Reflections with Nigel Roebuck

The magnificent challenge of Pikes Peak, Pirelli’s rapid response to the British Grand Prix tyre fiasco and how F1 failed to deal with something similar at Indianapolis in 2005

June 30, Silverstone. For a while the British Grand Prix was a mighty edgy affair and we felt sympathy for Charlie Whiting, whose call it was, after all, to decide the race’s fate: allow it to continue, or put out the red flag? Whiting later acknowledged that for a time he had been very much in two minds: Hamilton, Massa, Gutiérrez, Vergne, Perez… was that it, or would there be further drivers struggling back to the pits with a flailing Pirelli? Fortunately, that was the sum of it, but it was hardly a surprise that the happenings of the day left the drivers mighty concerned, not to say angry.

Had his career taken a different turn, as seemed possible at one time, Sébastian Loeb might have been one of them, but as it was on June 30 he was on the other side of the pond, preparing for a rather different event. Pikes Peak, no less. And one assumes that, as he awaited his start time, Sébastien did not have sight of a TV tuned into Silverstone, for the consequences of a tyre failure where he was were best not thought about.

“I remember the first time I went there,” says Mario Andretti, “they said not to worry about getting hurt – because you’d starve to death before you hit the bottom…”

As it was, Loeb’s Michelin-shod Peugeot 208 T16 ran faultlessly and the driver matched the car – indeed Sébastien actually beat the optimum time suggested by Peugeot’s computer. He had known beforehand, he said, that the car would be unbeatable up the hill, that – relatively – he could take it easy, and still win, still set a new record. In the end, though, he decided to give it everything he had, and how grateful we should be, for Peugeot’s movie of the run will forever stand as testimony to what a man can do with a car. In his quiet way, Loeb murmured that he didn’t think he’d made any mistakes.

I was always aware of Pikes Peak, aware of its standing in US motor sport folklore, aware that for countless years it was dominated by the Unser family. The hillclimb was run for the first time in 1916, making it the second-oldest event – after the Indianapolis 500 – on the American racing calendar, and it has always been something of a maverick affair. Even in these nanny state days of the 21st century, the instruction to spectators is straight to the point: “Please stay clear of the course, and don’t stand or sit where a vehicle might strike you.”

Simple enough, isn’t it?

It goes on: “Likely high-impact areas are marked off. Please avoid them. The Hill Climb enjoys an enviable safety record, and one reason for this is the good common sense of our fans. To maintain this record, we need your help.”

And further: “Once you are on the mountain, unless you park below the startline, you will not be able to leave until the race is completed. Depending on how the race progresses (no crashes etc), this can be any time between 3pm and 6pm.”

And again: “Expect the unexpected on Pikes Peak. A typical June day can start out very sunny and warm, only to turn intensely cold with rain or snow, so the best advice is to dress in layers. The higher up the mountain you go, the cooler the air will be. If there is lightning or hail, take shelter in your vehicle.”

These quotes come not from the 1954 programme, but from just the other day. Hallelujah! I must get to Pikes Peak before someone bans it.

When the road first opened, in 1916, it proclaimed itself ‘The World’s Highest Highway’, and the inaugural Pikes Peak Hill Climb – which would also become known as The Race to the Clouds – was run in an attempt to pull in more tourists to the Colorado Springs holiday area.

It was won by one Rea Lentz, whose Romano Special completed the course in 20min 55.6sec, which seems remarkably swift for 97 years ago.

Twenty years on, the record time had been reduced by nearly five minutes, and for the first time the name of Unser appears in the records. “That was Uncle Louie,” says nephew Bobby. “He won it nine times altogether, the last time in 1953, and lived at the bottom of Pikes Peak. I don’t think he wanted other Unsers coming up there – the mountain was his private playhouse.

“I won it for the first time in ’56, and I probably used to spend 25 per cent of my waking hours thinking about Pikes Peak. I found I always got quicker as the run went on. It would take me a little time to get into the rhythm of it – for the first three or four miles the rocks and trees on both sides wouldn’t be flicking by like they should…

“I’ve won Pikes Peak, and finished with my face and hands bloody from getting pelted by hail stones at 11,000 feet. The clouds are worse than anything, though – you can disappear into them and then you can’t see a thing.”

