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F1 drivers threaten German GP boycott over tire failures

The Formula One drivers' association says its members will pull out of this weekend's German Grand Prix if tire troubles similar to those at Silverstone resurface. Four drivers suffered blow-outs in last Sunday's race.

McLaren Mercedes' Mexican driver Sergio Perez drives with a shredded tyre during the third practice session at the Silverstone circuit in Silverstone on June 29, 2013, ahead of the British Formula One Grand Prix. AFP PHOTO / TOM GANDOLFINI (Photo credit should read Tom Gandolfini/AFP/Getty Images)

Reifenplatzer Formel 1 Sergio Perez

F1 drivers convened on Thursday evening at the iconic Nürburgring track to talk about what they would do in the event of continued problems with the Pirelli tires used by the entire grid. In last Sunday's British Grand Prix at Silverstone, four cars suffered tire blow-outs during the race - after other incidents earlier in the weekend.

"The drivers of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association [GPDA] wish to express their deepest concern about the events that took place at Silverstone," a joint statement from the drivers said. "We trust that the changes to the tires will have the desired results and that similar problems will not occur during the German GP weekend."

Every driver on the Formula One grid is a member of the GPDA. Germany's three-time defending world champion Sebastian Vettel is one of the directors, along with 2009 champion Jenson Button and veteran chairman Pedro de la Rosa, currently a development driver for Ferrari.

"We are ready to drive our cars to the limit, as we always do, and as it is expected by our teams, sponsors and fans," the group said. "However, the drivers have decided that, if similar problems should manifest themselves during the German GP, we shall immediately withdraw from the event, as this avoidable problem with the tires endangers again the lives of drivers, marshals and fans."

This year's German Grand Prix had already survived one major scare following the track's declaration of bankruptcy last July. The state-owned circuit's new administrators only confirmed this January  that the race could go ahead.

New rubber finally set to debut

Improved tires, with reinforced Kevlar belts underneath the rubber instead of the previous steel ones, will debut on track as of Friday's free practice sessions. It's hoped the Kevlar belts will stay cooler and reduce strain on the tires. The fresh boots were in the works for months, delayed by a cocktail of inclement weather at a planned tryout in Canada, objections from some teams fearing a performance disadvantage and F1's prohibitive restrictions on testing away from race weekends.

"For a start it's a good thing that something has happened in the space of a week," Vettel said on Thursday, referring to the unusually short break between the British and German Grands Prix. "What happened in Silverstone was not the sort of thing we want to see. We'll have to wait and see how these tires work at the Nürburgring."

Vettel's championship rival Fernando Alonso, who drives for the Ferrari team whose car has proven rather gentle with its tires and was therefore reticent to introduce more durable boots, said "I think performance today is the second priority." Alonso was directly behind McLaren driver Sergio Perez (whose car is pictured at the top of the article) in the closing stages of the race at Silverstone when the Mexican's rear-left tire delaminated; the Ferrari man narrowly avoided the car and tire debris by swerving out of the slipstream.

Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP celebrates on the podium after winning the British Formula One Grand Prix at Silverstone Circuit on June 30, 2013 in Northampton, England. (Photo via Ker Robertson/Getty Images)

Nico Rosberg profited from the Silverstone chaos

"If you're driving behind another car at 300 km/h (186 mph), any parts that fly through the air and hit your crash helmet are like bullets. They will probably kill you," Alonso told German news agency DPA at the Nürburgring. Alonso's teammate Felipe Massa was left fighting for his life in 2009 when an errant piece of debris struck his helmet at speed. In the Formula 2 feeder series in the same year, Henry Surtees was killed when a wheel from another crashed car bounced across the track and struck his helmet. Despite several close shaves, no Formula One driver has died at the wheel since Ayrton Senna in 1994.

Ex-F1 insider Haug says issues are systemic

Pirelli's investigations into the Silverstone failures are ongoing, with a separate tire test planned at the track later this month. The single tire producer said its preliminary investigations pointed to shared culpability with the teams as well. Pirelli said that teams running under-recommendation tire pressure levels, mounting the tires on the wrong sides of the car and also setting too high an angle of tire camber all helped contribute to the Silverstone blow-outs - along with the characteristics of the high-speed circuit itself.

Former Mercedes motorsport boss Norbert Haug, who retired from his role in December, said in an interview with Germany's Bild newspaper that he sympathized with Pirelli. The Italian company were specifically asked to provide the series with marginal tires that would promote more frequent pit stops and greater variations in lap time over a race distance - measures designed to "spice up" the action.

"Formula One is ungovernable at the moment," Haug told Bild. "One party or another is always breaking away because it sees an advantage for itself. You have to defend Pirelli. They were told to build tires that degrade quickly - and they did so. And when there were problems and they wanted to bring new tires, the various teams impeded this process."

epa03738123 German Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull Racing kisses his trophy on the podium after winning the 2013 Canada Formula One Grand Prix at Gille Villeneuve circuit in Montreal, Canada, 09 June 2013. EPA/CJ GUNTHER +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Thrice a champion, this year's overall leader, but never a winner in Germany

Red Bull's technical director Adrian Newey similarly blamed "two or three teams," without naming them, for vetoing a tire upgrade "because they were worried it would suit some other teams more than it would suit them."

"As a result of that short-sightedness, Formula 1 ended up putting up the worrying performance it did [at Silverstone]," Newey said.

Vettel seeks to break home duck

On the track, three-time champion Vettel will seek to break his German drought with his first ever home win on Sunday. He will face stiff competition. His retiring teammate Mark Webber jokingly said after finishing second on Sunday, that he wasn't sure where the next race was, but that he'd love to win it. Webber, whose ever-frosty relationship with Vettel hit sub-zero levels in Malaysia earlier this season, has already beaten Vettel to the German checkered flag once before.

Nico Rosberg, meanwhile, will go for a single-season hat-trick of "home" wins at the weekend. Rosberg grew up in Monaco and triumphed on the city streets earlier this season. At Silverstone last weekend, he also won just a few miles from the Oxfordshire-based Mercedes team's Brackley factory. Now the German citizen, son of 1982 world champion and "flying Finn" Keke Rosberg, can seek his third win of the season and only the fourth of his F1 career in the country of his birth. 

Red Bull and Mercedes have emerged as front-runners in recent weeks, although Ferrari and Lotus have both displayed strong race pace and a greater ability to preserve their tires over long runs. That particular advantage may dissipate somewhat with the fresh rubber on offer at the Nürburgring, assuming that the drivers agree to race.

msh/ch (dpa, Reuters, SID)