Or at least, how their car handles the tyres. McLaren appear to be not doing very well in the tyre and wheel department at the moment. In fact, the last couple of seasons have seen quite a few retirements from the Woking-based squad due to tyre-related issues, and while they can’t all be put down the design of the car, one cannot help but wonder if the MP4-22 and MP4-23 isn’t so kind to its boots at its rivals are.
In 2007, Lewis Hamilton suffered a serious wheel failure when it literally started to come off. Although the problem was put down to a faulty nut-gun, the resulting accident saw the British driver air-lifted to hospital for routine checks. Later on in the same season and with the same chassis, Hamilton eventually retired from the Chinese Grand Prix with a bald Bridgestone tyre. The photo above is in fact that very tyre, the white stripe not being the designation for the softer compound, but instead the canvas underneath the rubber!
This season has seen Heikki Kovalainen have a sizable accident at the Spanish Grand Prix, the wheel clamp being blamed for the Finn’s impact with the tyre barrier at Circuit de Catalunya. Again, the driver was air-lifted to hospital for checks, although thankfully suffered no injury. And today during the Turkish Grand Prix, both drivers suffered tyre problems that led Bridgestone to insist on the team adopting a three-stop strategy. Although it wasn’t the best way to run the race, Lewis Hamilton was able to safely negotiate his way into second place, and had Heikki Kovalainen not suffered a contact-induced puncture, he too may have finished in a better position, possibly even on the podium with Hamilton.
And with Lewis we had a bit of a structural concern on the tyres which we discovered in practice and we discussed it with Bridgestone and took a decision on safety to run three stops.
There was some internal delamination which Bridgestone were very good at picking up. We didn’t want to have any tyre failure. It was possibly okay to run two stops, but it was a bit more severe on Lewis’ and we put drivers’ safety first. Ron Dennis.
The team have said that the tyre problem they suffered in Istanbul today affected Hamilton’s car more, implying the Finn handles his tyres better. And looking at the two drivers history’s, you’d have to agree. Kovalainen rarely gets mentioned for over-cooking his boots, while Hamilton is more often [than Heikki] in the press for struggling on worn rubber.
This doesn’t mean Hamilton is a poorer driver than his team mate, as the problem could simply be the car. And I seem to remember Fernando Alonso having a couple of grumbles in 2007 about the McLaren and it’s abilities to use the tyres well. However, Kovalainen seems, so far, to be handling the problem better. But shouldn’t McLaren be sorting this out?
Had the silver cars been able to stop only twice in Turkey, their race could have been much stronger. Lewis showed he just about had the pace of the Ferrari’s, both he and Felipe Massa shared fastest laps during one stint. The pace is clearly available for the McLaren’s, but whether or not it is accessible is another question…
Update: Bridgestone have now stated that the problem really lies with Hamilton more than themselves. According to their statement, they had worked on strengthening the tyre over the winter due to problems faced by many drivers at last year’s Turkish Grand Prix. But this weekend has really only seen the problem reoccur on Hamilton’s McLaren. The team have said that Heikki Kovalainen also suffered slightly, implying that it is partly Hamilton and his driving style, and partly the car.
He had a specific problem last year, most noticeably, but several other drivers we noticed had internal tyre problems. Based on that, we changed the construction and strengthened it over the winter period and then brought those tyres to all the races this year.
In actual fact, nobody else has had a repetition of any of those problems this year, with the exception of Lewis. He is the one driver who perhaps with his style of driving has put higher forces onto his front right tyre. Bridgestone Spokesperson.