These days there are guardrails at the hairpins higher up the 12.42-mile run, but elsewhere all that awaits is… fresh air. Friends who have driven to the top of Pikes Peak in road cars confide feelings of queasiness even at 30mph, so it’s not easy to imagine how it can be when you have 875bhp, and you’re using every bit of it.

According to Andretti, the secret – if there is one – is resolutely to look straight ahead. “At one time there were plenty of places like that. Take St Jovite – man, I flat loved that race track, but it sure didn’t do to spend much time looking closely at it. I remember going there the first time for an Indycar car race in ’67, and driving around quite slowly at first – learning it, you know. Big mistake. Going slowly gave you time to look around, and you didn’t want to do that because then you noticed that at the sides of the track there were boulders and God knows what. I remember saying to Al Unser, ‘The track’s great, but there’s just one thing – don’t look to the side…’ Well, the Peak was like that, only much more so – and for more than 12 miles!”

In length Pikes Peak is in fact only a couple of miles shorter than the Nürburgring – the Nordschleife, of course – and familiarisation with either can never be the work of a moment. “I never learned the Nürburgring properly because I only raced there a couple of times,” says Andretti, “and it was the same with Pikes Peak – I won it, but I never really learned it. Just took a lot of chances…”

Mario drove at the Peak three times, in the late ’60s, primarily because – remarkably – it was for a time a round of the USAC National Championship, and if most of his rivals chose to pass it up, he ran there because there were points to be had.

It needs to be borne in mind that, for almost all of its life as a competition venue, the surface of Pikes Peak was dirt – indeed it was only after 2011 that it was paved in its entirety. That being so, it rather beggars belief that the car Andretti took there in 1968 was his regular Hawk, as had competed in the Indy 500 a few weeks before.

“We raised the ride height,” says Mario, “and stuck on some dirt track tyres, and that was about it. I can’t say it was ideal for a hillclimb on dirt, really… particularly with a ‘light switch’ turbocharged motor! Bobby [Unser] won it, in a [front-engined] championship dirt car, which was what you needed to get the job done, and I was fourth, but I knew the only way I was ever going to win the goddam thing was if he didn’t run in the same class – there was no way I was going to beat him up there.

“Bobby and I used to be quite good pals – sometimes, when we’d run midgets and sprint cars together, we’d split the money, so if one of us dropped out, he’d really root for the other! Money in the bank, right?

“Anyway, for Pikes Peak in ’69 we made a deal to compete in different classes – he’d run a stock car and I’d run a championship dirt car. That left his brother Al as my only real problem – but guess what? Luckily for me Al goes and breaks his leg, so he can’t run in my class, either! I figured I could take care of the rest of those guys, and I did…”

However, I wondered, did he – or anyone else – ever get used to those sheer drops? “Like I said – by staring straight ahead of me at all times! You’d go into a turn, sideways on the dirt, and you kind of got used to the idea that at the exit there was just this… void. Funny how the mind works, though. Coming out of some turns there’d be bushes on the outside, and psychologically that helped – man, you’d really hang it out when there was a bush there!”

Just for the record, the King-Ford used by Andretti to win at Pikes Peak was one of 10 different cars he raced in 37 events in 1969. As well as winning the Indy 500, and becoming USAC National Champion for the third time, Mario was also – when his schedule permitted – driving in Grands Prix for Lotus and sports car races for Ferrari. Never been a racing driver like him, nor will there be again.

In the last 30 years or so, Pikes Peak, which necessarily puts a premium on traction, has become increasingly the province of the rally car. After John Buffum won it twice in an Audi Quattro, the fearless Michèle Mouton had a couple of victories in a factory car, and in 1986 and ’87 Audi continued its run of success, with Bobby Unser (taking his last win at the Peak) and Walter Röhrl.

Before returning this year with Loeb, Peugeot had ventured to Pikes Peak in the late ’80s, entering a specially-built 405 Turbo 16 for Ari Vatanen, who shaved half a second from Röhrl’s record time of the year before. Another Unser – Robby, son of Bobby – took the same car to victory the following year.

A movie of Vatanen’s mad progress up the hill, entitled Climb Dance, is available on YouTube, and I urge you to seek it out, not least because it is a very different viewing experience from the footage of Loeb. Ari was always the most spectacular of rally drivers – and if the climb took him two and a half minutes longer than Sébastien, remember again that he was on dirt, not Tarmac. It is perhaps not surprising that a great many hardcore fans hate the fact that it has now been paved.

