raikkonen signed on with Ferrari for 2016, it squashed the rumors of Valterri Bottas moving there and he’s now staying put.  
  • The one driver who may bring about some attention is Jenson Button, who’s seat at McLaren may be up for debate.  Though Button signed a two-year contract, it really is a one-year deal with an option. With Kevin Magnussen still in the McLaren fold, he’s one potential candidate. But the more likely choice is Stoffel Vandoorne, who is cruising to a title in the GP2. Button has expressed interest in racing rally cars and next year he may just find a home there.  
  • No surprise, Lewis Hamilton claimed the pole for the Italian Grand Prix. Mercedes brought their 2016 engine for this race and it showed that they’re still gapping the field, even if Ferrari attempted to keep it close – sitting two-tenths off the pace. Nico Rosberg hoped to enjoy the updated engine as well but his gave up and the team switched back to the 2015 iteration, which could next him just fourth on the starting grid.
  • Here’s a fun one: seven drivers share 168 spots of grid penalties for this race. The grid penalties are so screwy that Button and teammate Fernando Alonso, who are being penalized themselves, actually moved up in the starting order from their qualifying result. Of note, both Red Bull drivers will start in the back, marked in the 18th and 19th spots.
  • Ferrari could be looking at a double podium at Monza, as Raikkonen is starting second, with Vettel in third. The twosome might be able to help one another keep Rosberg at bay, while helping each other keep pace with Hamilton.  For a track that brings out the Ferrari love like no other, such a result might induce pandemonium. Imagine what a win would do for the Ferrari faithful!

The Track

The first Italian Grand Prix came into being in 1921. The track, Autodromo Nazionale Monza, or better known as Monza, has hosted every Italian GP since 1950, with the lone exception being 1980, when it underwent significant upgrades and is 3.6 miles in length with 11 turns. One of the key elements of the track is the high speeds and does not have some of the tight turns elsewhere. Not surprisingly, Michael Schumacher leads all drivers with five wins, while Vettel is tops among active drivers with three.

The race airs on NBCSN at 7:30 a.m. ET.

About the author

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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Hulkenburg signing with Force India also removes one of the candidates for the Haas team next year. If Haas really does want experienced drivers it will probably have to settle for a driver in the twilight of their career. Perhaps Button will think that a startup, if the money is right, can’t be much worse than the dreadful year that hes had this year.

While Pirelli has come in for its share of criticism, it generally seems to have performed pretty well. The requirement that they provide two different compounds for each race has to be a logistical headache. At the same time the requirement that the teams run both compounds during the race provides a lot of the interest that exists in this period of Mercedes domination.

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