Pirelli took over the F1 tyre supply contract from Bridgestone at the start of this year, and have already completed their first three races having last competed in the sport in 1991. Manipe F1 caught up with Pirelli's motorsport director Paul Hembery for a look back at those first three races, and a look ahead to the future.
Q: What's your assessment of Pirelli's first three races back in F1?
Paul Hembery, Pirelli (Motorsport Director): We're very delighted with the results so far. Three slightly different races, from a street circuit like Melbourne, which didn't throw up the weather question marks which sometimes it should, and Malaysia, which didn't throw up the weather question marks which it normally does, but it was an aggressive circuit in terms of tyre consumption, and then through to Shanghai which was a thrilling race because it's a nice open circuit as well and there was a lot of different tyre strategies going on. So from an overall view, we're very, very happy. We want to improve the branding and colouring on the tyres to make it easier for fans to follow the racing. We're working as well with the FOM and the broadcasters so they can have real-time data on what tyres are being mounted on what car at what pitstop. That data we currently have on our own systems, but we're trying to get that to interact now with other people's systems.
Q: In hindsight was the tyre choice for Melbourne too conservative, given that Perez completed the race with just one pitstop?
PH: I certainly wouldn't go back to Melbourne with the current hard tyre, I would go with the medium, that much is for sure. But Perez really was out on his own with the one pitstop, everyone else was on two, even though they had started with a three-stop strategy – Red Bull had started with a three-stop. There was a much greater evolution of the circuit than we'd all anticipated, it was all new to us, so that the tyre wear was much improved during the race. It was slightly conservative, but that's all part of our learning.
Q: How did the test of the development hard tyre go in Malaysia?
PH: Unfortunately the tyre itself wasn't tested in any way and form as much as we wanted to. It's essentially a replacement for the current hard tyre to give two or three more laps tyre life than we have and less degradation, but the teams didn't test it to the extent that we wanted to. We're going to test something that's in family with that in Turkey, if it doesn't rain on Friday. If it works in Turkey on Friday and we're happy with the results, we'll discuss it with the FIA and we'll introduce it from Barcelona onwards as the hard compound replacement.
Q: The medium tyre isn't being used in the first six races, is that a consequence of the races or is there a problem with the tyre?
PH: It's just a consequence of the races. As I said, with hindsight I would have taken it to Melbourne, possibly even to Shanghai to be honest. That's coming with experience. We are learning about the surfaces, how they're evolving. One thing about Shanghai is we didn't get the circuit evolution because there are no support races, just one small support race, and I expect this weekend we will have quite a change because we have GP2 and GP3 as well running very intensive programmes with ourselves. That's all part of the learning for us and the teams.
Q: Given Webber's performance in China, are you worried that the tyres are going to make qualifying irrelevant in certain races?
PH: No. We were looking at 0.8 seconds degradation over 20 laps on the tyres in Shanghai. You've got to bear in mind that Mark Webber was driving the quickest car in the field as well, it wasn't all about tyres. I'm surprised that a few people haven't followed that strategy, certainly the people in Q3 and probably Q2, to give them a chance, but one of the big aspects of his drive was also where he was in the field, it wasn't just about having a new set of tyres, because the new set of tyres in reality have probably only done one out-lap, a timed and an in-lap, so that's all they've done. It's not as if you're looking at something that's done 15 laps. It maybe gives a false sense of performance if people think that you're comparing a set of tyres that's at the end of its life to a new set, the reality is that the sets that are "used" are the ones that have done an out-lap, a timed and an in-lap.
Q: Could you explain the sidewall marking changes that Pirelli will be introducing in Turkey this weekend?
PH: The idea is to get more colour on the sidewalls so as when it's spinning the black isn't dominating. So the soft tyre will have a lot more yellow drawn between the branding, and from what we've seen, we've obviously videoed it to identify ourselves at 300 km/h what it looks like, and you get more of a continuous colour band which we're hopeful will assist the viewers to identify the tyres.
Q: Based on Pirelli's testing in Turkey last month, have you had to change the construction of the tyre in any way to cope with the demands of Turn 8?
PH: Of the three days, we did two days in the wet so we were doing a lot of intermediate tyre running, so that was good from that point of view but not from the point of view of stressing the tyre. In terms of Turn 8, we haven't had to make any changes, no. We obviously went to Istanbul to understand where we were. We've modified the Toyota this year to create downforce levels that are more akin to those of the end-of-season 2010 cars. We have lost a little bit of efficiency though, basically speed. In terms of loading through Turn 8 we haven't seen any issues.
Q: The super-soft tyre makes its debut at the Monaco Grand Prix: What kind of performance are you expecting from that?
PH: You'll see it almost like a qualifying tyre, the drivers will love the initial boost of grip and then we'll see a degradation that will mean that you'll need to get onto your soft tyre. Of course qualifying there is so important because there's no overtaking, so everyone will be trying to use the super-soft in qualifying.
Q: Why isn't the medium tyre being brought to Monaco instead of the soft to keep a step between the two compounds?
PH: We felt that, from the way the soft has been working, it's working probably too well in some respects, we felt that we'd have too big a gap again, so we wanted to try and keep it as close together. Indeed in Montreal we're going to go with the super-soft and soft, which is a very aggressive strategy. It might sound bizarre, but some times when you say "go for the harder tyre, it gives you less wear", in reality it's not as simple as that because the hard tyre sometimes can cause slip, so you actually get increased wear and graining because you actually want the compound to be enveloping the surface it's going over. It's not always as simple as it sounds, we try to simplify it to make it more understandable, but that's why in Monaco the super-soft and soft will be an interesting combination.
Q: Are you planning to give teams extra sets of tyres at every race this year?
PH: No, that's not the intention. We did it at the start because we felt people needed to get running miles on the tyres to assist them to understand the tyres, but that's not something that's going to happen going forward. I don't envisage that in Barcelona, Monte Carlo or Canada.
Q: Will you be conducting any more private testing with the Toyota for the rest of the year?
PH: Yes, in fact today we're in Barcelona with Lucas di Grassi.
Q: Is he going to be at the wheel for all future tests or is it provisional?
PH: It's a provisional one. It's the first time we're working with him. He's looking at us and we're looking at him and we'll see how he compares to the previous drivers that have done such a good job for us.
Q: Could these tests lead to changes to the tyres later in the year?
PH: We're looking more for 2012 now, we're looking at new construction of the rear tyre for 2012.
Q: What's the reason in changing the construction?
PH: The reason in changing is we're very conservative, we've got a lot of performance that we can find. As we gain more confidence in where the tyres are, we can release some of that performance. The rear tyre in particular is the prime factor in performance of the tyres in F1 and there are a number of areas that we would like to bring some innovations to and some new materials to improve the performance. That's doesn't always mean overall speed, it could mean the wear profile of the tyre, getting more of a footprint down on the ground, making the car more progressive from a drivers' point of view. It's all those things that you could imagine that you've got a group of technicians, engineers, researchers that are always wanting to improve. The more we learn, the more we see, then the more we're able to do that.