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Pirelli hits back at Schumacher criticism

updated 12:46 PM EDT, Mon April 23, 2012
Michael Schumacher came from 22nd to finish 10th for Mercedes in Bahrain but was still unhappy with his tires
Michael Schumacher came from 22nd to finish 10th for Mercedes in Bahrain but was still unhappy with his tires
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Michael Schumacher believes tires now playing too big a part in race results
  • Pirelli says it is responding to calls to make racing more exciting with additional pit stops
  • McLaren admits tires are "very, very challenging" after disappointing Bahrain Grand Prix
  • Lewis Hamilton finished eighth, Jenson Button suffered a puncture before retiring

(CNN) -- Pirelli has reacted with surprise at seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher's criticism of its tires.

Schumacher called on the manufacturer to rethink its approach after several drivers struggled with tire degradation during the Bahrain Grand Prix at the weekend.

"If it is 80% of the field that has this problem, then maybe the tire supplier should think about that," the Mercedes driver said Sunday.

Pirelli's director of motorsport Paul Hembery was taken aback by Schumacher's remarks because he said the 43-year-old had been complimentary about the tires before the season began.

"I'm disappointed to hear those comments from someone of Michael's experience," he told CNN. "Others were getting on with the job and getting their tires to work. His comments during winter testing were that he was very happy with the tires, and now he seems to have changed his tune."

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Having started 22nd on the grid, Schumacher worked his way through the field to finish 10th and pick up a championship point, but was still unhappy because he feels the tires are now too influential on the outcome of the race.

"The main thing I feel unhappy about is everyone has to drive well below a driver's, and in particular, the car's limits to maintain the tyres," Schumacher said.

"I just question whether the tires should play such a big importance, or whether they should last a bit longer, and that you can drive at normal racing car speed and not cruise around like we have a safety car."

Pirelli, however, believes it should be congratulated for its part in an unpredictable season so far.

"The season so far has been fantastic: we've had four different winners and four different championship leaders," Hembury said. "So the competition has never been closer and part of that is down to the fact that everyone has exactly the same opportunities and challenges with the tires: it is down to them to make the best of it."

It's a very, very aggressive approach that we took. It's what we were asked to do
Pirelli director of motorsport Paul Hembery

McLaren suffered more than most in Bahrain after making a strong start to the season in the first three races.

Jenson Button had a puncture with three laps remaining and then had to retire on the penultimate lap. Lewis Hamilton finished down in eighth and lost his championship lead to race winner Sebastian Vettel.

"These tires are very, very challenging," McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh said. "If you're in the sweet spot you're in great shape, if not, you're in for a pretty tough time, and we gave both of our drivers a tough time.

"We were clearly too hard on the tyres, they were going away very quickly, and both drivers really struggled. It's a bit of a concern, but we have to be calm, analytical and fix it."

Pirelli, which replaced Bridgestone as Formula One's tire supplier in 2011, argues that it is only responding to calls for more eventful racing. Its media department wrote on Twitter that Pirelli "were specifically asked to produce tyres that degrade quickly."

"We are pushing the limits," Hembery said after qualifying on Saturday when some drivers ended their sessions early in order to save their tires.

"It's a very, very aggressive approach that we took. It's what we were asked to do. We were asked to bring challenges to the teams and this is what we've done on this occasion."

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