Pirelli takes over from Bridgestone as Formula One's official tyre supplier from next season, as the sport enters a new era following 14 years of successive Bridgestone involvement. Pirelli has not supplied F1 tyres since 1991, but as their motorsport director Paul Hembery explained in an exclusive interview with Manipe F1, their F1 project is progressing well.
Q: Can you give us an update on the current state of your development for F1 in 2011?
Paul Hembery, Pirelli (Motorsport Director): We've started some initial testing on the  GP2 car, we had the first runs last week at Paul Ricard, France. It was very successful, we were very happy with the performance of the product for the first test. We're also working in parallel with the wind tunnel tyres which are actually very important for Formula One because the teams want to start working on next year's car and start simulating the aerodynamic packages and for that they need the scale tyres and we have to produce two different scale tyres, a 50% scale model and a 60% scale model which are used to run simulations of the new vehicles. And those tyres have to be ready for September.
Q: Who drove the car in Paul Ricard?
PH: It was one of our testers.
Q: Does he have a name?
PH: We're keeping quiet, not giving a lot of information. To be honest we want to keep a low profile at the moment. We'd like to work a little bit quietly whilst we're preparing because there is obviously a lot of interest in what we're doing and at this moment in time we just want to focus on our work rather than creating a lot of publicity.
Q: What wind tunnel tyres are the teams using at the moment?
PH: They're using their existing supplier, so they'll continue doing that.
Q: So there's going to be a similarity between the two tyres?
PH: Well we've been given a specification, a desireable specification if you like, from the teams as to what they'd like dynamically from the tyres. From my reading and understand it is slightly different to the current product they are using, so there will be a level of adjustment for them anyway. But it seems that's what they desire.
Q: Is the size of the tyre going to be the same?
PH: Yes, the narrower front tyre, the 245mm front tyre, is the same.
Q: There's been talk of using a Toyota chassis to test the tyres later on, more specifically the 2009 Toyota.
PH: The 2010 [Toyota] didn't do its pre-season [testing], the 2009 car is a possibility. We will know in the next week which car we will use for testing up until the Abu Dhabi official test with the teams. After that I hope we can have a 2010 car to carry on testing through to the official test in February of 2011.
Q: The Abu Dhabi test has been confirmed?
PH: That's confirmed. That'll be one day after the event and we'll have one car from each team running at Abu Dhabi.
Q: For how many days?
PH: Two days.
Q: Was the GP2 test the first test of the tyre?
PH: Yes, the first test on the F1 sizes certainly. GP2 will have the same size tyres as F1 next season and we can do a certain amount of work on the GP2 car - they've made a big jump in car design, the car will look much more similar to the current F1 cars.
Q: How many tyres will you be supplying to the teams every race weekend?
PH: It's 2000 tyres we bring, plus five sets of wets and intermediates. The same as this year, 11 sets, it's exactly the same regulation.
Q: Are you going to be supplying four different compounds as Bridgestone are doing?
PH: Yes, we'll be doing the same. We'll have four dry compounds that we'll use throughout the season. We're choosing two different compounds, we want to assist the show if we can by giving some strategy to the tyre choice. Clearly from our point of view there's a number of circuits we don't know and we can't possibly know because they're street circuits, Singapore would be a good example, Valencia, so we will be going a little bit blind. That's all part of our learning curve as well. So some times we might have to go a little more conservative that we would do in the second season.
Q: So it's possible that you will bring very extreme selections to some races?
PH: Yeah, we'd love to do that, but you've got to be careful. Canada was interesting from a racing point of view, but I think it was hard for the teams to deal with the type of degradation we saw, the graining of the tyres. That makes it very hard to manage. We're trying to develop a technology that would allow a level of strategy which is temperature-related in terms of tyre performance. Basically if you overcook your tyres then you start losing performance.
