FEBRUARY 2, 2011
Interview: Paul Hembery, Pirelli Motorsport Director
An interview with the head of Pirelli's F1 tyre programme.
Q: What's the aim of this week's test?
We've got about 20 sets of tyres here per team. You can imagine, when we've had 10 degrees ambient temperature it's not great but on Monday we had about 20 degrees asphalt and 18 degrees ambient, so it starts looking more normal. When it's cold temperature that's very difficult for the compounds because we won't see 10 degrees asphalt during the season. On Monday afternoon they started using the softer tyre and learning about their cars and how our tyres work.
Q: How different are the tyres in Valencia compared to Abu Dhabi last year?
The compounds have all evolved. We've made some slight modifications to the front tyre and the rear has had some work done to improve wear rate.
Q: How confusing is it to do initial tests in the Middle East, come back to a cooler Europe and then have the first races in the heat?
To be honest, on Sunday I thought we were preparing for Rally Monte Carlo given the temperatures! It's not really until we get to the Bahrain test that we start seeing something more representative. Of course, we are not the only people testing here, the teams are doing their work, so I can understand why they want to be in Europe. I guess Barcelona depends on what the weather is like and will be an interesting test for us but I think Bahrain will be the first time that we can draw strong conclusions.
Q: How definitive are these tyres?
I hope pretty definitive. We've always said we're open to learning and if we have to make adjustments during the season we will, but we hope we are now with the product we are going to start the season with.
Q: Is there any chance of in-season test sessions?
We've asked for it. If we do decide with experience that we want to make some adjustments and updates then the teams have asked how we would go about it. At the moment there are two suggestions - one is staying on the Monday after the race or indeed using the first practice session on a Friday. We want our own development programme running parallel to the F1 season and we're discussing a number of options on how we'll achieve that. We will be doing our own testing work at Istanbul in April and we have about seven sessions planned during the year, ending up back in the Middle East, where we had a very good test session on the Abu Dhabi test track with the water.
Q: Will you continue testing with the Toyota?
That's under discussion. The cars are developed at such a rate in F1 that the downforce on the end of season 2010 cars is much greater than that developed by the Toyota. So there's two options - one, we modify the Toyota so we don't have to worry about rules, or we try to convince the teams of providing a way of having access to a 2010 car, which opens up a lot of political issues, like people worrying that some will get advantages over others, but equally we've also got to do our work, so that's an ongoing discussion. We're hopeful we can make a decision within the next week.
Q: Is Pedro De La Rosa going to continue doing the work?
Yes, Pedro unless he gets a drive somewhere else in F1, which is not looking likely at the moment. We're very happy for Pedro to continue with us and maybe he'll get involved in some of our other race programmes. We still do GT racing and will probably gear up more in that area. He'll continue, he's a great tester and we're delighted with the work he's been doing.
Q: Is Bernie amenable to the Friday morning idea or are there commercial sensitivities about having another car running around?
It's undecided whether that's the best option or staying on Monday. You then get into the balance of cost. For the smaller teams staying on to the Monday is an additional cost. It's hard to find a compromise that suits everyone but at the end of the day we do need to do our job.
Q: There's talk of two-stop races with slightly racier tyres. At how many races do you think we might see that?
I'm at least hoping half of them but I guess that's going to come with experience, particularly with our compound choices. You'd probably forgive us for being a little bit conservative to start with because the track changes. One thing people don't always pick up when they are watching on television is that what happens on a Friday is very different from what happens on a Sunday when you've had three days of running. On top of that we have GP2 and GP3 running on our weekends so there's going to be quite a lot of Pirelli compound down on the track. Often when we run at events you're competing with other types of rubber and the makers don't seem to mix well. That's another impact and it's not small.
Q: When do you have to lock into your compound for the first few races?
By and large we've done that. We have got some flexibility in the next few weeks based on these results but in terms of the actual compounds themselves, those are defined. In terms of choices we already know more or less where we are going to be and save a last minute change of heart based on the testing, that's the way it's going to be.
Q: There's been some concerns about the realism of your wind tunnel tyres. How close to the definitive tyre are they now?
There's lots of elements to wind tunnel tyres. The rigidity aspect is very important for F1 cars because they are so sensitive to ride height and from that point of view we are there, we believe. We are still working on improving the footprint of the wind tunnel tyres, which will come with a new profile modification we are making at the end of this month. We're close, but I've always said from the start that one of the biggest challenges of F1 is the wind tunnel tyres. It's a world many people don't see or understand but making these small tyres is not just scaling down a full-size tyre. It's actually a completely different tyre that bears no relation to anything else you make.
Q: How are you going to mark the prime and the option?
That's still under final discussion with the marketing people.
Q: Have you taken on any of the Bridgestone fitters or engineers?
A small number, yes. On the engineering side that was largely at the behest of teams who were very happy to keep certain people on. All the engineers come from a motorsport background -- some from other competitors, a lot from F1. It's a good international group. I think we worked out 14 different languages within it. We thought it was 13, which was unlucky, then we found Swedish in the background. People find it hard to swear at us and us not know!