Pirelli blowouts were again in the spotlight after a slew of tyre failures tarnished the Qatar Grand Prix for some drivers, including Valtteri Bottas who lost out on a podium when he suffered a puncture.
The failure may well cost Mercedes the 2021 Formula 1 Constructors’ Title, with the margins so fine in this contest as now only two rounds remain – Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.
Bottas, started from fifth on the grid despite qualifying third, since ignoring yellow flags in Q3 earned him a three-place penalty.
During the race, the Finn dropped to 11th on the opening lap and was dawdling along, helpless and lacking ambition with the best car in the field, until lap eight when team boss Toto Wolff gave him the hurry-up over the radio.
Incredibly, Bottas transformed like an off-on switch, suddenly upped his pace and by lap 23 he was in third! Talk about a wake-up call from the boss and the wonders it did.
Bottas: I don’t really know what happened, there was no warning, no vibration
But Mercedes got their sums wrong, the #77 had run the longest stint on the mediums it started with and, as we now know, it all went pear-shaped when he suffered a puncture before taking a trip through the Turn 7 Losail kitty-litter on Lap 33 of the 57 lap race.
Game over. Bottas never recovered from that and admitted that it came without warning: “I don’t really know what happened, there was no warning, no vibration, the pace was still consistent, grip was still OK and it just happened.
“Initially I thought it was the wind getting stronger down the pit straight, because I felt the car was getting a bit sideways, but then I got the puncture in the first corner and, obviously, it was in the most unlucky point, just after the pit exit.”
Isola: We’re waiting for telemetry data from the teams
After the race, Pirelli motorsport chief Mario Isola explained which of the tyres suffered the most from the, made for MotoGP, Losail kerbs: “Front left, because it is the most stressed tyre but I don’t want to say that this was caused by excessive energy or something like that.
“The first elements that I can share is that all the tyres were quite worn, close to 100%. That we need to understand if they were caused before the loss of pressure or after the loss of pressure.
“We’re waiting for telemetry data from the teams. That is a really important element to understand if the loss of pressure was sudden and [what] was the time for that.
“All the drivers were able to go back to the pits, so they lost pressure but in a time that was enough to control the car and to go back to the pits. We’re seeing a lot of impacts at high speed on the kerbs here.
“It’s not a secret that cars had also damage to chassis, to the floor, to the wings, and when a tyre is worn, it’s less protected from kerbs, big impacts, high-energy impacts. Then it can happen that they start losing pressure, and you have either to change the tyre or you’re flat.”
Russell: We went for quite an audacious strategy
Williams drivers George Russell and Nicholas Latifi were also victims of front-left punctures late in the race, the pair going for a one-stop too.
Russell knew it was a long shot from the outset: “I guess you never want to end the race with three wheels on the wagon but we went for quite an audacious strategy, trying to push that one-stop quite aggressively, pitting early.
Meanwhile, at the sharp end Sergio Perez had made steady progress from 11th on the grid to fourth by lap 18, with third very much in his sights, but what the Red Bull pitwall saw go down at Williams prompted them to pit the Mexican, sacrificing what might have been third for a safe fourth.
Checo took it on the chin and said afterwards: “What happened to Valtteri did put a thought on our heads. I think at the end of the day fourth is better than nothing.”
Isola: We predicted a two-stop strategy because of the data on tyre wear we collected Friday
In contrast, certainly aided by the VSC period which offered a respite to their well-worn Pirellis, the Alpines were kind to their tyres on the night, with Fernando Alonso making a one-stopper work on his way to third place, his first podium since 2014 with teammate Esteban Ocon also making to the end with only one stop.
However, before the race these strategies did not sit well with Isola and Pirelli engineers, asked if they had concerns: “For sure, we had a few teams trying a one-stop strategy, because here it’s difficult to overtake, they didn’t want to lose time in the pit.
“But the reason why we predicted a two-stop strategy was mainly because of the data on tyre wear that we collected on Friday, and the wear on the front-left was quite high.
So [in the race] for example, the front-left and the rear-left were both worn to 100%. But the reason why we had a puncture on just the front-left has to be investigated.”
Isola confirmed that the failed tyres were taken to Pirelli headquarters to be analyzed by their engineers.
Norris: It could have been something much more dangerous
McLaren’s Lando Norris, who also suffered a puncture, voiced his concerns: “You expect tyre wear but you don’t expect the tyre to blow up, especially not on the hard tyre. We weren’t even that far into the stint. It was like 20 laps or something.
“They should do more than 20 laps. Every track you look after the tyres because they wear but you don’t expect them to suddenly let go completely.
“Quite dangerous for a lot of people and it shouldn’t happen. If there’s a wall there then it could have been something much more dangerous,” warned the Englishman.
Qatar Grand Prix Pitstops & Tyre use: