Facing a revolt from teams over exploding tires at the British Grand Prix, Formula One’s governing body allowed in-season testing on Monday to allay safety fears and let Pirelli sort out the problem.
Jean Todt, the International Automobile Federation (FIA) president, said in a statement that the young drivers test scheduled for July 17 to 19 at Silverstone, England, would now be opened to all F1 drivers, although Mercedes would be excluded after it was reprimanded for holding unsanctioned tire tests in May.
Todt said the move — in-season testing was banned in 2009 over cost concerns — follows Sunday’s race, where tires exploded on four cars including Lewis Hamilton’s and Felipe Massa’s.
“Our priority is to ensure safety for all in Formula One and we believe the incidents at Silverstone represent a genuine safety concern for the drivers,” Todt said.
Todt also said he would seek approval to amend FIA regulations to allow changes in tire specifications without the approval of all teams — addressing a concern that some teams in the past have stymied efforts to make changes during the season.
He also called for F1’s sole provider of tires, Pirelli, to offer “assurance that there will be no repetition of the tire problems at this weekend’s German Grand Prix or at subsequent grand prix.”
The move to allow testing came a day after drivers nearly crashed after their tires blew while racing at speeds upward of 290kph. The sight of large chunks of debris showering cars and, in one case, a huge strip of rubber flying across the track, almost led to the race being called off and prompted concerns F1 was sacrificing safety for excitement.
“Our greatest concern revolves around safety,” Massa, who was nearly killed when hit by a piece of debris at the Hungary Grand Prix in 2010, said on Sunday.
Pirelli was investigating the problems, but ruled out a bonding process for the tires that was introduced ahead of the British Grand Prix . The firm has been called to a meeting today in Germany of team sporting directors and the FIA.
It said it had no information on the testing.
“We are taking the situation very seriously and we are currently investigating all tires to determine the cause as soon as possible ahead of the next grand prix in Germany,” Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery said
With the German Grand Prix this weekend, several teams on Sunday called for Pirelli to quickly sort out the problem.
“We had five tire failures here. Lots of people have a lot of theories about what that is, whether it is fatigue failure or puncture caused by debris,” said McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh, who heads the F1 teams’ association. “We have been lucky that no one has been hurt.”
Whitmarsh suggested going back to last year’s tires, while three-time F1 champion Jackie Stewart said the FIA should lift the ban on in-season testing immediately so that all teams can test their tires this week.
He went even further, suggesting the time may have come for eliminating pit stops altogether and introducing a tire that can last an entire race.
“We don’t need to have pit stops to make motor racing exciting,” Stewart said. “We can have tires that will do the full distance in order to get the safety element in place.”