Pirelli: 2011s star rookie - exclusive Paul Hembery Q&A 07 Dec 2011
Despite only six months notice before becoming Formula Ones sole tyre supplier, Pirelli delivered on all fronts in 2011. Not only did they supply teams with 35,000 tyres, they came up with compounds that changed race strategies and made for thrilling racing. But Pirellis arrival was not only a success for F1 and its fans, it also proved a huge boost for the Italian company, who now see the sport as an integral part of their future commercial strategy. We spoke to motorsport director Paul Hembery about the perfect partnership
Q: Paul, Pirelli have passed the 2011 season test with flying colours. Was there ever a moment of doubt?
Paul Hembery: Well, I guess probably before the start of the season. We had to get a lot of things ready and when we went to Melbourne we were slightly anxious (laughs). As you can imagine, we didnt know exactly what was going to happen. Of course we thought that we had done everything possible to deliver - thought that wed prepared well - but until you actually go on the track you cant say whether youve done a good job or not. So very likely Melbourne was the most anxious moment.
Q: There was not much lead time to get ready for the season - basically you were thrown in at the deep end. How much of a surprise was it to find that the task was manageable? Or wasnt it all that easy?
PH: We had six months notice - and in hindsight thats unbelievable, really. What people on the outside dont see is that we have a factory with 350 people; weve got 60 people in our logistics centre and around one hundred people work on the F1 project in the factory in Milan. All that means that you first have to hire people and then transform them into a team. To do that and only have six months was an astonishing achievement.
Q: Talking numbers Pirelli allocated around 35,000 tyres during the course of the season
PH: yep, and they are all moving around the world! For example, we have five overseas sets of equipment that we send all around the world, so that means that you have to have a fantastic logistics partner - and with DHL we do. Of course we took on people who had experience in Formula One - otherwise it probably wouldnt have been manageable, as it is quite tricky to fully understand the requirements this sport has.
Q: Tyres proved to be a key factor in making 2011s races exciting - arguably a bigger factor than ever before. But have Pirelli got what they anticipated out of F1?
PH: Absolutely - probably even more than we had anticipated. The reaction from the fans, the teams, the drivers and the television companies has been extraordinary. Theyve encouraged us and are encouraging us even more going forward, doing even more of the same. So our return has been fantastic - and we definitely are very, very happy.
Q: Pirellis CEO Marco Tronchetti Provera recently identified the companys strategy as focusing on upmarket products - is that where it clicks with Formula One?
PH: Absolutely. Our President has recently discussed our strategic plan for the next three to five years and an integral part of it is our participation in Formula One. We are the premium brand and we want to be seen in the world as the number-one brand - and Formula One is the number-one motorsport so that goes hand in hand with our ambitions.
Q: Tyres have often had a decisive influence on race results this season and we have seen that they sometimes go better with one car but not so well with others. Have you received many complaints, from teams or drivers?
PH: Complaints, no. But, sure, at the start of the season we were concerned. But Formula One is an environment that has the best drivers on the grid - and they do look at the data and telemetry information. They, in general, do understand where they are losing or gaining time. In Brazil I spoke with 12 drivers about their feelings towards the tyres and they were all positive - and that leaves you with a lot of pride. It was truly fantastic after a tough season with a steep learning curve to get only positive feedback.
Q: We have seen drivers capable of looking after their tyres well clearly gaining an advantage this season, meaning Pirelli are also influencing driving style. So who is the perfect Pirelli driver?
PH: As I mentioned before, these 24 guys that make the Formula One grid are the best drivers possible. Even if we would like to have what you call the perfect Pirelli driver, in reality there is no such thing - the standings in the championship are probably the only indication.
Q: One issue this season has perhaps been tyre allocation. Will there be any modification next year - and what could that be?
PH: The only change next season is that the teams can choose to use more tyres from the allocation on the Fridays if they want to. As you can imagine, some teams are going into qualifying and ending the session after Q1, so very often they have one or two sets of tyres left at the end of the race. Therefore it makes far more sense for them to run more (tyres) on Fridays. Thats the only change for next year.
Q: McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh has asked that Pirelli give the teams more headaches in 2012. What could that scenario look like?
PH: Well, they want some variables. Of course the engineers want to keep everything stable, whereas the team principals probably see the wider picture - looking at the whole sport and how to best sell it - and Bernie (Ecclestone) feels the same. They want an exciting sport and from that point of view they want us to choose aggressive compound choices, perhaps choices that on the surface may look quite strange, but which will lead to even more exciting races. Thats the challenge!
Q: 2011 was Pirellis rookie season. What are you planning to change for 2012 as you become more engrained in the sport?
PH: Ha, at least we know where we are going this time! (laughs) The danger if you have such a great first season is that you have to maintain that standard - and that is very tricky, to maintain the attention to all the details and to keep on creating exciting races through the tyres. We are definitely prepared to even change things during the season if things turn out to be too easy - and throw in - as Martin demanded it - some more challenges.
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