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Talking tyres - an exclusive interview with Pirelli’s Paul Hembery 06 Nov 2013

Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB9 makes a pit stop.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Practice, Suzuka, Japan, Friday, 11 October 2013 Paul Hembery (GBR) Pirelli Motorsport Director.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Bahrain Grand Prix, Qualifying, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Saturday, 20 April 2013 McLaren MP4-28 front wheel and Pirelli tyre.
Formula One World Championship, Rd17, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Practice, Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE, Friday, 1 November 2013 Pirelli tyres.
Formula One World Championship, Rd17, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Preparations, Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE, Thursday, 31 October 2013 (L to R): Max Damiani (ITA) Pirelli, Paul Hembery (GBR) Pirelli Motorsport Director and Mario Isola (ITA) Pirelli Sporting Director on the grid.
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Indian Grand Prix, Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida, New Delhi, India, Race Day, Sunday, 27 October 2013 Rear Pirelli tyre on a Force India VJM06.
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Indian Grand Prix, Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida, New Delhi, India, Qualifying, Saturday, 26 October 2013 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W04 suffers a blow out.
Formula One World Championship, Rd8, British Grand Prix, Race Day, Silverstone, England, Sunday, 30 June 2013 Jean-Eric Vergne (FRA) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR8 suffers a blow out.
Formula One World Championship, Rd8, British Grand Prix, Race Day, Silverstone, England, Sunday, 30 June 2013 Paul Hembery (GBR) Pirelli Motorsport Director.
Formula One World Championship, Rd11, Belgian Grand Prix, Qualifying, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Saturday, 24 August 2013 Lotus mechanics and Pirelli tyres.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Preparations, Suzuka, Japan, Thursday, 10 October 2013 Adrian Sutil (GER) Force India VJM06 locks up.
Formula One World Championship, Rd11, Belgian Grand Prix, Qualifying, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Saturday, 24 August 2013 Paul Hembery (GBR) Pirelli Motorsport Director.
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Qualifying, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, 16 March 2013

Rightly or wrongly, tyres have been a major topic of conversation at every Grand Prix this season; a situation that has thrust Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery into the spotlight on more than one occasion. We caught up with the Englishman to get his views on the current tyre situation, how Pirelli are dealing with the 2014 regulation changes, and why Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel deserve a little more credit…

Q: Paul, it seems that somebody is always unhappy with the tyres - how do you deal with that?
Paul Hembery:
Ha, funny isn’t it? What do you do in that situation? You go back to the basics: everybody has exactly the same tyres and the same challenge. They might not like it, but somebody has got to win on Sunday - with the same tyres! One thing is guaranteed between all the cars: the tyres are the same. Unfortunately that’s life.

Q: So whoever gets a poor result, it’s their problem…
PH:
It’s their job - and it has been that way since day one.

Q: Why is it that with the same tyres teams can run such different strategies, like, for example, what we saw in India?
PH:
Well, that is part of the input that we’ve been given by the sport to create a strategy element to the races. That means that there is an impact on car design, on the way the tyres are used and an impact on the drivers as well. That we see with drivers from the same team and their different ways of coping with the situation.

Q: So you provide the same tyres to all the teams and if they fail to create a sound strategy it’s a case of ‘sorry guys, your fault’…
PH:
The teams employ quite a number of people focusing only on strategy - many at the track, but also back in their factories during a race weekend. So strategy is something that they work on constantly. They try to cover every eventuality: safety cars, rain - a whole range of factors that come into play.

Q: So if you’re smart and devise a good strategy you’ll be ahead?
PH:
For sure after a race you’re always wiser! (laughs) We also run strategies pre-race and the amazing thing is that there might only be seconds between sometimes a two- or a three-stop strategy. Those two or three seconds don’t sound much, but they can make a world of difference to the result when they are added to other factors like a safety car, or traffic, or rain or an incident. So there are a lot of factors for everybody to consider.

