Several drivers suffered damage to their cars during the first F1 weekend in Qatar as a result of a hefty blow to the kerbstones. Charles Leclerc and Nikita Mazepin even had to change chassis, while Pierre Gasly lost his front wing in the closing stages of Q3, also causing a puncture. After that there were no fewer than four flat left front tires in the race with Valtteri Bottas, Lando Norris, George Russell and Nicholas Latifi. Although it is still unclear what caused this, the curbs are widely seen as the reason for the failing tires.
F1 race director Michael Masi stated after the race in Losail that the curbs on the Qatari circuit are not unique. This type of kerbstone, he says, can be found on most circuits where both F1 and MotoGP are active, such as the Red Bull Ring in Austria. “It’s the standard FIA/FIM curbs that have been sitting next to the last two corners in Austria for ages. One of the points is that drivers were trying to use everything to their advantage,” said Masi. That is according to track side engineering director Mercedes’ Andrew Shovlin didn’t say the curbs in Qatar were perfect. He argues that the problem with this type of curb is that it invites drivers to drive over it at full speed.
“It’s strange. The problem is that the curbs are very flat, so you can drive full over them. When you do that, the front wing sits very low to the ground and sometimes even touches the ground for a moment. The tires also take quite a beating,” said Shovlin. “It’s a bit bizarre, but if the curbs had been more aggressive it probably would have been easier for the cars and the tyres. But the fact that you could totally get over it and that it was also the fastest way means you should do it too. Therein lies the risk.”
Pirelli investigates the role of curbs in flat tires
Although the curbs are pointed to as a possible cause of the flat tires in Qatar, tire supplier Pirelli is still investigating the actual cause. CEO Mario Isola states that the investigation also looks at the role that the heavy use of the curb stones played in causing the broken tires. “Any little chunk and every curb can cause a tire deflating,” Isola said. “After losing some air, the busted tire can no longer handle the high forces these cars put on it.”