The best example is what you seen in MotoGP where the riders have to conserve their tyres and the better riders often attack in the last laps when they know the people in front of them or behind them have used up their tyres. [Valentino] Rossi has probably been, in the past, the best exponent of that. It's going back to a skill a lot of drivers had in the past. You've often heard in commentaries in the past or from driver comments that they were conserving their tyres. We want to get back to that level of skill, but communicating it is obviously very important. It has to be communicated in the right way because if the sport doesn't appreciate it, we'll go back to being conservative and make tyres that last a whole stint, completely stable, which is not a problem [for us] but it's probably not what the sport needs as a spectacle.
Q: Had you brought an aggressive selection of tyres with the conditions we saw in Canada this year, there's the chance that those tyres would have been unusable...
PH: I wouldn't say unusable. One of the choices can be a stable choice without too many worries. Canada is very, very specific because of the surface. They had rain, it had cleared, it hadn't had any rubber put down on it so it was quite slippy and caused the tyres to grain so Canada is almost unique from that point of view.
Q: What experience does Pirelli have to draw on to make a quality F1 tyre?
PH: We've been in motorsport for over 100 years, which very few companies can claim. I think there's only two or three in the world that have done motorsport for over 100 years, and I include car manufacturers and tyre manufacturers. We're also the world's leading supplier of high performance products to the automotive industry. People would be surprised to know but there is a lot of technology that goes on in the automotive world that is, I'm not going to say the same as Formula One, but has similar demands in terms of modelling, simulation and technical preparation. That is an element that is fundamental for us because we are able to supply the technology for the teams to run the simulation models, the data required to simulate the performance and structure of the tyres and those are things that come from being a premium performance manufacturer. If you look at any Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Porsche, Mercedes, Audi - I've probably left out a few top manufacturers there - but they're all fitted with Pirelli tyres. That does indicate the level of technology and experience we have in the high-performance field.
Q: Does running in GP3 this year help in any way?
PH: It gives us a little bit of experience with the circuits, but the aerodynamic downforce, the performance, the torque, the braking, they're all different. Yes it does help, but it's relatively easy compared to a Formula One tyre.
Q: Is it possible that you will take on engineers from Bridgestone to help you on our way?
PH: Engineers, maybe not. Certainly the logistics support team who have been involved with Bridgestone for a number of years. We're talking to them and we would appreciate their support in the fitting and logistics operation. But engineering support, no, engineering design is all coming from Pirelli.
Q: How much are the teams going to be paying for the tyres per season?
PH: I think Bernie [Ecclestone] quoted €1.35 million in a recent interview.
Q: Is Pirelli going to be taking trackside advertising at the races?
PH: You will see trackside advertising of course.
Q: Is F1 going to be a profit-making exercise for Pirelli?
PH: Profit-making, no. What we've said is that, if we look at our balance sheet for this year, we will be reallocating funds from other activities, some of that will be motorsport reallocation, some of that will be advertising reallocation, some of it will be offset by the recognition of the teams for the technical costs involved in supplying Formula One. We describe that it's cost-neutral in that it's not going to have an impact on our balance sheet which is very important from an investors' point of view.
Q: Is Pirelli going to change from 13-inch to 18-inch rims?
PH: That will take time to develop, because it has a big impact on vehicle design. We would see a progressive movement away from 13 inch rather than a jump to 18 inch. The big issue of 18 inch is the way cars go over kerbing, it's a very aggressive beating that tyres get over kerbing.
Q: When might we see a change?
PH: 2013 if we're going to make a change, but that would be in agreement with the teams.
Q: Is Pirelli open to competition in the future?
PH: That's down to the sport. The sport doesn't want a tyre war. In fact very few motorsports want tyre wars, because tyres can end up dominating the weekend and they want to have a balance between their technology and our technology and at the moment there's no appetite for competition between tyre makers. If we have to do competition after maybe three years in the sport after we've learned a lot about F1 then maybe that's something we could consider. We don't rule it out but equally you've got to balance the expenditure on a tyre war, with the returns that can bring.