You might assume, as I did, that this would have made it safer, but according to those with experience of both surfaces the opposite is true. “No,” says Paul Dallenbach, who survived a terrifying accident in 2012, “it’s actually more dangerous – the dirt might have been more spectacular, but of course it was slower. As well as that, when it was dirt it was also four feet wider, so you had more space to mess up and spin – now, when you break traction, you’re going off the road. In the dirt I was hitting about 138mph – now I’m over 150 in four places…”

Loeb, of course, was even faster, in places exceeding 160 in his Peugeot. “People call it a rally car,” he says, “but of course it’s not – it’s a racing car…” Pikes Peak was hugely satisfying to him, but he doubts he will venture back there, and why would he? One cannot, after all, improve on perfection.

After Nico Rosberg had taken the chequered flag at Silverstone, I escaped The Wing’s deathless press room and swiftly headed downstairs to ground level. Once outside, the first person I saw was John Surtees, and we began talking through the events of the afternoon, notably the spate of tyre failures that had for a time threatened the continuation of the race.

“Of course it shouldn’t have happened,” said John, “but this is what you get when you have a testing ban. How is a company expected to develop its tyres when it’s not allowed to test them on a current car? All right, the amount of testing – and the cost of it – had got out of hand, and something had to be done. But to go to the other extreme – to ban it completely – was nonsense. Apart from anything else, how is a young driver expected to progress, to show if he’s any good or not, if he’s hardly ever able to get into a car? Instead of that, everything is done on simulators these days – but it’s not as though those things are exactly cheap! No, they’ve got to allow testing again, at least to some degree…”

In point of fact, even as we chatted, moves – prompted by the controversial Pirelli test with Mercedes at Barcelona – were already afoot to go at least some way down the path suggested by Surtees. In an FIA press release, issued after days of World Motor Sport Council meetings at Goodwood the week before the British Grand Prix, it was announced that next year – in place of the current eight one-day ‘promotional days’ and the three-day young driver test – four two-day track tests would be permitted, these to be run at European circuits on the Tuesday and Wednesday after a race.

Idle thought: presumably a rethink will be necessary as and when Bernie Ecclestone and CVC whittle down the European races to fewer than four – at this rate surely only a matter of time – but maybe I’m being unnecessarily pessimistic: perhaps, in light of recent events in Germany, such decisions will shortly be in other hands. And if that should come to be, maybe – we can dream – Formula 1 might again put some focus on countries where the locals actually like it, rather than concentrate on deals with people like that nice Mr Putin.

It was indeed an edgy afternoon at Silverstone, beginning on lap eight when pole man Lewis Hamilton, who had built a handy lead over Sebastian Vettel, abruptly slowed, left rear tyre in shreds. Earlier in the season we had seen delaminations (not least to Hamilton), but this was a disintegration, and before the spectators had time fully to digest their disappointment, Felipe Massa was spinning into the boonies, and for the same reason. The next victim was Jean-Eric Vergne, on the Hangar Straight, and his blow-out brought out the safety car, allowing marshals the opportunity to retrieve Pirelli detritus from the track.

In point of fact, they had plenty of time for this, for the safety car stayed out for six laps, during which time a good deal of urgent discussion was taking place. There had been three very public tyre failures – and it could have been worse than that: Fernando Alonso, for example, had one fail, but this went almost unnoticed for it occurred at the last corner, and when he was about to pit. After Vettel’s stop, cuts were found on the left rear taken from his car, and at once he was radioed: “Try and stay away from the kerbs.” In the past, it should be noted, there had never been any concerns about Silverstone’s kerbs.

Later in the race Sergio Pérez suffered a Pirelli failure (also on Hangar Straight), and it was more than fortunate that Alonso, immediately behind, was already lining up to pass the McLaren on the right, and somehow managed to swerve past – a manoeuvre that generated 3.6g, no less – without either collecting Perez or being struck by the steel-belted debris from his ruined tyre.

As it was, the overriding feeling at the end of the race was one of relief that a bullet had been dodged, that we had got through the afternoon without anyone being hurt. And while, from a PR point of view, the British Grand Prix was obviously a disaster for Pirelli, it was difficult not to feel some sympathy for the company, which had suffered delamination problems with its steel-belted tyres as early as the Bahrain race, and would have revised its rear tyres long ago, had it not been for ‘Formula 1 mentality’, in which vested interests traditionally triumph over the common good.

