F1 "Matching Pirelli's Global Ambition”: Hembery
With Formula One’s Drivers Championship still in the balance heading to the final meeting in Abu Dhabi – Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber, Sebastian Vettel and technically Lewis Hamilton are all in with a chance – Bridgestone is getting the epic final season it surely hoped for. Abu Dhabi also represents a landmark for the new tyre supplier for 2011, as Pirelli will display and test its new tyre during the weekend, following lengthy tests with F1 drivers Nick Heidfeld, Roman Grosjean and latterly Pedro de la Rosa. Tyres & Accessories spoke to Pirelli’s Motorsport director, Paul Hembery about the advantages of being involved in Formula One, and what can be expected in the next three years while Pirelli is supplying the sport’s tyres.
When Pirelli won the F1 tyre supply contract, CEO and chairman Marco Tronchetti Provera was quick to emphasise that the new challenge would have “zero impact” on the manufacturer’s budget. Hembery explained that the reasons for this were “two-fold.” It is a result of the teams “making recognition of the financial consideration for Pirelli” as tyre supplier and from a “reallocation” of funds from other areas, such as the company’s rallying activities – while Pirelli will no longer supply the World Rally Championship, it has remained involved in the 2011 Star Drivers initiative, which announced its six drivers in late-October. Production of Pirelli’s F1 tyres is taking place at the manufacturer’s Turkey facility, where no increase in production capacity has been required having redirected its attentions from other motorsport activities.
The attractions of Formula One to Pirelli are manifold; Tronchetti Provera spoke of its “global visibility” and the “great return in terms of brand image and technological recognition thanks to the fact that Formula One reaches two billion viewers, one billion in fast growing regions” when the company was appointed. Hembery added that the sport’s six confirmed Asian events – as well as the potential Indian Grand Prix in Delhi – made Formula One particularly attractive as Pirelli continues to gain traction in these fast-growing markets. “F1 is matching our global ambition” in addition to “meeting our existing markets in Europe”, said Hembery. He also hinted at F1’s potential return to the USA and move into Russia in the near future.
The speed with which Pirelli appears to have risen to the challenge of producing Formula One tyres without recent F1 experience has undoubtedly been aided by the use of recent F1 drivers and the 2009 Toyota the company has used for testing, but Hembery also pointed out that Pirelli’s renown in premium OE circles, its “work with premium car manufacturers” its “high-tech base” and “in-house sim and modelling tools” have all contributed, though he expressed delight at the way the company has met the challenge of a “tight timescale”. In terms of R&D, he continued, Formula One would present certain opportunities for “advanced research projects”, ultimately characterising Pirelli tyres as a “safety product” in an analogous position to road-going UHP tyres.
This is not to say that Pirelli wants to dampen the excitement of F1 racing. “We could make tyres last a whole weekend,” says Hembery, “but we want to be involved in making the sport exciting”, which means a high “level of strategy” and “variation in racing”. While Webber’s third place in Singapore was undoubtedly testament to the Bridgestone Potenza’s durability, the suggestion seems to be that Pirelli’s approach will be somewhat different – an impression backed up by positive noises from test drivers: “These Pirelli tyres have their own quite different characteristics…I’m confident that they will form a very competitive package,” De la Rosa stated recently.
And what of tyre companies’ ecological agenda in F1 – an effect that seems muted compared to previous seasons? Hembery gives short shrift to the suggestion that green recognition can be tied to F1 meetings themselves: “it is insulting to the public to talk about the green effects of F1 tyres,” he says. “It is ultimately a race of extreme speed.” However, Pirelli’s ecological concern will be on show around the track, where tyres’ end of life disposal is a more apposite way to emphasise greenness. Competing tyre suppliers too, are not on the cards: “it is not the right economic moment,” according to Hembery, though he added that Pirelli “wouldn’t rule it out” in future.
Summing up, Hembery said that its F1 focus would be working to provide a balanced tyre along with data to all the teams to help them find a way to increase competition on Pirelli rubber. The final product should be ready in “early February”, though Pirelli is keen to continue testing and developing throughout the season, recognising an “opportunity to stretch the boundaries”. In the meantime Hembery will continue to enjoy the “buzz around the company”, though he is “looking forward to the end of the first race” in Bahrain on 13 March.
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