Pirelli will remain an exclusive tyre supplier to the FIA Formula One World Championship for three more years. The tyre manufacturer and the FIA have renewed their current contract, which will now extend from 2017 to 2019. We meet with Paul Hembery, Pirelli Motorsport Director, to speak about the results achieved by the Italian company in Formula 1 so far, future goals and commitments in relation to the renewal of the agreement. But our conversation turned out to be about much more than just that. Enjoy!
Five years have passed since your return to Formula 1. There have been key moments of great commitment and strong emotions during this period, is there something that you remember in particular?
How long have you got? There have been so many great moments. When we were originally confirmed as Formula 1 tyre supplier in 2010, it was in June and we had to be on the grid in March. By August our first prototype tyres were running on the track, then by November we had the first official test at Abu Dhabi. I don’t think many companies could have achieved what we did in that timescale. So to be on the grid in Australia 2011, and then see a fantastic race on the back of it, that was a strong emotion, a real sense of achievement. And there have been many more since, all the way to the current generation of hybrid cars introduced in 2014. We had to design tyres for those before the cars even existed, which is the same challenge we will face in 2017, when the cars will get a lot faster. So the best moments are probably still to come.
A commitment that will continue until the year 2019, and with the introduction of innovations really interesting, both from a performance point of view, both from the “aesthetic” side. Is there a search for something different?
The fact is, that as a single tyre supplier in Formula 1 you have to keep on reinventing yourself year after year to come up with something new all the time. Whatever you introduce has to contain some intrinsic value, rather than just being a change for the sake of change. So the question we are constantly asking ourselves is: what can we do with the tyres to add to the competition and spectacle, by providing drivers and engineers with an extra opportunity to showcase their capabilities? That’s really what it’s all about.
We look at Formula 1 as being our biggest research and development laboratory.
Looking at the current season and the circuits, were there any differences found compared to early-season tests?
You really have to look at everything over the course of a season. The problem is that you’re never quite operating on a level playing field because the performance of the cars is constantly evolving: you are shooting at a moving target. By its very nature, the choice of compounds is a compromise: in an ideal world we would have three different compounds for each circuit, which would be perfectly matched to the circuit’s individual characteristics. But that’s clearly not practical. So under the circumstances in which we were operating, I’d say it was about right. But you can only have a definitive conclusion once you’ve got to the end of the season and assessed the performance at all the circuits.
What and how much can you transfer the results obtained – in terms of the compound, performance and safety – from Formula 1 to road cars?
The tyres we use in Formula 1 showcase the very highest levels of our technology, but there are still some points in common with our road car products. In particular, the lessons from the competition help us to constantly improve design, production and compound technologies. There are actually several examples of this from the past, for instance our low-profile tyres for high-performance sports cars actually have their roots in competition tyres we originally developed for the Lancia Stratos to go rallying. We look at Formula 1 (as at motorsport in general) as being our biggest research and development laboratory; with all the Grand Prix circuits we race on forming the ultimate test track. The sheer extremes that our tyres go through can help us gather information to produce the best road car tyres.
Pirelli is already a global brand. Its tires are used on each type of two- or four-wheeled vehicles, with dealers and specialists located in all continents. What’s the benefit of being in Formula 1?
Pirelli is all about sophisticated technology and sophisticated Italian style, which goes hand in glove with what Formula 1 represents all over the world. Formula 1 is also the perfect showcase for our technical know-how, and a chance for us to really connect with the public by contributing to the spectacle of the sport. Formula 1 has an incredibly high-end image in every country and the fact that we are such a well-recognised partner to the sport indicates the quality of our products at every level, both on the track and the road. So from a business standpoint it’s very useful as it reinforces all our key messages.
What’s the relationship between Pirelli and the fans/enthusiasts that populate the circuit during the race weekends?
The fans are actually why we’re here. If there’s one thing I could improve about Formula 1, I’d probably want it to become more fan-friendly, and fan-friendly in reality means the drivers needing to become genuine heroes, visible and well-known. And we always want to see availability for fans to interact with the sport itself. But collectively we’re all working on that and creating opportunities for this to happen, such as the fan forum that we hosted at our HQ a while back, before the Italian Grand Prix. The fans are central to our involvement, which is why we are also producing plenty of social media and web content around our activities, and why we have an activation zone at most races.
Finally, who will win the World Championship in 2016?
Probably a Mercedes driver as things stand right now at this moment. But obviously things don’t stand still for very long in Formula 1.