Pirelli: And the wheels keep turning


It’s always a treat to sit down with Paul Hembery, Pirelli’s Motorsport Director, the tyre manufacturer’s main Formula 1 man. This time we talk about the work done in the 2016 season of the sport, also on the technical innovations that we will see during the next championship.

Hello again Paul and thanks for doing this.

My pleasure.

How would you summarise 2016 for Pirelli?

It’s been a fascinating year, both on and off the track. We had a title that was decided in dramatic fashion at the very last race of the season, which I think is what everyone wants to see as it underlines the quality of competition in Formula 1. From our point of view, we introduced a selection of three tyres per race, which have to be nominated in advance, as well as a brand new compound with the ultrasoft. These important investments have been popular innovations that added an extra interesting element to the overall strategy. So a good season, definitely.

There’s always an interesting ratio between expected performance and real performance; how was it this year?

It was exactly as we expected really: the teams are operating at such a high level that they understand any situation – including tyre performance – very quickly and realise how to make the most of it, so in-season evolution is very rapid and the performance goalposts are constantly shifting. That’s been the challenge: we constantly have to keep on top of the continual improvement to provide a tyre that works equally well for the front of the grid as the back of the grid. But we’re used to this now: it’s always been the way in Formula 1.

What we’ll be seeing next season is lap times that are at least five seconds faster than Barcelona in 2015, which was chosen as the reference point for the new technical rules. Approximately two of those seconds will come from the new tyres.

In total, how many tires dedicated to Formula 1 were produced by Pirelli for the 2016 season?

Pirelli supplied 42,792 tyres for the 2016 season: 28,188 of them were slick tyres, while 14,604 were rain or intermediate ones. 38,112 of these tyres have been used for race weekends and were divided into:

Orange Hard – 876;

White Medium – 3,584;

Yellow Soft – 8,392;

Red Supersoft – 7,924;

Purple Ultrasoft – 3,252;

Green Intermediate – 8,800;

Blue Wet – 5,284.

What are the expectations for 2017 in terms of performance, especially for speed, pressure and operating temperatures, and will the pit stops change?

The biggest change is obviously the width of the tyres, which have increased by 25%. To give you an idea of the scale of the change, this year’s rear tyre is roughly the same size as next year’s front. This major change – the biggest we’ve seen since we entered Formula 1 in 2011 – obviously creates a whole new set of vehicle dynamics, as cornering speeds will be much higher and the cars will have more downforce as well. So we’ve had to re-think the whole concept of our tyre, from compound to structure, in order to reach lower tyre degradation. What we’ll be seeing next season is lap times that are at least five seconds faster than Barcelona in 2015, which was chosen as the reference point for the new technical rules. Approximately two of those seconds will come from the new tyres.

We know very well about the importance of the track and the outdoor temperature during pre-season tests, but also the role of costs is crucially relevant. Maybe investing more in pre-season testing is a rational option?

We would obviously like to guarantee the opportunity of experiencing more representative conditions by testing in warmer climates pre-season but you’re right, there is an important cost and logistics agenda for the teams – and everyone else – as well, so it’s been agreed that pre-season testing will take place in Barcelona. As a result, we’re just going to concentrate on extracting the most benefit possible out of those two sessions, even though there’s a risk of experiencing temperatures that will be lower than the rest of the season. Next year we’ll continue to develop the tyres in-season, so it should be easier when it comes to 2018.

We heard the decision of Pirelli not to approve tires for the WRC. A very important choice! Since the company is involved in other series like Formula 1 too, what can you tell us about this issue?

It was actually a decision taken independently of our campaign in Formula 1: we could have easily supplied both and our 2017 WRC tyre was ready. It’s more that the World Rally Championship and the promotion around it isn’t currently aligned to our objectives as a company. In the meantime, we remain very committed to rallying, increasing our profile within national championships and the European championship, especially when it comes to supporting younger drivers, which is where the next generation of champions is coming from. Promoting youth is a key priority for us and we’ll continue to invest heavily in the rally talent of the future, as we’ve done previously with schemes such as the Pirelli Star Driver programme and WRC Academy.

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