Pirelli’s Formula One tires came under renewed scrutiny yesterday after triple world champion Sebastian Vettel suffered a blowout in second practice at the Belgian Grand Prix.
The Red Bull driver was fastest in the session, but the sight of him nursing his stricken car back to the pits at slow speed with strips of right rear tire buckling and flailing was more of a talking point.
Pirelli, who had to strengthen their tires after a spate of blowouts at the British Grand Prix in June threw the sport into crisis, said Vettel had suffered a puncture and they were investigating what caused it.
Last month’s Hungarian Grand Prix, the last race before the summer break, was free of tire-related incidents, but the Hungaroring is one of the slowest circuits while Spa is the second-fastest track with heavy loads on the tires.
Vettel had earlier lapped with a best time of 1 minute, 49.331 seconds with the sun coming out after a damp start to the day in the Ardennes forests where the weather is notoriously capricious.
The championship leader’s time looked ominous, 0.059 quicker than second-placed teammate Mark Webber and comfortably clear of Frenchman Romain Grosjean in the Lotus with a time of 1:50.149.
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso set the largely unrepresentative pace in the opening session with a lap of 1:55.198.
The Spaniard was ahead of the two Force Indias of Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil with the top three setting their best times in the final half hour of an incident-free session.
The afternoon was more lively, with Dutchman Giedo van der Garde losing control and crashing his Caterham into the barriers at Stavelot.
The McLarens of Briton Jenson Button and Mexican Sergio Perez showed signs of progress, despite the team backing away from earlier assertions that they could challenge for a victory this weekend.
Perez was fourth fastest in the morning and eighth in the afternoon, when the team tried out some developments for next year. Button, last year’s winner in Spa, was out of the top 10 in both.
Vettel had been sixth fastest behind fellow German Nico Rosberg in the Mercedes in the morning.