To change its tyres as it would have wished, Pirelli needed the teams’ unanimous support, and this was not forthcoming from Lotus, Force India or Ferrari, whose cars were kinder to their tyres than most.

I’m not suggesting that these three teams should be singled out as blinkered ogres – although ‘short-sighted’ seems fair – because the fact of the matter is that their thinking – “We can make it work, so why should we suffer because you lot can’t?” – has been prevalent in F1 since time began.

After Silverstone, though, there was an urgent need for change. Thanks to the wholly unnecessary messing about with the calendar earlier this year, the German Grand Prix was but a week away, rather than a fortnight, and while the Nürburgring lacked Silverstone’s ultra-fast corners, obviously there could be no question of going there with unchanged tyres. The teams that had earlier blocked Pirelli’s wish to revise its rears now – on safety grounds – withdrew their objections. How could they do else?

Thus Pirelli went into action, and in an astonishingly short period of time – three days – built enough new tyres (Kevlar-belted, as in previous years, rather than steel) for the 10 teams to use in Germany. Whatever criticism has come the company’s way in recent weeks, it deserved considerable praise for the way it responded in this instance.

For all that, the drivers, angry after Silverstone, needed to be reassured, and after a meeting at the Nürburgring on the Thursday, the GPDA issued a statement, announcing that its members would boycott the German Grand Prix if there were to be any repeat of the tyre failures encountered the previous weekend. Some thought strange the timing of the statement – anticipating a problem that hopefully had been resolved – but at the same time it was no bad thing that the GPDA at least reminded the world of its continuing existence, and got across the strength of the drivers’ concerns.

As it was, of course, the threatened boycott was swiftly forgotten because, as anticipated, there were no tyre problems over the German Grand Prix weekend – indeed, with Pirelli understandably playing it safe, the normal ‘tyre degradation’ endemic in this era of F1 mercifully played an insignificant role at the Nürburgring, and thus what we had was a proper motor race – the best Grand Prix of the season to date, not least because it was real.

Sebastian Vettel finally won at home, and the victory was especially satisfying because it did not come easily – indeed this was a race that should have been won by Lotus, and if Vettel’s march to a fourth consecutive World Championship seems inexorable that’s fine with me because, while it might be distressing to fans of Alonso or Hamilton, the fact is that Red Bull, while perhaps not the most popular team in the paddock, is yet again doing a better job than its rivals.

I have no memory, in the mid-60s, of people resenting the fact that Colin Chapman built quicker cars than anyone else, that you set off to a race in the virtual certainty you were going to see another victory for Jim Clark. It’s a fact that, unless you were a Schumacher fanatic, you tired of those seemingly endless years of Ferrari supremacy, but the fact was that Michael and his team, operating under the rules of the time, and playing every card in their hand, simply did a better job, and it was up to the rest to match them. As for this era, maybe the answer is to have an FIA rule requiring Adrian Newey to change teams on an annual basis…

If his abilities as a pure driver were not enough, Vettel is also conspicuously blessed by luck. There are those who insist that there is no such thing, coming out with clichés such as ‘You make your own luck’, and so on, and I’ll go some way down the path with them on that – but only some way. Chris Amon, for example, may have been heroically disorganised in lots of ways, but he was also a brilliant natural racing driver, and lack of organisation had nothing to do with, say, his gearbox failure (after 60 laps of clutchless changes) at St Jovite in 1968, when he was leading by a clear minute. Amon lost many a Grand Prix like that, none by his own hand.

Contrast that with Vettel’s race last year at Interlagos, the championship decider. On the first lap he ran into Bruno Senna, and emerged from the corner with a badly damaged car – and going backwards. Few in his team felt the car would make the finish, but it did – and with just enough points to get Seb to the title. Undeniably he had put in a superb recovery drive, but as usual luck rode with him, too, and you can’t put a price on that.

After Hamilton’s tyre failure, Silverstone looked like just another Sunday in another Vettel summer. Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes was only a couple of seconds adrift, but looked unlikely to threaten the leading Red Bull. Then, with 11 laps to the flag, Vettel slowed and came to a halt in front of the new pits.

Maybe it was because many have tired of the endless chapter of Vettel victories, and perhaps, too, his cheating Mark Webber (always a great favourite at Silverstone) out of victory in Malaysia: whatever, the spectators erupted with delight at Sebastian’s rare misfortune, and I must say I found that disappointing, not to say sad.

