One of the most worrying trends in F1 is the increasing tendency of wheels and tyres to come loose and fly off. Since refuelling was banned for the start of the 2010 season, the speed of tyre changes has become easily the most crucial element of a pitstop. With the greater number of pitstops this year as a result of the current deliberately dodgy tyres, this has become even more critical.
During the Chinese Grand Prix we saw Jaime Alguersuari’s right rear wheel roll itself off the car soon after a pitstop. It flew off towards marshals, photographers and other bystanders, while Vitantonio Liuzzi took to the inside to avoiding being hit while he passed the stricken Toro Rosso.
# I was behind an opening in the debris fence and hit on the next secition, about 2m away, head height. Bit scary…
For me, loose wheels are easily the most dangerous thing in F1 today. When two marshals died in he space of a few races just over a decade ago, they were both as a result of flying wheels. Stronger wheel tethers were introduced after those incidents, but these do no good if the wheel is not properly attached to the car in the first place.
With the emphasis on tyre changes now at the very forefront of every race, it is no surprise that teams have been looking to save time in this area. Mercedes have been particularly inventive, developing a wheel nut that is attached to the wheel itself.
But there have been lot of wheels coming off since the start of 2010, clearly as a result of not having been attached properly in the first place. Robert Kubica’s wheel detached after a few laps of the Japanese Grand Prix.
Mercedes also had a few wheel failures last year. Among these was the truly scary moment in Hungary when Nico Rosberg’s wheel came off the pitlane, causing all sorts of havoc as it bounced and rolled around while several dozen mechanics were busy working.
It is high time this was nipped in the bud. I am sure the teams would take more care in their pitstops if a real penalty was applied. This isn’t a sporting issue. It is a safety issue, and any teams that are not attaching wheels securely enough should face a ban.
Flying wheels are not just putting drivers at risk. They are putting marshalls and mechanics at risk. But worst of all they are putting spectators at risk.
Renault were suspended in 2009 after Fernando Alonso’s wheel came off in Hungary that year. However, the suspension was lifted. That was fine. Then, it was a one-off incident — in the refueling era there is little to suggest that Renault were cutting corners.
But today, the loose wheel problem is truly endemic. It must be stopped.