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Formula One tire flap blows up

Bridgestone apparently forced McLaren to put Lewis Hamilton on a three-stop strategy during Sunday's Turkish Grand Prix because it was worried one of his tires might explode.

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The most intriguing news that came out of this weekend’s racing is that Bridgestone apparently forced McLaren to put Lewis Hamilton on a three-stop strategy during Sunday’s Turkish Grand Prix because it was worried one of his tires might explode.

That tidbit of information popped out during the post-race press conference yesterday after Felipe Massa led Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen across the finish line.

Speed TV reporter Peter Windsor asked Hamilton how come he was on a three-stop while everybody else was on two and young Lewis let this slip:

“I guess I can tell you now that Bridgestone was worried about my tires,” he said. “They had a problem a year ago when one blew out (on Hamilton’s McLaren) and so they forced us to adopt a three-stop strategy for this race in the interests of safety.”

I’m watching this and I’m thinking this is huge news and I’m waiting for Windsor to ask the obvious follow-up question: How come nobody else had to stop three times if Bridgestone was worried about the tires?

But, alas, Windsor didn’t ask that question – of Hamilton or Raikkonen or Massa.

It’s not unusual for a tire company to be concerned that maybe not everything is copacetic.

Remember the U.S. Grand Prix a few years ago, in which only six Bridgestone-shod cars raced, after Michelin (which supplied the rest) was unable to guarantee the safety of its tires after one blew out and just about killed poor Ralf Schumacher?

It doesn’t happen often but there have been mandatory pit stops after 30 or 35 laps in NASCAR races in order for Goodyear to check out the rubber to make sure everything is fine.

So tire companies have been known to show concern.

But still – concern for just one driver, as seemed to be the case here, rather than all the drivers?

What was that about?

Bridgestone, sensing there might, indeed, be enquiring minds out there, moved late yesterday to try to put a lid on any controversy.

“We had the issue with Lewis last year at this race, brought about by turn eight specifically being anti-clockwise triple-apex with very high G-forces,” a spokesperson said.

“He had a specific problem last year, most noticeably, but several other drivers we noticed had internal tire problems. Based on that, we changed the construction and strengthened it over the winter period and then brought those tires to all the races this year.

“In actual fact, nobody else has had a repetition of any of those problems this year, with the exception of Lewis,” she added.

“He is the one driver who perhaps with his style of driving has put higher forces onto his front right tyre.”

I don’t know about you, but I find that explanation to be as clear as mud.

Over the years, it has not been unusual – particularly on the short-track scene – for a tire company that supplies tires to everybody to supply one or two teams with tires that, in fact, are different. That are – well, a little better. It has been known to happen.

But that sort of thing could never happen in Formula One, could it?

NASCAR

You’ve got to hand it to NASCAR. It was Mother’s Day weekend, so NASCAR didn’t race on the big day. But it raced the night before and dedicated the Dodge Challenger 500 at Darlington to mothers everywhere.

They paraded out all the mothers of all the drivers in the race (those moms who could make it to the speedway, anyway) and had them all, in unison, give the “traditional command” – except that they said “Sons, start your engines,” instead of “gentlemen.”

The Busch brothers, Kyle and Curt, introduced their poor mother who was booed as lustily as her two boys. Boy, it’s great to be popular.

Kyle Busch won again – his third Sprint Cup victory of the season – and his car was showered with beer cans as he took his victory lap. Boy, it’s great to be popular.

(You know, you can be a villain in the WWE and be booed and hated, but everybody knows it’s an act and has a good laugh afterward. This kid, who’s only 21, has to have police escorts to get in and out of the places he races, which is not funny.)

Carl Edwards was second and Jeff Gordon (who used to have beer cans thrown at him) was third.

Everybody – yes, everybody – is still talking about the race at Richmond a week ago in which Busch sent Dale Earnhardt Jr. into the wall. I think he did it on purpose, as do others, but an equal number on the “other side” think it was just “one of them racin’ deals.”

The betting is that we’re going to find out for sure at Charlotte next Saturday night when all the NASCAR guys are going to suit up for the Sprint All-Star Challenge – a race that delivers a cool $1 million to the winner but, more important, doesn’t pay any points.

Translation: if you’re going to run a guy into the wall – to administer a little payback – this is the race to do it in.


QUICKLY:

Jacques Villeneuve, co-driving a Peugeot 908 diesel with Marc Gene and Nicolas Minassien, won the Spa 1,000 km Le Mans Series race. He joked that it’s been so long since he won a race (the Luxembourg F1 GP 11 years ago), that he was worried he wouldn’t be able to find the podium. He says he’s looking forward to this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and I can’t say I blame him. . . Scott Dixon won the pole at Indy for the May 25 race with a four-lap average speed of 226.366 mph. Dan Wheldon will start second and Ryan Briscoe third. Helio Castroneves, Danica Patrick and Tony Kanaan make up row two and Marco Andretti, Vitor Meira and Hideki Mutoh will start in row three. The 33-car field will now be filled next Saturday – yesterday’s qualifying was rained out – and bumping will be held next Sunday. Veteran John Andretti will drive for Toronto team owner Marty Roth, replacing rookie Jay Howard. Roth, of course, will also attempt to qualify a car next weekend.

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