Q: Many argue that Pirelli have been a decisive factor in the championship, even though Red Bull were leading before and after the post-Silverstone changes. How do you explain that?
PH:
Nobody knows the real answer. Yes, Red Bull was leading before we made the change - they’ve always been quick in qualifying but suffered in the race. Mercedes were always quick in qualifying and suffered in the race and Lotus were always very competitive in the race, so there are a lot of factors that haven’t changed at all - and that’s all we can say. You could pretty much guarantee that Red Bull Racing would have won after all the changes they’ve made after the summer break and the way the tyres have been used by them. They’ve done a very good engineering job in the second part of the season, as they always do. People forget previous seasons. If you go back and look, Red Bull have dominated the last four seasons, and (in particular) the second half of these seasons - even before we were in the sport - as their rate of improvement has always been dramatic. The way they work and develop right to the end… they need to get some credit sometimes for the fantastic job the team has done around Sebastian (Vettel).

Q: Is there a team that has suffered the most from the mid-season tyre change - and why?
PH:
It is hard to say, as you don’t know what the rate of development was at different teams. So it would be pure speculation.

Q: But you must have an idea from the results and data that you’re privy to…
PH:
Maybe Force India. Their second half of the season was much harder. Some said Ferrari, but after the change they got a second place at Monza.

Q: The 2013 championship is nearly water under the bridge - so what is state of affairs for 2014?
PH:
Of course we’re going a little bit in to the unknown - as everybody is - and like anybody else we would like to understand better how these cars will work and behave when we get them on the circuit. We understand that there will be a lot more torque, of course, and that can create more wheelspin, but the teams want to control that through proper mapping in their engine maps. We know that we need to make compounds more mechanically robust, but of course we can’t go to the extreme where there is no grip. It will need a delicate balance. Much of the final work will be finalized in the later part of the two Bahrain tests - before we go to Melbourne. Then we will select from a number of compounds, because we need to scale them - and that is a difficult job. We only have four and have to try to get it right for 20 or so tracks. That is real ‘art work’! Take for example the last two races: in India we were really struggling with the soft compounds and in Abu Dhabi it was much less severe. The fact is that we don’t have five so sometimes you’re a little more compromised. But that goes for everybody.

Q: Are you getting enough information from the teams? The new cars will run for the first time at the end of January - only then will you really see if you’ve got it right. Isn’t that a bit late?
PH:
Well, we’ve done a survey of the teams and how they envision the cars looking and it is very clear that the development speed of the teams will be very fast. But, of course, at this stage the teams will not give us any more information because this is a competitive environment and I am sure they don’t want to be compromised. So we have taken worst-case scenarios based on the data that we have and we are working towards that. Having that in mind, we have to be a little bit more conservative.

Q: What is worst-case scenario?
PH:
Ha, that was just a phrase! What I meant was related to top speed, lateral loads, vertical loads, aero loads, the loadings on the front and the rear. You have to create a car bringing together all the data from all of the teams - a car that doesn’t exist, that is a fictitious car, but which is the worst-case scenario in terms of the parameters we’re looking at. Of course with the huge changes in regulations the teams will, step-by-step, learn to understand what they really mean and we’ll need the data very early on to understand where they are. We’ll then keep asking to be updated during the season. In pre-season nobody will give too much information - as I said, this is too competitive an environment - but once we are running we need to be very clear on where the journey’s going as we don’t want to repeat the errors of this season.

Q: There will be two winter tests held in warm climate conditions - will that help Pirelli?
PH:
Oh yes. I also believe that the teams wanted to go there because of the big changes - particularly electrically with the power train. But for us, to be on a track like Bahrain which is very hot and very abrasive on the tyres is good, compared to going to Barcelona where it’s been ten degrees Celsius for the last few seasons. (In previous seasons) it has only been when we got to China or Bahrain that we’ve really understood where we are - so at least now we will know where we are at least a month in advance. So we’ve been very much in favour of the change in testing location.

Q: What will be the most significant changes from your side for 2014?
PH:
It is a whole package of things really. Some new materials, new tread compounds - a lot of things will change. There will be some similarities in terms of the shape of the tyres and the profile - and probably closer to what we use now at the end of the season than at the start.

Q: How likely is it that everybody will be happy next year?
PH:
That would be discovering how to square the circle! But it will be a fascinating year with new technologies and we are looking forward to seeing them as much as everybody else.

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