2013 Spanish Grand Prix: Mercedes' tyre meltdown


Mercedes has more tyre-related woes to grapple with ahead of this year's Spanish GP, the scene of one of its most disappointing races since rejoining F1

2013 Spanish Grand Prix start

Mercedes locked out the front row in qualifying, but its advantage was short-lived

Julian Finney/Getty Images

High temperatures in Barcelona; Red Bull on a charge; and a Mercedes that’s prone to destroy its tyres. If the scenario is giving Toto Wolff uncomfortable flashbacks, then that’s no surprise.

Going into the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix, an improving Mercedes found themselves struggling with Pirelli’s tyre compounds as its drivers suffered almost the instant they pushed the rubber to the limit.

The Silver Arrows were on the front row of the grid — Nico Rosberg ahead of Lewis Hamilton — but they wouldn’t be for long, as Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel loomed in third, followed by Kimi Räikkönen in a Lotus and the two Ferraris of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa.

Seven years ago, this situation saw a rare example of a manic Spanish Grand Prix. Since it first hosted a race in 1991, the Circuit de Catalunya Barcelona has been a staple in the Formula 1 calendar and had its fair share of memorable moments, but those have come few and far between.

And with a similar situation developing this year, the 2020 Spanish Grand Prix may be shaping up to be one of those unpredictable races.

Last weekend at Silverstone, high temperatures combined with the softer Pirelli rubber to cause Mercedes a headache on race day as it struggled to keep its tyres in one piece. It is not an unfamiliar problem for a team that has traditionally suffered when the going gets hot.

Seven years ago, that trait was most evident.

Related article

On a sweltering afternoon, Pirelli’s tyres faded quicker than ever for the majority of the field and it was the two drivers in silver that suffered the most.

The characteristics of the W04 meant it was particularly brutal on tyres, unable to keep them within the ideal operating window before temperatures skyrocketed. The hotter the weather, the more adverse the effects. Sounds a little bit familiar.

Nico Rosberg and team-mate Lewis Hamilton were the only two drivers to dip into the 1min 20sec range on Saturday.

That grid advantage lasted just a few hundred meters though as Alonso pulled off a stunning overtake to go from fifth to third in one corner.

Rosberg retained his lead into Turn One but a lock-up for Hamilton behind opened the door for Vettel who seized the inside line for Turn Two and barged his way by.

As Hamilton and Kimi Räikkönen lost momentum attacking Turn Three, a superb bit of driving saw Fernando Alonso power to the outside line and sweep his Ferrari by both champions, sending the home crowd into delirium.

2013 Spanish GP, Nico Rosberg, Fernando Alonso

Alonso takes the lead of the Spanish Grand Prix as Rosberg hits trouble with tyres

Clive Rose/Getty Images

As early as lap three, Mercedes realised it was going to be forced into survival mode. Rosberg was told to protect his left rear with varying degrees of stress in race engineer Tony Ross’ voice.

Hamilton’s afternoon only worsened from there, as he was passed by the Lotus on lap seven after dropping several seconds to the leading trio of Rosberg, Vettel and Alonso.

The Spaniard’s attack on the race leader did not relent as he shadowed the Mercedes in front up until his first pit stop and an early switch to hards.

The leaders responded a lap later, all opting for the hard tyres bar Räikkönen, who fitted mediums to set up a three-stop race, but for Red Bull it’s reaction was too late.

As Rosberg emerged in the lead, Alonso’s stop the lap before netted him second with an undercut on the Vettel and he immediately began to set Rosberg up for an attack.

From the archive

In front of his home crowd, the Ferrari driver could only oblige and easily swept by the leading Merc into Turn One just two laps later and off into the distance.

Several laps on and at Turn Five, it was Vettel’s turn to get by. Setting up an easy switchback under acceleration towards the uphill Turn Seven, he breezed by Rosberg who was dealing with critical tyre temperatures. Felipe Massa was by him just a handful of corners later as the Mercedes had to protect its tyres as much as possible.

His team-mate was faring no better and had fallen to the lower reaches of the top 10 by lap 20.

A bewildered Hamilton questioned what was happening. His radio throughout the race demonstrated the bewilderment of driver and team: “What is going on with this car?”

Approaching lap 30, 2012 Spanish GP winner Pastor Maldonado was by for 14th before Hamilton was in for his second stop of the afternoon. “Great, now I’m being overtaken by a Williams,” a sarcastic response in a dire race.

Lewis Hamilton, Sergio Perez, 2013 Spanish GP

As Hamilton suffered more tyre degradation, he slipped outside of the top 10

Clive Rose/Getty Images

By lap 40 he had been dispatched by both McLarens, an ignominy not yet diminished by multiple titles and race wins with Mercedes in the face of his perceived mistake to leave the team.

His temperament may have been at its lowest point after being told to cool his brakes with half of the race still remaining.

“I can’t drive any slower…” came the despondent and clearly frustrated reply.

His descent from second on the grid to an eventual 12th position was the stuff of nightmares for Mercedes, as the team couldn’t understand how its balance had caused such a drop off in performance from the day prior.

Rosberg was able to manage his tyres to a lowly sixth-place finish while Hamilton was forced to make a fourth stop on his way to no points.

A disappointed Toto Wolff remarked after the race: “It is very clear that we have not yet found the right compromise between our performance on Saturday and Sunday and that we will need a lot of hard work to get it right.”

Has Mercedes identified where it went wrong in the heat of Silverstone and found that compromise with the W11 to save tyre life? Or might it find itself in trouble once again at the Circuit de Catalunya?