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Pirelli comes out fighting over Formula One tire chaos

By Sarah Holt, for CNN
updated 10:45 AM EDT, Wed July 3, 2013
Pirelli says its tires are not to blame for the blow-outs that hit six drivers at the British Grand Prix
Pirelli says its tires are not to blame for the blow-outs that hit six drivers at the British Grand Prix
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Pirelli offers its explanation for tire blow-outs at British Grand Prix
  • Tires mounted the wrong way, low tire pressure, extra camber and high kerbs to blame
  • New rear tires introduced for German Grand Prix this week
  • Mercedes race driver Lewis Hamilton says tires are still a concern

(CNN) -- Tire talk may be dominating the 2013 Formula One championship but Italian manufacturer Pirelli insists they are not to blame for the dangerous blow-outs that compromised driver safety at the British Grand Prix.

Pirelli attracted more media attention after the race at Silverstone, England than Nico Rosberg, who won the race for Mercedes Sunday.

But despite facing intense scrutiny the Italian company say it was how the teams chose to use the tires that led to the rubber unraveling on six cars, including Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton -- who led the race early on -- and both Ferraris.

"A series of different causes led to the tire failures at Silverstone," said Pirelli in a statement.

"Rear tires mounted the wrong way round... In other words, the right-hand tire being placed where the left-hand one should be and vice versa on the cars that suffered failures.

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"Low tire pressures, extreme cambers [the angle at which the tire slants away from the car] and high kerbs... Such as that on Turn Four at Silverstone which was the scene of most of the failures.

"The 2013 tires do not compromise safety if used in the correct way."

The drivers and teams had called for urgent action after the dramatic scenes at Silverstone and the sport's governing body responded immediately by amending its rules which prevent race drivers testing and tires being changed during the season.

The FIA have decided to turn a three-day test for young drivers at Silverstone later this month into a tire development test involving the F1 teams and first-choice drivers.

Pirelli has also reacted by introducing new rear tires for this weekend's German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring.

No arguments, no attacks

These new tires are strengthened with Kevlar -- a high-strength, synthetic material -- instead of the steel used in the 2013 tires.

The teams trialled this new rubber in Canada but failed to unanimously agree to then introduce it for the races in Montreal and Silverstone.

Pirelli hope to provide a long-term solution by introducing a new range of tires from the Hungarian Grand Prix at the end of July onwards.

The teams will test trial tires, which will go back to 2012's construction, at the test in Britain between July 17-19.

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"What happened at Silverstone was completely unexpected," said Pirelli's motorsport director Paul Hembery. "These incidents, which have upset us greatly, have stressed the urgency of the changes that we already suggested.

"I would like to underline the collaboration and support that we are receiving from the teams, drivers, FIA and FOM [the sport's commercial rights holder and broadcaster].

"In no way are we intending to create arguments or attack anybody. We have taken our responsibilities upon ourselves."

Mercedes motorsport director Toto Wolff has welcomed Pirelli's explanation and planned changes.

"Pirelli apologised and made a clear statement that it wasn't about complaining or saying that somebody else was to be blamed," he told reporters.

"I guess Pirelli are going to be clearer in advising the teams in terms of camber, on tire pressures and on swapping the rear tyres. Most of the teams swap tyres and have been doing it for many races.

"Safety is a priority and it's a moment where Formula 1 must show unity and concentrate on solving the issues."

Tires still a concern

Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso said on the team website: "After what we saw in Silverstone, we now go to the Nurburgring, confident we can see an improvement.

"I know that various modifications have been applied and let's hope that means all of us drivers can race in safe conditions.

"At the moment, we can't make any predictions, because no one has tried them and we don't know what and how many benefits they can bring, apart from trusting in the fact that it won't be dangerous to race."

But Hamilton, who lost the race lead in Britain after his left-rear tire dramatically exploded on the eighth lap of the race, warned: "I think it's still a concern and something where we need to see how it goes."

The fall-out from the British race means there will be regulated in-season tire testing as well as plans to introduce further testing next January.

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In June, Pirelli and Mercedes were reprimanded at an FIA hearing for organizing a three-day tire test in May.

The German team's "secret" test still riles their rivals -- especially as they have since won races in Monaco and Britain -- but the shocking tire explosions at Silverstone underlined the need for Pirelli to find a legitimate solution to the tire failures.

Pirelli had wanted to introduce a new tire construction at the Canadian Grand Prix in June but failed to get all the teams to agree to the plan at a meeting in Monaco.

A spate of worryingly delaminations -- where the tire layers separate -- earlier in the season had led to concerns the tires were not safe.

When Pirelli took over from Bridgestone as F1's official tire supplier in 2011, the rubber was deliberately designed to be less durable so that teams would take more pit stops and the racing would be more unpredictable.

But subsequent changes to the construction of the 2013 tire, based on the same principles, have now provoked not just unpredictability but chaos on the track.

The Italian company now hopes the introduction of new tires and an agreement to monitor and test the tires throughout the season, with the cooperation of the teams and the sport's governing body, will put an end to the problems.

New deal

The Italian company are close to agreeing a new deal to continue as F1's tire supplier when its current contract runs out at the end of the season.

Pirelli say they now just need to secure agreement from some of the teams.

Being F1's tire supplier is an expensive business with Pirelli effectively paying to supply tires to the F1 grid in a negotiated deal which also includes track-side advertising.

The teams pay a small contribution towards the rubber but the bulk of the bill for the season's 36,000 spheres of rubber is picked up by the tire supplier.

"It's not cheap," said Hembery. "I'm sure there are quite a few teams who don't have our overall budget to be in F1."

The smallest teams on the grid still spend $52m a year running their F1 teams.

"It's a lot of money isn't it?" Hembery said ruefully.

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