Pirellis Paul Hembery: We wanted excitement - and weve got it! 12 May 2011
In Turkey last weekend, Formula One group CEO Bernie Ecclestone was full of praise for the groundbreaking work new F1 tyre suppliers Pirelli have carried out. Mixing things up with less durable compounds, the Italian manufacturer has helped enliven this season to the point that, just four races in, its already being talked of as one of the most exciting in years.
For Pirellis motorsport director, Paul Hembery, the praise from luminaries in the paddock and fans on the streets, as well as skyrocketing brand recognition, has made all the efforts worthwhile. Speaking exclusively to Formula1.com, Hembery discusses pre-season jitters, optimal race strategies, and why Spa, Monza and some of the calendars street circuits will test them to the max
Q: Paul, how satisfied are you with the season so far?
Paul Hembery: I am really delighted. Obviously before the season started everybody was a bit nervous because change isnt always liked, but after the first few races the feedback from the public is great. They are coming up to us and saying what a great show and telling us how much more entertaining the racing is. The drivers have got used to it - it is different, but its the same for everybody. So, so far so good.
Q: How satisfied is the company? They came back to Formula One for a reason
PH: Yes, we are obviously here to grow our brand and awareness of our brand around the world. Formula One is going out to lots of countries where we are trying to grow, in Asia, and eventually in Russia and Mexico. So Formula One from that point of view has been a great vehicle for us and the feedback that we are getting from all these new countries is incredible.
Q: How long did it take to make the decision to replace Bridgestone?
PH: It was very, very quick. It was March last year when I started talking with Bernie (Ecclestone) and then we got the bosses involved and they just told us to try and get the deal done. I spent three months negotiating and it was June last year when we finally inked the contract.
Q. Pirellis famous calendars have made tyres glamorous. What will Formula One racing add?
PH: We want to create some emotion. Tyres are not the most exciting things for most people, so we want to show that there is some emotion involved. Between the calendar, which obviously has a very high profile, and football where we sponsor Inter Milan, Formula One is the hardest competition in the world. We also want to stimulate Sundays viewing. It might still be true that nothing beats fast cars and girls, but as half of our customers are female they probably enjoy watching these daredevil drivers in their fast cars.
Q: What has been the biggest challenge?
PH: Time is obviously the major one. We had eight months to build a factory, create a logistics team - logistics are very complex in Formula One as everybody can imagine - and hire all the engineers. We hired something like 100 people. All the production had to be ready for the first race in Bahrain, although the season eventually started in Melbourne, which was a huge task. You couldnt afford to have many failures in the system and we are still learning that every circuit is different. In Turkey we went from heavy rain and cold temperatures to sunny weather and very pleasant temperatures over three days. These conditions have a significant impact on how the tyres work. We cannot test at every location and we have a lot of road circuits coming up like Monte Carlo and Canada, which weve never tested on. We only know if our work has been done well when were actually on the circuit.
Q: It seems some teams cope better with your range of products than others. What are the main characteristics of the cars that do better?
PH: Well, I think some teams do use the tyres better, which means the tyre wear is less and that they dont overstress the tyres in a particular area. It sounds a bit banal, but you can stress different parts of the tyres in different ways, so the people that are balancing that better are certainly getting more performance out of the package. And, of course, driving style also makes a difference, although I must say the drivers seem to be adopting different styles now. They are now looking more at the way they use the tyres, trying not to be too aggressive at certain parts of the circuit and using them when they need to for overtaking.
Q: Do they come and seek advice from you?
PH: Oh no, these are the best drivers in the world. And, of course, they have a lot of data and are able to get a lot of feedback from their engineers.
Q: In the past, it was always thought that the top teams were the preferred clients. How is it nowadays?
PH: Everybody is the same. Every single one of the 12 teams is treated in exactly the same way. They are all our customers and partners and we treat them equally.
Q: Before the season got underway some were complaining we could have as many as five pit stops per race. Were you surprised that even a one-stop strategy can work, as Saubers Sergio Perez followed in Australia?
PH: I think that Australia was exceptional and will be exceptional for the season. Maybe on some of the street circuits we will need to think about what might happen there because there is low loading on the tyres. But yes, people may have been a little alarmist at the start of the season, but now they have settled into a two- to three-stop strategy at the majority of the races, which is exactly what weve been asked to do.
Q: So stopping two or three times could be the typical strategy for success?
PH: Yes, I think a one-stop strategy will be quite rare. But that depends a lot on the teams - if they decide that they can gain more by doing one stop less. But the pit stops are quite short - something in the range of 23 seconds is lost - so from that point of view, when they are spending 2.5 seconds on tyre changes, they are not losing a huge amount of time. It would penalise them more trying to reduce the number of stops. In Istanbul the greater advantage lay in doing more pit stops to get fresh rubber.
Q: Which tracks have caused the most headaches? Turn Eight in Istanbul is the toughest corner on the calendar and you coped with it admirably
PH: Sepang was one of them, actually. Its an aggressive circuit, but we only saw the extreme temperatures on one day - on Friday afternoon - with 52 degrees Celsius on the track. Monza will be another one because of the straights there; Spa going through Eau Rouge because it puts around 1,000 kilos of load on the tyres; and then, of course, the street circuits as I explained before because we will only learn what they are like when we get there. But we have got through the Istanbul weekend and weve done Sepang and that means that we are a good way down the road!
Q: The next race will take place at Barcelonas Circuit de Catalunya. How will the tyres perform there?
PH: Barcelona is a tough track as well because it is very aggressive and has a number of corners with kerbs that put a lot of stress on the front-left tyre. That means that the product is being well tested very early on and that is exactly what we wanted because we want to know where we are and if we going in the right direction.
Q: Bernie Ecclestone recently explained that he tasked you to produce tyres that wouldnt last more than a third of a race. How difficult was that to accomplish from a technical perspective?
PH: It is very difficult. After the first test it looked as if we could run the whole weekend on one set of tyres! It is very hard to programme tyres to last between 15 and 25 laps. If you get it wrong you have too many pit stops and if you get it really wrong you wont have any. It is a very delicate balance. Then you have the variables of all the different circuits and surfaces, plus we have only four compounds. All that took a lot of calculations to get right - and so far it looks like weve got it right.
Q: So its been a positive start for you, but a Formula One car is constantly developing. How will you cope with any changes?
PH: Sure, the teams are changing targets as they change things on their cars. We will study their strategies and ensure that when they are moving more to a two-stop strategy that we are able to change things swiftly. But should we move towards a one-stop strategy I know that Bernie will not be very happy. I actually dont think that the fans will be either as the public reaction has been quite extraordinary. To be honest that took us a bit by surprise because we didnt think that there would be the kind of compliments that weve been getting from people. And theyre from not just real fans but also from casual followers of Formula One. Of course you cannot please everyone. There are some out there who would prefer to see an outright competition of speed. But we had that before and ended up with some boring races that turned the public off, so we have to balance that.
Q: That all sounds like Pirellis commitment has been money well spent
PH: Right here, right now - yes. But weve got a long season to go, so ask me again after Brazil!
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