Home - The Official Formula 1 Website Skip to content

Paul Hembery Q&A: Tyres are just part of the challenge 31 May 2012

Paul Hembery (GBR) Pirelli Motorsport Director.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Italian Grand Prix, Preparations, Monza, Italy, Thursday, 8 September 2011 Pirelli tyres.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Bahrain Grand Prix, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Sunday, 22 April 2012 Rob Smedley (GBR) Ferrari Race Engineer and Pirelli tyres.
Formula One Testing, Mugello, Italy, Day Two, 2 May 2012 Paul Hembery (GBR) Pirelli Motorsport Director with Fanvision. 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 4, Turkish Grand Prix, Practice Day, Istanbul Park, Turkey, Friday, 6 May 2011 McLaren mechanic with Pirelli tyres.
Formula One Testing, Mugello, Italy, Day One, 1 May 2012 Pirelli tyres.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Bahrain Grand Prix Qualifying, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Saturday, 21 April 2012 Pirelli tyres and Pirelli tyres engineer.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Bahrain Grand Prix Qualifying, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Saturday, 21 April 2012 Pirelli dry tyres.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Bahrain Grand Prix Practice, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Friday, 20 April 2012 Ferrari look at Pirelli tyres.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Bahrain Grand Prix Practice, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Friday, 20 April 2012 Pirelli tyres.
Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Chinese Grand Prix Preparations, Shanghai, China, Thursday, 12 April 2012 Mercedes AMG F1 mechanic with Pirelli tyres.
Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Chinese Grand Prix Preparations, Shanghai, China, Thursday, 12 April 2012 Paul Hembery (GBR) Pirelli Motorsport Director on the grid.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Race, Sepang, Malaysia, Sunday, 25 March 2012 Pirelli tyres
Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Chinese Grand Prix Preparations, Shanghai, China, Thursday, 12 April 2012

When they became Formula One racing’s official tyre supplier last year, Pirelli set the cat amongst the pigeons by spicing up the on-track action with their less durable compounds. A year later and the Italian manufacturer has yet again been ruffling feathers. With six different winners from six races, and quite noisy criticism from some quarters of the paddock, the tyres are being blamed by some and applauded by others for creating a truly unpredictable season. Formula1.com caught up with Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery to discuss the situation…

Q: Paul, since the start of the season Pirelli has been the talk of the paddock. Is that a good or a bad thing?
Paul Hembery:
Well, from one point of view it’s good as it’s great that what we are doing is in discussion. Of course, on the other hand, we know our role and we don’t want to be the main part of the weekend. That should be the drivers. They should be the stars in the cars. After six races some might have the view that we’re presenting the teams with too much of a challenge. But when you look at it from another perspective, the cars this year are so much more competitive. You see so many drivers, in so many different cars, within a few tenths of a second of each other and that has never been seen before. For sure, the relationship between car and tyres has become much more sensitive and it can mean you are penalised heavily if you get it wrong. So yes, we’ve been the talking point, but the fact is we feel that we didn’t make huge changes compared to 2011. I think we’ve made some interesting changes to stimulate the engineering challenge. So far it’s been very interesting.

Q: You’ve been criticised about the characteristics of the tyres by some big names in the paddock. How do you cope with that?
At the end of the day you’re giving the same product to everybody. It’s the target that you learn to make the best out of what you’ve got. Everybody has the same challenge - and the same opportunity. We’ve seen six very interesting races this year and from the general public’s point of view we’ve had so much positive feedback. It is really phenomenal. Of course nobody writes about that. Positive news doesn’t sell any newspapers. But, as I just said, the fans like it.

Q: You might be very popular with the fans, but for the teams who believe they belong at the front it is perhaps another story…
Well, maybe. In life that’s probably tough I guess. But I believe that after 20 races the bigger teams with the bigger budgets will come through to the front. That is going to happen. But I think what people complained about last season, if there were any complaints at all, was that the season was dominated by one team. Of course Sebastian (Vettel) had a great year, but the fans would have liked to see more competition - and that’s what we have this year. If you look back at 2010, even by the last race it was not clear who was going to win the title and that was the kind of championship that we need again. Then the fans will follow the series. And so far it’s going in that direction. We’ve seen some new winners with Nico Rosberg and Pastor Maldonado, but we’ve also seen three former champions win races, whilst Mark Webber is one of the most experienced drivers on the grid. So overall I would say that not everybody is winning, only the most talented and experienced drivers.

Q: Do you agree that good tyre management will decide this year’s championship?
No, because in every championship you have to maximize the package. That means maximizing the performance that you get from every component and the tyres only happen to be one of those. Of course it is also true that tyre management is crucial in every racing category that you perform in. In a few weeks from now you will see that the teams know exactly how to get the best performance out of the tyres for their needs. It’s just a question of time. To be honest it’s a good conversation to have, as it is so much more rewarding to have six different winners than to see one car permanently winning, which will turn the public off.

