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Drivers Complain of Marbles at Sepang

Pirelli specialists inspecting marbles at Jerez during pre-season testing this year

In the real world, you can’t please everyone all the time, and it’s no different in the world of Formula 1.  For years, fans and teams alike have been calling for the FIA to somehow change the rules, whether on the tech side or the sporting, to improve the show.

The show, of course, had become notorious for often looking like nothing more than a series of high-speed parade laps punctuated by what had become the most dramatic moments at each racing venue, namely, the pit stops.  And, let’s face it, when the pit stops area the highlight of the race, you’ve got problems.

This year, however, it’s beginning to look as though the rules changes have finally made a big step in the right direction.  Resulting from a combination of KERS, DRS and tires with a half-life of a nano-second, overtaking opportunities have increased, and pit stop strategies have become more complicated.  Bottom line: the races thus have been more exciting.  So who could complain about that?

Well, someone must — this is Formula 1, after all.  In this case, it’s the drivers.  Apparently the tires shed rubber marbles the way cookies shed crumbs.  And marbles, as everyone knows, are the enemy of grip.  But more than that, some of the drivers are calling them a hazard.

Rookie Paul di Resta told The Telegraph, “(The marbles] kept coming up and hitting me in the hands. In the middle of a fast corner, these lumps of rubber would be smacking into my hands as I turned the wheel. Rubber is not the softest material and if it got you in the right place, it could hurt. It happened quite a few times over the weekend and as you go into the corner, the rubber runs across the tire and flicks up.”

Ferrari ace Fernando Alonso also voiced safety concerns: “There is some concern for places like Canada, Singapore, Monaco, that you catch a lapped car, they let you past, you go inside, you take some marbles and then on the next corner you miss the braking point and you go straight.  Malaysia was a very wide circuit, and you can come back to the track, but there will be some difficulties in some narrow tracks. We need to be careful and we need to get used to these new things as well.”

Pirelli spokesman Paul Hembery countered these criticisms by saying that the tire company had merely produced tires according to the specifications of the FIA.  The equation is simple: if you want force teams to make more pit stops for the show, you can force them to do so by providing tires that fall off a cliff in ten laps.  But the natural byproduct of this is more marbles.  If you want to get rid of the marbles, you can make the tires more durable — but there won’t be as many pit stops.

“We either go back to a one-stop strategy, if that’s what they feel is better, or we continue to do what we have been asked to do,” Hembrey said.  “People don’t want to go back to a procession. We have been asked to do something and we have tried to do it. I thought it was good for the show but if people think it’s not right, we will change it.”

And, as if he needed to state the obvious, he added, “The marbles have to go somewhere.”

No one wants to create unnecessary dangers, but until the FIA can dream up a different way of spicing up the show, the drivers had better get used to coping with tires that have the durability of oat meal.

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