Tyre Talk - Q&A with Pirellis Paul Hembery 20 Mar 2012
Pirellis Formula One commitment was a success story from the off. Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel may have been the dominant force last year, but no race was ever boring thanks to the incredible work of Paul Hembery, Pirellis man in the paddock, and his dedicated team. Now, with even more aggressive compounds and an even better understanding of the teams needs, they look set to help make the 2012 season even more exciting
Q: Paul, first race into the new season gone. Do cars and tyres fit?
Paul Hembery: Well, I would say yes. We have learned quite a lot during winter testing. On Friday we had quite a lot of fun in the rain, which was very interesting for us as we did not have any real wet conditions during the winter testing, so it was very useful for everyone to have a little bit of running in the rain. Then on Saturday and Sunday we had a first understanding of where the different teams and cars are. So the initial indications and the few laps in the rain showed us that the tyres seem to work well this year.
Q: The races have substantially increased in attractiveness because of the tyres - can you enhance that even more?
PH: Enhance that? I dont know. At the end of the day we just produce the tyres. There are many more factors that need to be taken into consideration, for example whether the cars have the right performance, how close together these performances will be. Also we have six world champions on the grid and we have a number of very talented drivers coming through. If I were to take my Pirelli head off, and look at this as a fan, I would say this season will be very exciting. I personally think that you can also feel a certain excitement in the paddock, as you have cars that seem to be very close together, you have amazing drivers and this is the basis of a great season ahead.
Q: How would more aggressive tyres be? And what does that mean in terms of racing?
PH: That would mean that we would have to put in some special ingredients, probably into the soft tyres, to make them degrade a lot faster. But this is something that we can only do if we understand the true performance of the cars. The tyres that we have this year are much more aggressive than the ones we had last year. For example, last year people thought that with the hard tyres only Red Bull and McLaren got them to work and get them in temperature, whereas this year the hard tyre is softer, like the medium tyres from last year, and the teams are saying that they can get them working within one lap. So when we get to a race like Malaysia this will be a huge challenge for us, with the choice of compounds for a track with up to 50 to 60 degrees Celsius on the tarmac and a very abrasive circuit. Last year in Malaysia it was already tough, even with relatively cool conditions.
Q: Everybody predicts tighter results, as it appears that nobody has developed the silver bullet to have a dominant car. Will that make the tyres - and the smart use of them - even more important?
PH: I think exactly this. When it gets closer in the race, the management and the usage of the tyres by the driver will start to make a bigger difference to the result. (Mercedes team principal) Ross Brawn has said a few times that this year the management of the tyres - because they are very aggressive - is a key for all the teams and drivers. And this is what we had hoped by making them more aggressive. Of course we did not want to make the differences in the compound too close together, because then they would have no strategy. We feel that we are close to having the right balance, as we have about half a second difference per lap between one compound and the other. If we can maintain this situation then this would lead to a very interesting challenge for the teams.
Q: You are heading into your second season, so the rookie status is gone. What is it that you want to do better this year?
PH: The medium and the hard compound last year were too hard, and that resulted in disadvantaging about 10 teams when we used the hard tyres, as they just could not get them to work. This is only okay if you are at the front. So we wanted to change that and wanted to make the tyres warm up quicker and make them not so difficult to use.
Q: So, if you say that 10 teams were disadvantaged last year, how will it look this year?
PH: Teams are very pragmatic. As long as they have the same product, theyll be happy. They just want to know that they have the same chances as everyone else.
Q: What was the steepest learning curve for you and your team? Production, logistics, human relations
PH: It was the understanding of the needs of Formula One. It is not only about designing a tyre. It is also about bringing 2000 tyres and 70 people to new locations. It was so much to learn in a short space of time, as we did not have many people that had been working in Formula One before. So that meant that we had to work very fast to get to understand the aspects of logistics. It is not only what you see in the race, but a lot that goes on in the background, like building factories and employing 250 people. This year it is better, and we feel more confident and we have the infrastructure in place. Having said that, we mustnt be complacent. We must continue to work hard to deliver a high-quality product and ensure that the service to the teams remains top level. We still have to continue improving our systems. Although we are the only supplier, we continue to understand the sport better and we try to give more value to the sport and make it better for the teams - and also for the fans hopefully.
Q: The Formula One paddock is a very diverse society, with everybody carefully watching how others are working with the tyres. Have you been surprised by what you have seen?
PH: Not really, as a lot of us have been working in motorsport before and we understand that although it is, of course, a different level in Formula One, it is still the same concept. (laughs) There are a lot of people moving from team to team, so there is a very big knowledge base amongst them regarding how the others work. It is maybe only at the first race that they look very hard at how the others are dealing with the new technology, and at the new small differences compared to last year. That is fascinating to see as well, and actually this is very enjoyable for us to see, as we are so very close to the cars due to our work. Still we dont understand everything, as we are only the tyre people. We sometimes see things that look very interesting, but do not understand what it does.
Q: When you look back to 2011, which driver would you say was the best tyre whisperer? You must see things when you get the used tyres back
PH: It sounds crazy, but you have to say Sebastian (Vettel). He started the year well and very quickly understood what to do with the tyres, and was always amongst the people who could use them best from a degradation point of view. Every call on strategy was perfect throughout the year. I know he was the champion and had the best car, but also from the driving point of view he was quite exceptional to get the best out of the tyres.
Q: What is the F1 commitment doing for the Pirelli brand? The board has surely evaluated that with a cost-benefit calculation. How does it look?
PH: I cannot give you the numbers, but I can say that the company is extremely happy with our return on investment in Formula One, as it goes in parallel with our brand positioning as a global premium tyre supplier. We supply all the premium sporty brands of car manufacturers in the world. Formula One is almost an affirmation of that positioning, as it is a genuine global sport. We are a global company and we have the ambition to grow, and we have aggressive plans to do exactly this. For sure we will have some problems along the way, but that is life, and it is more about how you manage these problems. We want to be seen as a genuine partner for the sport - from a fans point of view, through the teams and the drivers. We wanted to bring more than just the tyres, and also a little bit of colour as a friendly and open company. We are an Italian company with great heritage, being in motorsport for over 100 years. There is probably only Mercedes in the paddock that could say that, and maybe Renault, but I am not sure about that. This should tell a story of how we go about things. We want to be here for the long term - if everyone wants us to stay! (laughs)
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