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Vettel: ‘Can’t Say 100%’ That He Trusts Pirelli F1 Tires

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Pirelli P Zero tires
Photo: Phil Guest via CC

Pirelli made headlines for all the wrong reasons following the 2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku, during which Lance Stroll and Max Verstappen both experienced sudden and unexpected tire failures on the long main straight.

These failures led to high-speed crashes that both drivers say were lucky not to be worse. Now, four-time champion Sebastian Vettel says he can’t be sure of the tires’ integrity. When asked, ahead of the French Grand Prix this weekend, whether he had confidence in the structural integrity of the Pirelli tires, he responded, “I think the short answer would be, I can’t say 100 percent yes, and I can’t say 100 percent no.”

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The Italian tire manufacturer investigated the failures from the last race but did not admit responsibility. Its statement on the investigation’s result was dense, possibly to help deflect criticism. The following paragraph is just one part of it:

“The causes of the two left-rear tire failures on the Aston Martin and Red Bull cars have been clearly identified. In each case, this was down to a circumferential break on the inner sidewall, which can be related to the running conditions of the tire, in spite of the prescribed starting parameters (minimum pressure and maximum blanket temperature) having been followed.”

Pirelli asserts that the tires did not suffer a defect and that debris did not damage the tires, seemingly suggesting the teams were at fault — even though the teams adhered to the “starting parameters” prescribed by the manufacturer. The most likely answer is that Pirelli did not adequately anticipate the tire loads at the Baku street circuit — and thus that its starting parameters were not suitable.

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As Formula 1’s sole tire supplier since 2011, Pirelli has frequently come under fire. The drivers want tires they don’t have to nurse, the engineers want tires they can easily get into the optimal operating window, and the sport’s governing bodies wants tires that contribute to racing that appeals to fans. On many occasions, Pirelli tires have been criticized for not being durable enough. At other times, they’ve been found to be too durable.

“The demands are very high and it’s not always easy to get everything right,” Vettel admitted. “So, if you’re trying for the perfect product, to make everybody involved happy, probably it’s not going to happen. I think I’ll leave it there. I’ve said enough.”