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How Pirelli discovered F1's biggest tyre drama since the 2005 US GP

A statement from the FIA on Saturday in Qatar alerted the world to what is the biggest tyre-related drama to hit Formula 1 since the infamous 2005 US Grand Prix.

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23

Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

On that occasion after failures in practice, the Michelin runners pulled out after the formation lap, leaving the six Bridgestone cars – two Ferraris, two Jordans and two Minardis – to race on their own.

Insight: Why tyre wars have largely become a thing of the past in motorsport

This time the issue discovered by Pirelli late on Saturday evening affects the whole field, and the FIA was quick to respond with a contingency plan ahead of today's sprint shootout and the sprint race itself.

As a measure of the seriousness of the issue, GPDA chairman Alex Wurz has convened a special meeting of the drivers to discuss the safety implications.

There were no visible problems, and nothing was reported by the teams after FP1 and main qualifying.

But the issue became apparent after Pirelli conducted its routine Friday night analysis of used tyres, in this case those handed back by teams after FP1 and no longer needed.

The usual process involves cutting up sample tyres for a more detailed look. Usually, nothing untoward is discovered, but on this occasion, late in the evening, Pirelli found issues with multiple tyres that had run 20 laps or more.

The FIA was immediately alerted, and single-seater director Nikolas Tombazis was shown the damaged tyres and a plan formulated on how to respond.

Today's statement from the governing body noted that "a separation in the sidewall between the topping compound and the carcass cords on many of tyres that were checked was discovered.

Pirelli press conference with Mario Isola, Racing Manager, Pirelli Motorsport

Pirelli press conference with Mario Isola, Racing Manager, Pirelli Motorsport

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

"It is the view of the FIA and Pirelli that a significant number of additional laps on these tyres could result in circumferential damage of the tyres with subsequent air loss, and tyres analysed with lower lap numbers showed a much-reduced extent of the issue."

This development comes after there were already tyre issues at Losail in 2021, and the revised kerbs, especially at Turns 12-13, attracted a lot of comment from teams and drivers before the cars even ran on Friday.

As the FIA statement confirmed, "this issue has likely been caused by the high-frequency interference between the tyre sidewall and the 50mm 'pyramid' kerbs used extensively at this circuit, aggravated by the propensity to ride those kerbs."

The damage was found predominantly on front tyres but also on rears, and mainly on lefts, but also on rights. Intriguingly, it was also seen on both the inner and outer sidewalls.

In essence, the outer sidewalls are taking hits as cars run up against the steep outer edge of the kerbs for a considerable distance, and then the inner sidewalls are impacted when the cars drop over the 50mm kerb and run along the drop beyond the hard edge.

The issue is also a result of the high g-loadings in that sequence creating a “bulge” in the sidewalls that makes the tyres more vulnerable to damage.

In effect, it is consistent hard hits on the sidewall, over a number of laps, that are creating the issue.

The response from the FIA is to adjust track limits at Turns 12-13, where it is believed that most of the damage is being done, so cars don't run out as wide as they have been up to now.

Qatar pyramid kerbs

Qatar pyramid kerbs

Photo by: Alex Kalinauckas

That change is why an extra 10-minute familiarisation practice session has been added to the schedule ahead of this afternoon's shootout, to allow drivers to adjust to the change.

In addition the provisional plan – to be confirmed after today's sprint action – is that every driver has to make at least three stops in Sunday's main race, with new tyres not allowed to run more than 20 laps, and tyres used in qualifying for 22.

Today's sprint is 19 laps, and obviously, the hope is that the short distance will allow drivers to race for the full distance without issues.

It also acts as a perfect litmus test for Pirelli as it will then be able to examine all the sets used in the race and then decide with the FIA what the impact will be on Sunday's main race.

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