Adrian Newey: One of the scariest races I've been involved in

Adrian Newey, Turkish GP 2011

Adrian Newey, Turkish GP 2011 

 © The Cahier Archive

Red Bull Racing scored a fine 1-2 in the Belgian GP but that is far from the full story. Technical director Adrian Newey had moist eyes as he sat on his pit wall stool taking it all in. He was a very relieved man...

On Saturday, post-qualifying, the Red Bull option tyres, the ones on which they would start the race, were badly blistered. Pirelli told the team that failures were imminent but that they didn't know when.

The team wanted the FIA to permit them to change the tyres as damaged ones, without penalty. They had, however, run more camber than Pirelli's recommended maximum four degrees, however marginally, and there would have been ructions if they had been allowed to change.

The team had a dilemma. Risk a failure on such a high-speed circuit or breach the parc ferme regulations, change the tyres and the set-up and start from the pitlane, effectively ruling out any realistic victory chance. Nobody likes gambling with safety. Tony Dodgins spoke to Newey about it:

Q: Why were you so emotional at the end of the race?

It was purely the worry about safety. Pirelli and ourselves were very worried.

Q: Was it a tight call whether to change the set-up of the cars at the start?

It was a very tight call whether to start from the pit lane or not.

Q: Did you leave it up to the drivers?

No, no, I don't think you can do that. I took the decision to make some changes and go to much higher tyre pressures to try and make it safer, and suffer the performance loss from that. Then to do a very short run on those qualifying tyres, which is why we came in so early. Mark's were more damaged than Seb's, which is why we brought them in after three laps and five laps respectively.

Q: How much more than the recommended four degrees of camber did you run?

We were just a hair over four, four and an eighth or something (The FIA reported 4.36). But obviously if we'd known there was a safety concern we wouldn't have done it. We'd had dialogue with Pirelli, they were in full knowledge that we were slightly over and didn't seem concerned about it.

Q: Had you been within the four degrees, would you have been able to treat it as a damaged tyre and change it?

No, I don't think that made any difference. I don't know what camber angle McLaren were running but they obviously weren't allowed to treat theirs as a damaged tyre either. Lewis's tyre had very similar damage.

Q: Haven't these things happened with tyres before and you have to manage it?

No. Racing tyres have blistered since the sixties but that's not the issue. The issue was the structural integrity and, because the blisters were so close to the inside shoulder where the tread meets the sidewall, Pirelli was telling us after qualifying that our tyres were very marginal. At 5 o clock on Saturday they wouldn't say whether it was half a lap or five laps, but they were going to fail very soon. There was structural damage in the junction between the tyre wall and the tread. They felt that a failure was imminent on both cars. You can take the performance aspect on the chin, it's the safety angle that's worrying.

Q: So you thought it was almost an Indy 2005 situation?

Very much so.

Q: And if they'd failed it would likely have happened at high speed?

Yes, probably out of Eau Rouge, over the hill and on the run to Les Combes, or going into Pouhon.

Q: So what changed in Pirelli's mind between 5 o'clock Saturday and the race?

You'd have to ask Pirelli. We had the decision whether to reduce our camber in breach of parc ferme regulations and start from the pitlane or do what changes we could, mainly raising the front pressures, and do a very limited number of laps on that first set. We did the latter. The FIA weren't willing to consider our tyres damaged and allow us to start on a different set from those we'd qualified on.

Q: Why didn't you change the camber when you had problems on Friday?

We didn't know it was a safety issue.

Q: Was there anything else you could do to help the situation?

Not using DRS helps because damage is a function of speed and load and with DRS it's a similar load at the front and it's only the rear that loses load and you are going a lot faster. We did some internal calculations combined with the results Pirelli gave us as to how an increase in pressure would help the tyre life. To be perfectly honest it wasn't a comfortable position to be in given the lack of DRS and the extra front pressure. I have to say it's one of the scariest races I've ever been involved in. Heart in the mouth stuff. Because, first and foremost, our duty is to driver safety and you are trying to make that call as to what is going to make the car safe without excessively handicapping yourself from a performance point of view. Frankly, at the end I was just very relieved.

Q: Sebastian was lapping very quickly with a blister. Did that surprise you?

No. We didn't have performance concerns with the blisters, purely safety.

Q: How much do you think you compromised the performance of the car?

It's difficult to know, but an amount.

Q: Given that, you seem to have made a performance step?

I think in the previous three races we had very cool conditions and slightly abnormal races. In Hungary, in the dry, we were actually quite competitive but in the early laps on the intermediates, we suffered. Germany was exceptionally cold and we suffered with tyre warm-up. At Silverstone we were compromised because we believed that we had cold blowing allowed and then it was taken away on Saturday morning again. They were all very scrappy races.

Q: Where did the impressive Sector 1 straightline speeds come from?

A very small rear wing!

Q: Yet you were still very quick through the twisty sector 2?

Yes...

Q: Would you rate this one of Sebastian's best wins?

It was a very together race. We were trying to manage the tyre as much as possible and it was a very mature race from both of them. Mark's race was every bit as good as Seb's race as well.

Q: What did you think of his Eau Rouge move on Alonso?

Brave, wasn't it!

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