Spa-francorchamps, Belgium, Aug 29, 2011 (AFP) - Red Bull technical chief Adrian Newey revealed he was scared for his drivers' lives in Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix - after sending them out to race on potentially-dangerous tyres.
Newey experienced death at close quarters in 1994 when he designed the Williams car in which Brazilian legend Ayrton Senna was killed at the San Marino Grand Prix.
He admitted he had his heart in his mouth throughout the 44-laps race on the spectacular high-speed Spa circuit.
And he said he felt relief rather than joy at the end of the race when his drivers German Sebastian Vettel, the series leader and defending champion, won ahead of his team-mate Australian Mark Webber, in a commanding one-two triumph.
Newey said: "Pirelli were telling us after qualifying that our tyres were very marginal and they wouldn't say whether it was after half a lap or five laps, but they were going to fail.
"I have to say it was one of the scariest races I've been involved in, it was heart-in-the-mouth stuff, as first and foremost our duty of care is to the drivers' safety.
"And trying to make that call in making sure the car was safe, while not handicapping ourselves from a performance point of view, was quite a difficult judgement to make. "Frankly at the end of the race I was very relieved that both our drivers
He said Red Bull wanted to change tyres before the race because they feared that blistering sustained in qualifying could endanger their drivers, but that request was refused.
Pirelli said that the damage to the tyres was Red Bull's own fault - for running their set-up too aggressively.
Pirelli motor sport chief Paul Hembery said: "We've never had a safety issue. "It was created by two things - one, the lack of running on Friday (because of wet weather) and, two, going to the limits of our recommendations."
This, he explained, was done when Red Bull ran with excessive camber. Newey admitted they did so by "just a hair or something, just a tiny bit over."
But, Newey admitted, it was that decision to exceed the recommended camber limit of four degrees that was so hazardous. He added: "Obviously if we had known there was a safety concern about it, we wouldn't have done it.."
He said the team calculated that by increasing the pressures, Webber's tyres would survive until lap two or three and Vettel's until lap five. The dilemma - safety or performance - caused major discussions that were hushed up on race morning when race director Charlie Whiting decided to refuse Red Bull's request for additional new tyres.
His verdict left defending champions Red Bull to choose between reducing the camber on their wheels - and having to start from the pit lane - or adding more tyre pressure, to reduce the risk of tyre failure, and planning for very early pit stops.
Many rival teams were concerned at Red Bull's cavalier attitude towards Pirelli's recommendations - and suggested that the ruling body, the International Motoring Federation (FIA) take a much tougher line at the next race, the Italian Grand Prix, next month.
The excessive camber creates overheating problems that cause blistering close to the shoulder of the front tyres at the point where the sidewall meets the tread of the tyre.
Similar blistering is expected to be an even more serious problem at the high-speed Monza track where the Italian race takes place.