Raikkonen crash raises safety concerns

The spectacular crash suffered by McLaren’s world championship challenger Kimi Raikkonen in the European Grand Prix has sparked safety concerns over the tyres used in formula one.

New rules, introduced this year in a bid to stop the sport’s costs spiralling out of control, have stopped teams from changing tyres during the race unless they are deemed to be in dangerous condition.

But teams believe that puts them in an unfair position and McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh admitted: “These regulations gave us a dilemma on Sunday, which we would rather not have.”

That dilemma was whether to risk Raikkonen’s life by forcing him to drive on in a badly vibrating car after he damaged his tyres or to pull him into the pits and throw away a vital victory at a crucial point in the championship race.

Their decision to leave him out pitched him into a massive accident on the final lap of the race, and Whitmarsh said: “The problem has often been talked about, but this has created a precedent, which demonstrates how dangerous it is.”

There are fears that, with high-speed circuits such as Silverstone and Monza and the notorious Eau Rouge corner at Spa-Francorchamps still to come on this year’s calendar, another incident may not see the driver walk away.

Raikkonen’s crash was a consequence of a driver error that flat-spotted the tyre badly midway through the race, but the ultimate failure was down to the gamble to stay out that did not pay off.

It is up to the team to avoid the problem, but many teams believe they should not be put in that difficult situation in the first place. BMW motor-sport director Mario Theissen said the situation is currently unavoidable.

“I think as long as you have competition on the tyre side, every manufacturer will be on the edge and certainly you run into problems sometimes,” said Theissen, whose company supplies engines to Williams.

“The main reason to introduce the current rules is to save money, and I think we could save more with a standard-spec tyre with no testing and then change them as often as you want.

“It was quite a surprise what we saw today, but we had some tyre problems in Spa last year and that would certainly become critical there, so we have to closely watch the situation.”

Michelin motor-sport director Pierre Dupasquier, whose company provides McLaren’s tyres, believes Raikkonen’s problem was amplified every lap and suggested failure was inevitable at some stage.

He explained: “He flat-spotted his front-right tyre and we could see the problem very clearly in his second stop. The trouble is, it becomes very easy to lock your brakes repeatedly when a tyre has been flat-spotted.

“That just amplifies the problem.
We have seen cars locking up here on many occasions during the weekend, and that seems to happen a lot here because one or two corners encourage drivers to turn while braking.”

Fernando Alonso, who won Sunday’s race, suffered problems at the last race in Monaco when the handling on his Renault deteriorated due to tyre wear, but he did not create a flat spot and managed to finish in fourth.

BMW’s Theissen believes the tyre war between Michelin and rivals Bridgestone, which encourages competition to push designs to their limits, has been partially responsible for the recent trend in tyre performance.

He added: “I was pleasantly surprised in the early races of the season because the manufacturers had to switch from three or four sets per race to one per race.

“That is quite a big change and I expected more problems than we had, so to me it was a surprise what happened today, but maybe that is because companies are pushing to develop more.”—Sapa-AFP

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