Of course any crowd quite naturally supports its own, and nothing wrong with that, but even before the start there were jeers for Vettel, and it’s something I’ve never cared to hear. At Silverstone 21 years ago, when Mansell Mania was at its most demented, I remember a banner in the grandstand across from the pits: ‘F*** Senna’, it said, without the asterisks. Then, as now, I thought this was supposed to be a sport.

It was good that the German Grand Prix turned out the way it did – a proper motor race, devoid of tyre wrangles – because Silverstone had been a low point in the season. After the race there were even those comparing the day’s events with the shambles at Indianapolis in 2005. A bit extreme, I thought. Although that weekend at the Brickyard was also mired in controversy to do with tyres, the circumstances were rather different.

For one thing, the powers-that-be, in their endless quest to improve the quality of The Show, had decided that season to stick with refuelling (subsequently banned, happily, at the end of ’09) but to get rid of tyre stops. One set, in other words, for an entire Grand Prix, which was something of a departure from the sprint-stop-sprint syndrome of previous seasons.

I thought this a worthwhile experiment, for it opened up the possibility of different cars being quick at different points in the race: treat your tyres kindly, in the Prost tradition, during the opening stages, and come the late laps you would be in better shape than those who had charged earlier on. And it worked well – why, even at Monte Carlo there was overtaking in the dying laps of the race.

There was also, in 2005, a tyre war, and when it came to building competitive tyres that would last for 200 miles, Michelin proved consummately superior – so much so that Ferrari, the only major team on Bridgestones, was suddenly an also-ran, having dominated most of the five seasons past. It wasn’t long before other team principals, while much enjoying the situation, began to murmur that at season’s end the ‘no tyre change’ rule would be gone. And lo, they were right.

Michelin people were already well savvy to the… vagaries of F1. Take summer 2003, for example, when Ferrari was struggling somewhat, to the point that in Hungary Michael Schumacher finished eighth – and lapped. In terms of the World Championship, Juan Pablo Montoya was but one point behind him, Kimi Räikkönen two. Close…

Then someone at Bridgestone tipped off someone at Ferrari that, in certain circumstances, Michelin’s front tyre just might infringe the rule relating to the maximum permitted contact patch (270mm). After the Hungarian Grand Prix Ferrari raised the matter, whereupon all teams were notified by Charlie Whiting that in future the measuring of front tyre widths would be done differently – not when they were new, but when they were used.

This made Patrick Head extremely angry: “I was… annoyed by the timing, I think you could say: the geometry of Michelin’s tyre had been unchanged since Imola in 2001. In building their tyres, Michelin had assumed that the contact patch limit applied to tyres ‘when new’ – I don’t think there’d been any thought of, ‘OK, it’ll be like that when new, but we’ll make it so it’s wider when it’s worn…’ It had just happened because of the design of the tyres, and because sometimes, when you go over kerbs and things, it scuffs the side. It was a new – mid-season – interpretation for the FIA suddenly to say, ‘From now on we’re going to measure the tyres when they’re worn, as opposed to new’. Michelin did a quick modification and we tested them at Monza, but it’s fair to say it had a fairly disruptive effect on our preparations for the Italian Grand Prix. Had we not put so much of our time into that, I suspect we would have been able to get more performance from the car…” Montoya finished second at Monza, behind Schumacher.

Over time I have spoken to many a team principal and engineer about tyres, and to a man they have privately expressed the view that, in terms of engineering excellence, Michelin stands alone. That said, the one time they got it wrong – at Indianapolis in ’05 – they got it royally wrong.

History shows that this was the only race won that year by Schumacher and Ferrari, and it was of course for the very good reason that Michael’s only opposition came from his team-mate Rubens Barrichello. At the end of the formation lap all the Michelin runners peeled off into the pitlane, and only the six Bridgestone-shod cars – unkindly described by one bitter wag as ‘two Ferraris, and four things that make noise’ – went to the grid. Behind the red cars, after 73 interminable laps, were the two Jordans and the two Minardis. By this time a majority of the 120,000 livid spectators had long since departed.

I watched for a few laps in the press room, then gave up and wandered down to the paddock, where drivers were already preparing to leave. “This could be the end of Formula 1 in America,” I remember Jacques Villeneuve saying, and I didn’t argue with him.

