Tyres and how each team handles the inevitable degradation has been one of the key factors of the 2011 season, but the Belgian Grand Prix brought a new challenge: blistering.
This is by no means a new phenomenon, but it's something we haven't seen for many seasons and by its visual nature gets everyone's attention very quickly. From the cockpit it looks like the tyre is coming to pieces - and the last thing a driver wants at 200mph is a tyre failure.
So, what causes it, what can a team do about it, and why does it look like Red Bull was suffering its effects a little more than other teams?
Red Bull has been on pole position in all 12 races this season. To achieve this, the team has found something that allows its cars to get maximum tyre grip on that first lap; however, in the race they don't have quite the same dominance. It's car is obviously the best in the pitlane, but it still needs everything working to get new tyres up to temperature so consistently.
One of Red Bull's tweaks could simply be using slightly lower tyre pressures for qualifying. And as you can alter the pressures before the race, it could then just add a couple of psi.
It all sounds a bit too simple, but in these days of high technology it's quite easy to miss the obvious.
The normal pressures for this style of tyre and rim size would be 20-22psi front and 18-20psi rear. The lower you run them, the more grip you get because it increases the size of the tyre-to-ground contact patch. But, as with most things in life, nothing comes free and the negative side of this is more movement in the tyre construction.
Mark Webber pitted on lap three to change blistered tyres © LAT
Basically, the car doesn't feel as stable. We hear the drivers talk about this a lot, and some can cope with it and others can't.
But if the car provides a stable aerodynamic platform - which I am sure the Red Bull does - it will make it a lot easier for the driver to come to terms with, and if he is young and hungry and knows there is a bonus for the suffering, he will put up with it.
When you run the tyres at lower pressures, the tendency is to employ more negative camber; this can be seen by the tyre being further out at the bottom than at the top. You need to do this because when the car is going around the corner, the massive lateral forces on the outside of the tyres will deflect the rubber.
If, for example, the wheel was upright, the tyre tread would 'tuck under' and if this happens the grip will be reduced dramatically.
If you look at the pictures of the Red Bull, it had a fair amount of camber on the front wheels.
When a tyre is run with lower pressures and a little more camber to counteract the deflection in the corners, it will suffer more going down a long straight - and, as we know, Spa has a couple of these. On the straight, the majority of the deflection created by the huge aerodynamic loads which the Red Bull is not short of will be at the intersection between the sidewall and the tyre tread.
And, because of the increased camber, the majority of the load is on the inner sidewall.
This leads to high temperatures in this corner area of the tyre, and if you have pushed the envelope that little bit too far, blistering - as we saw in Spa - will occur.
Pirelli advised a limit of four degrees camber on the front wheels © LAT
What can be done about it?
Well, the weather at Spa contributed to the problem, in that the teams didn't get any meaningful dry running before qualifying.
Normally, this problem would have been detected by Pirelli after the free practice sessions, as it always checks used tyres for internal blistering. And when this gets to a certain level it's only a matter of time before it turns into external blistering, which is what we saw in Belgium.
If this had been detected, the advice from Pirelli would have been to give up a little grip by running higher tyre pressures and less camber.
The teams want the best out of their package and, as we saw, Red Bull got away with it - pole position and a 1-2 in the race is a pretty good day at the office. Coming up next is Monza which has, in the past, been one of the worst tracks for tyre blistering.
I would imagine that Pirelli will do what Bridgestone used to do and ask the teams to run with a minimum tyre pressure and maximum camber.
Not everyone will listen, but it will be the team that will have to cope with the consequences if a tyre disintegrates at speed.
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