Threat of boycott appears to have diminished

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The Formula One paddock was thrown into a state of panic on Friday night after the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association (GPDA) issued a statement claiming that its members would not hesitate to boycott the German Grand Prix if their safety was not guaranteed with the new Pirelli tires.

Following the fiasco that unravelled at the British Grand Prix last weekend, Pirelli acted swiftly to introduce its prototype tire for the race at the Nurburgring, with Paul Hembery explaining in the Friday press conference that over 1000 tires had been produced in just 48 hours. Although this was seeking to remedy the situation, the drivers unsurprisingly had reservations over the new tires, hence why the statement was issued by the GPDA.

Subsequently, the first free practice session began tentatively with all eyes on the Pirelli tires and the entire paddock willing for there not to be any further issues. Thankfully, there were no issues with the tires and all of the teams managed to complete their programmes as per usual.

After FP2, many of the drivers were asked about their thoughts on the new tires, with Sebastian Vettel and Charles Pic both feeling reassured over the changes made. Of course, (without wishing to tempt fate) a failure during FP3 or qualifying tomorrow could once again throw the race into doubt, but following a successful day for the teams and Pirelli, we should expect to see a thrilling grand prix on Sunday.

However, one interesting issue to come out of the boycott threat was those who did not conform with the GPDA. Three drivers who are not members of the association – Valtteri Bottas, Adrian Sutil and Kimi Raikkonen – could have ignored the boycott and continued to race regardless of their colleague’s actions.

Speaking to Autosport, Raikkonen said: “I was once involved in 2005 and funnily enough there were some guys that didn’t stop and they drove, so for sure I will race whatever happens this time.”

Raikkonen was referring to the 2005 United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis where all Michelin-shod cars withdrew after the French tire manufacturer could not ensure that there would not be tire failures. Marc Priestley was a mechanic for McLaren at the time, and he explained on Twitter how he was unsure whether Raikkonen would adhere to the boycott or not:

“When I strapped Kimi into the car that day in Indy, I genuinely had no idea if he’d stop or race, despite firm orders from Ron.”

The Finnish driver went on to lose out to Fernando Alonso in the drivers’ championship, with the race itself seeing just six cars on Bridgestone tires compete and Michael Schumacher lead home a Ferrari 1-2 ahead of Tiago Monteiro for Jordan.

The boycott may be looking less and less likely, but the repercussions could be felt for the rest of the season. The lack of unity and prioritizing of self-interest has helped to cause this situation, and a similar attitude from some of the drivers may not be appreciated by their colleagues.

Ferrari teammates Vettel and Raikkonen fastest in rainy final practice at Australian GP

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen went one-two in the final practice session ahead of qualifying at the water-logged Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Vettel set a best-lap time of 1 minute, 26.067 seconds, more than 2.4 seconds faster than his teammate in second.

Both Ferrari drivers switched from their intermediate tires to the super-fast, ultra-soft tires for the final few laps of the session, testing conditions on the track after a day-long downpour left it slick and filled with small puddles.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton did not opt to try out their soft tires, sticking to the intermediates for the entire session. They had the seventh- and eighth-fastest times, after topping the leaderboard in practice in dry conditions on Friday.

The heavy rains subsided by early afternoon, allowing the track to rapidly dry during the third practice session and making conditions safe for drivers to test their soft tires.

Still, only a few drivers completed a timed lap with the softer compounds, with Mercedes, Red Bull and most of the others staying with their intermediates.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson had the third-fastest time of the session on ultrasoft tires, followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on intermediates.

Hamilton remains the favorite to capture his fifth straight pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in qualifying later Saturday. He had the fastest laps on ultrasoft tires in the two practice sessions on Friday, though Verstappen was right behind him.

Verstappen and Vettel both slid on the slick track early in the third practice session, but maintained control and completed their runs without incident.

Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, had the sixth-fastest time of the session. The Australian’s chances of winning his fifth career Grand Prix on his home track in Melbourne took a hit late Friday when he was assessed a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

The Australian driver was penalized for driving too fast under red-flag conditions during Friday’s second practice session because of debris on the track.