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The Spanish Grand Prix: A (tyre)some race

Fragile rubber is forcing F1 drivers to slow their pace

Gulf News

Jenson Button claims Formula One is being devalued by tyre trouble after the Spanish Grand Prix descended into a pit stop-strewn parade.

Even the eventual winner, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, admitted the sport’s bid to spice up racing by instructing tyre manufacturer Pirelli to produce such fragile rubber has gone too far.

McLaren driver Button, who was impressive in coming home eighth after qualifying 14th and running as low as 17th, said: ‘A lot of people watching will think there’s a lot of overtaking, it’s great, isn’t it? But I see a car behind and I let it past. If I block I might destroy my tyres.

‘When we’re going round doing laps three seconds slower than a GP2 car did in qualifying, and only six seconds quicker than a GP3 car did in the race, there’s something wrong. This is the pinnacle of motor sport. We shouldn’t be driving round so slowly to look after the tyres.’

Spaniard Alonso may have delighted his army of fans with his win in Barcelona but conceded not many of them would have had a clue what was happening in a race which featured 82 pit stops, most drivers visiting the garage at least four times.

The bewilderment extended to the drivers. Force India’s Paul Di Resta, the highest-placed Briton in seventh, radioed his team during the race to ask what was going on.

But, while Ferrari and Lotus can at least claim to have got a grip on a brand of racing where the tyres require drivers to work at 80 per cent - Kimi Raikkonen coming home second ahead of Felipe Massa - the same cannot be said for their rivals at Mercedes, McLaren and Red Bull.

Lewis Hamilton tumbled from second on the grid to finish 12th, at one point dejectedly informing his Mercedes team he simply could not drive any slower in an effort to preserve his tyres.

Hamilton was more diplomatic than his former team-mate Button, but it seems this brand of grand prix is not to his liking.

‘The team were asking me to slow down in certain areas but I couldn’t go any slower otherwise I’m going at walking pace,’ he said. ‘I was already going so slowly to the point that people were just passing me. That is the way the sport has gone to improve overtaking. It is for the public to judge.’

Plenty do not like what they are seeing, branding it artificial and confusing. Facing a barrage of questions on the subject, Pirelli’s motor sport director Paul Hembrey said changes are in the pipeline before the British Grand Prix at the end of June.

‘It was too aggressive today and we want to get back to what our plan was,’ he said. ‘We aim for two to three stops.’

However, he bristled at the notion that was too many and that drivers were forced to drive too slowly. ‘What do you want? Unless you want us to give Red Bull the tyres to win the championship.’

Button and Hamilton expressed doubts that a more conservative approach would see Red Bull run away with things.

Tyres or otherwise, Red Bull’s problems are not on the scale of Mercedes’s and McLaren’s.

A raft of upgrades did little to improve McLaren’s fortunes.

Hamilton admitted Mercedes must ‘go back to the drawing board’ as they struggle to take their qualifying pace to race day.

The same could be said for Formula One as a whole.