There was, as I said, a tyre war at this time, and in tyre wars the companies involved push things closer to the edge. Such is the nature of competition. Since F1’s previous visit to Indianapolis, the surface of the Speedway had been diamond-cut, which increased grip – but also necessarily increased load on the tyres. At the Indy 500, run the previous month, Firestone had encountered problems, and information was passed on to the mother company, Bridgestone, who thus came prepared for the Grand Prix.

In practice all the problems were confined to Turn 13 (Turn One on the oval, in the opposite direction), and when Ralf Schumacher’s Toyota clouted the wall, it was found that his left rear Michelin had been already coming off the rim before the impact. Although qualifying went ahead without incident, on Saturday evening several teams reported tyres in a tenuous state, and Michelin advised them that they were not suitable for racing unless corner speeds at Turn 13 could be reduced.

How was that to be achieved? One ludicrous suggestion was the imposition of a ‘280kph speed limit’ for the Michelin cars through the contentious corner, but quite how that was to be accomplished safely – with most cars cruising, and one or two absolutely flat out – was not clear. Nor was it obvious how such as Räikkönen, Montoya and Alonso might be persuaded to observe such a limit.

Fatuous, obviously – so what next? While far from wholly satisfactory, the most obvious solution was the swift insertion of a chicane, so as to reduce the speed of the cars as they approached Turn 13. Yes, it would be unfair to the Bridgestone runners, no doubt about that, but it would at least enable the US Grand Prix to be run with a full complement of cars – and would also demonstrate Formula 1’s wish to put its customers first.

On race morning all the team principals signed their agreement to a chicane, save Jean Todt of Ferrari, and the matter was then settled once and for all in Paris, by FIA president Max Mosley, who said that changing the circuit in this fashion was out of the question if the race were to be a round of the World Championship.

Well, in that case, what about Barcelona 1994? In the aftermath of the recent deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna, the drivers, understandably jumpy, insisted on the Thursday night on the insertion of a chicane before the quick Nissan Curve. It was a Heath Robinson thing – effectively two tyre walls lashed together to form barriers across the track – and some muttered that it was more dangerous than the corner it sought to protect, but the point is that it was installed, and the Spanish Grand Prix went ahead, complete with its World Championship status.

So these things can be done, but at Indianapolis they were not, and only six cars went to the grid. There, of course, all the tyre problems had manifested themselves in practice, whereas at Silverstone they became apparent only in the race: had there been so many tyre disintegrations on Saturday, one wonders what steps would have been taken, or even if the British Grand Prix would have been run.

At Indianapolis Michelin of course came in for savage criticism, but it must be said that the company responded to the debacle with laudable honour and integrity, not least in the way it financially compensated disgruntled fans.

It was at Spa in 2005 that Bernie Ecclestone told me he believed F1 had to go to a single tyre supplier, sooner rather than later, and at the end of 2006 Michelin withdrew, leaving only Bridgestone, who departed four years later, since when Pirelli has had the contract.

Many feel that Michelin was shamefully treated by F1, not least by its governing body, and one might imagine that the company would have little interest in returning any time soon. Apparently not so, however. I’ll confess that never for a second could I imagine a man like Michelin’s former motor sport boss Pierre Dupasquier agreeing to the manufacture of ‘high-degradation’ tyres because they were supposedly good for The Show, but in different circumstances a return by Michelin is not out of the question, particularly in 2014, when the new F1 comes in.

Current motor sport chief Pascal Couasnon recently said that Michelin would not consider coming back simply to rescue the sport if Pirelli were to quit, but did not rule out a return. “We all live in the same world, and it is clear what F1 represents in terms of visibility – in this area it is a long way ahead. Also, when it comes to technology, it could be extremely interesting.

“We would be willing to sit down and make some proposals,” he said. “We might suggest changing the tyre dimensions for F1, for instance. Today there are 13-inch wheels, but that doesn’t interest us: 18-inch wheels is a whole other thing. We would only be interested in F1 if we are able to have smart regulations, in terms of the tyres.”

Couasnon also made a point – which has occurred to not a few over the last year or two – about F1’s avowed intention to become more ‘green’. He was glad to see that the rules were fundamentally changing, for he didn’t feel that some of the current ones really fitted in with a ‘green’ philosophy. “A tyre that lasts only seven laps,” he said, “is difficult to relate to the idea of ‘green’…”

Hard to take issue, really.