Martin Brundle: F1 enjoys Spa treatment as Hamilton looks unbeatable
Sky F1 pundit Martin Brundle on F1's latest - but old - tyre controversy and why Lewis Hamilton looks unbeatable
Last Updated: 27/08/15 9:39am
If I think about the weekend, three things immediately come to mind; old tyres, young drivers, and relentless sunshine.
Positives first. We saw some great overtaking moves up into Les Combes at the very highest point of the magnificent Spa circuit. Some of them were DRS assisted of course, but the skill and control were impressive.
However, Max Verstappen's drag race with Felipe Nasr up to and through Blanchimont corner side-by-side at 200mph was breathtaking. Moments like that can be career defining. Not as crazy mad and impressive as Mark Webber passing Fernando Alonso in Eau Rouge a while back but nevertheless, most enjoyable to witness.
It tells you that the drivers know they can take such liberties given the track layouts (or rather the run offs) and the structural integrity of the cars, but nevertheless the pin-sharp accuracy and commitment are beyond question. It's a rare and very gifted human being who can do such a thing.
On the last lap, Verstappen made a bold move down the outside of Kimi Raikkonen for seventh but in reality he had already overtaken him then further outbraked him for good measure, which was a step too far as he ran wide. As with his error at Monaco and Silverstone, he will learn quickly.
My only word of advice to him if he asked (which he won't, and nor should he) is to play the percentage game on the risks. In other words, to choose his moments. He has 'world champion potential' written all over him and there's no point hurting himself in bold moves which are not as important in that brief moment in time as the overall and bigger picture.
I said to my Sky F1 colleagues immediately after Nico Rosberg's tyre blowout in practice that my 'nose' was telling me the teams needed to pay attention, despite all the apparent reasons and rationale. Speeds are progressively up, pole position was the fastest since 2010. In the sunshine, the track was continually rubbered in by the various categories and never once washed or made 'green'. With more power, downforce and weight, these cars are punishing their own structural integrity as well as the tyres.
Through Eau Rouge, the vertical load applied to each rear tyre is one tonne. Throw in some kerbs and bumps and that's a lot of load.
Now tyres shouldn't fail, and nor for that matter should front wings or suspension, but they always have (ask Nigel Mansell, or any other racing driver for that matter) and likely always will.
I'm not making excuses for Pirelli - they can defend and justify themselves - but let's not pretend what happened to Vettel is a new issue. For Pirelli, Michelin (Indianapolis 2005...), Bridgestone or Goodyear.
There's an underlying frustration for the drivers with the current tyres because they have to babysit them too much - they can't push at their maximum potential, their results are too tyre dependent, and they can look silly very easily in certain conditions. When they storm through to the podium because others hit the 'cliff' of degradation though, they'll happily accept that.
With this backdrop, Vettel was, for him, remarkably emotional and angry after his late blowout. And then Rosberg waded in too. I asked Lewis on Sky F1 what his views were and he played the diplomatic hand. I could see almost his brain working, 'don't get caught up in this, let the others (his two main rivals) get stressed over it'.
Tyre manufacturers will always operate on the side of caution with temperatures, pressures and dynamic camber settings. On the other hand, teams will always push everything to the extreme. That's a perennial problem which probably goes back as far as Ben Hur and his wheelmaker.
Bridgestone left F1 because tyres never got mentioned unless there was a blowout of some kind, like Kimi in the Nurburgring. Pirelli have tried to energise the racing and they get criticised if the tyres degrade faster than an ice cream on a sunny day, or last forever. They should just come up with a perfect tyre for every car on each circuit regardless of weather and that will fix it...
Ferrari should not have tried a one-stop strategy on that track in those conditions. And that's not hindsight, it's common sense and even Vettel called in at one point suggesting a further change, albeit for performance reasons. He would have made his way back up to third on fresh soft 'option' tyres. It was an error.
I often think that in sudden rain storms or Safety Car periods it's surprising teams don't mix the myriad of blanketed tyres up more often when two cars pit in a hurry, even trundling down the pitlane in a different order to that expected on particularly calamitous days. Williams didn't face that particular challenge but for the first time I can remember they ended up with a mismatch of tyres on Bottas's car and the resultant penalty cost him a very solid result. I strongly suspect that won't be happening again any time soon, and I wouldn't want to have been in the Williams debrief.
Lewis Hamilton has a calm yet supreme confidence about him now which makes him look unbeatable. That can only grow over the next few years until somebody hungrier, braver, and faster emerges in a winning car. Thankfully, we have a few of those in F1 development with plenty more behind them judging by GP2 and other championships.
Talk to you from Monza, a place which can be tough on tyres among many other things.