Q: We’ve had six races, and six different drivers have won. Are you proud of that?
No, not really. That is down to the teams and down to the drivers. Our contribution is probably in how close the grid is. Take Monaco last weekend. In Q2 there were ten cars within three-tenths of a second. Yes, you can get it wrong with the tyres and that will probably drop you from P1 to row five. When you compare it to the pole position time of last year, which had a lead of five-tenths, then that’s quite a difference. I think the public has to be more aware of how close the racing is this year and that even the smallest mistake is being sternly punished. If you get a wrong pit call it has a huge effect, or if you make the smallest error on the track you go to the back. We know that we’ve made a bold move by bringing the harder compounds into a much softer range. We knew from last year’s experience that only the two front-running teams could exploit the harder compounds, which effectively penalized the rest of the field. We had to stop that, as we have to look after all 12 teams, not just the two at the front. If the sport and the teams want us to create low-degradation tyres with high performance that require just one pit stop then we could do that, no problem. But that’s not what we’ve been asked for. We are just following the requests of the teams.

Q: Pirelli have certainly spiced up the races, but is it true that whoever is ‘quickest at driving slowly’ will win out?
Well, you are still driving at the maximum of your package and that’s still down to driver skill. If you want a philosophical change then you would open up the engine regulations and the tyre regulations and would go to the maximum. But we saw that in around 2000 and the audience didn’t really appreciate it. If you want the sport to grow you have to create excitement and interest for the general public, and that is what we are trying to do with the tyres - to try and open up the racing to make it more stimulating. As a sport we have to compete with other sports - football, baseball, etc. - and we know that the public doesn’t want to see someone start at the front and come in first after a procession of cars and no overtaking. A sport that wants to grow globally has to be stimulating. If you go to a new market and they see ten cars starting in one position and finishing in the same, they will very likely ask what is this all about. This is probably something for the older European markets, which are more into technology, but not newer markets. But you should never underestimate the drivers. Take Q3 last weekend in Monaco. Anyone who watched Michael Schumacher’s lap there saw absolute commitment. It was simply extraordinary driving. Not anyone can do that. It’s still down to extraordinary driving talent. Or take Pastor Maldonado’s win in Barcelona. He had one of the most sophisticated drivers behind him - charging down on him to win his home Grand Prix - and he held his nerve, kept his cool and drove a very mature race to take his first victory. So yes, the drivers still have a huge impact on the results.

Q: We have also had five teams winning over the last six races. Have you analysed what each team did differently to the others to take victory?
There are many factors involved. If you take, for example, Pastor’s win, that was also down to a very good pit call. Alonso’s win in Malaysia was not only down to exceptional driving but good choices by the team to manage the rain situation. Williams’ objective in Barcelona was to get the sector three sorted and it made them the quickest car throughout that sector. Force India opted for a two-stop strategy for Paul di Resta in Bahrain and he wouldn’t have had such a great result if the team had followed what the majority were doing. So you can see that each team did something a little bit special at every race to get their victory. There is not one thing that everybody is doing that can be duplicated. But my guess is by the time we get to Silverstone we will see how the championship is shaping up. The teams will have gained a lot of information from the previous races and they will have understood how to adapt and go forward.

Q: You said that you could imagine distributing special Q3 tyres, but weren’t the super-softs in Monaco already used in that way?
Well, probably that was a Monaco speciality, but believe me, you could still go much more extreme. You would in fact be surprised how far you could go. But you would have to have different qualifying compounds. You wouldn’t just be able to have one because of the huge diversity of the circuits that you go to. We are open to talks with the sport. If the sport feels that we need to do something about Q3 running then we will come up with something. At the moment there is maybe a difference in opinion between different groups and people, although the tactical intrigue by serving up such tyres is interesting and the viewing figures for qualifying appear to be growing in most markets. But we have to make sure that all ten cars are running. Many things are possible, from simply replacing the Q3 tyres for all the ten cars in Q3 to a bespoke product that is just for qualifying. The cheapest solution would be to give everyone who made it into Q3 a new set of tyres overnight as a replacement and therefore they are not penalized for using them, as not running would not benefit them. We are willing to discuss that to try and find a solution.

Q: How do you see the season unfolding? You believe Silverstone could be a benchmark…
Yes, when we are back on high-speed tracks and from there the core part of the season follows over some six races. If it is not wet at Silverstone we will see a strong indication of the real performance of the teams. My guess is that we will have something in the range of five teams, but I would also not be surprised if we saw some very tight grids.

Q: Who are your top three contenders? You must know who has been getting on best with the 2012 tyres…
With all the data we have seen - and we clearly have much more data than anybody in the public domain would have - it is still impossible to say who’s got the upper hand. It is still extremely tight. I put some money on Michael (Schumacher) winning some races and it was a shame that he got penalized in Monaco, as I think he would have been a pretty good candidate for winning. Maybe it is the safest for me to pull on my national ties and say as long as it is a Brit - Jenson (Button), or Lewis (Hamilton) or Paul di Resta - I’ll be happy. I simply like to hear my national anthem playing on the podium!

For tickets and travel to 2012 Formula One races, click here.
For Formula One and F1 team merchandise, click here.