Drivers want assurances over tire safety

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Just when tiregate appeared to be a thing of the past, the fiasco is threatening to rear its head once again after two tire failures during practice for the Belgian Grand Prix today at Spa-Francorchamps.

Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso both suffered punctures during the final stages of the second free practice session today, sparking worries about a repeat of the situation at the British Grand Prix in June. Five tire failures marred the race and the safety of the drivers was put at risk, forcing Pirelli into changing the design of their tires. The threat to boycott was made clear in Germany if the situation did not improve, and it appears that the drivers are once again being conscious of their safety.

Pirelli insisted earlier today that the failure was not due to a problem with the tires, but probably due to debris on-track. However, Mark Webber is keen on finding out the definite cause.

“We lost the rear right, very suddenly, so we need to have a look – Pirelli is working on finding out why it happened,” he said in a team statement after practice on Friday.

Pirelli will be investigating the matter further as they look to give an answer to the drivers, but the fear of a blowout at one of Spa’s many high-speed corners will always be in the back of the drivers’ minds.

Tiregate could be about to enter a second set, but the priority for all involved is that the safety of the drivers can be guaranteed when using Pirelli tires.

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”