Exclusive Q&A with Pirellis Paul Hembery 16 Mar 2013
When the Formula One fraternity arrived in Melbourne for the first race of 2013, the big topic on everyones lips was tyres. The teams had struggled to get a good read on the new-for-2013 Pirelli rubber in pre-season testing and couldnt wait to see how theyd perform in the warmer temperatures of Australia. Given the circumstances, its no surprise that Pirellis motorsport director Paul Hembery has been a man in demand in the Albert Park paddock. We sat down with him to discuss the season ahead
Q: Paul, Pirelli left the teams guessing big time over the winter tests. Was that the intention to spice things up?
Paul Hembery: Ha, it could have looked that way! (laughs) To be honest we would have loved to see some warm conditions in Barcelona but dont forget: Barcelona in February is somewhat bound to be rather on the cold side. We have seen that now for the last three years so yes, the conditions have created a bit of a guessing game for the teams, as they have not seen the tyres operating in the correct conditions. On Friday (in Australia) they had the opportunity.
Q: Obviously Friday calmed the teams fears. Jenson Button said that before Friday he was almost prepared for a four stop strategy now he thinks that two will do...
PH:From our simulations and the testing that we did with our 2010 Renault we knew that this race was going to be two, maximum three stops. We took an aggressive approach coming here with the super softs, which are almost like a qualifying tyre - maybe lasting only ten laps in these conditions. That would force the teams to do two changes minimum some might have to do three , but if wed have come here with only (harder) option tyres it would have looked like a one stop strategy and nobody wants that. In winter, true, it might have looked a bit crazy but there was some logic in our madness!
Q: What requirements have Pirelli been given?
PH: Well, if we do make some changes it might produce some uncertainty at the start of the season, but as it is a long season and you are working with the best engineers in the world, over the course of the season they will find solutions to any change that we throw at them. We have seen this over the last two years. At the start of the season these changes might cause them to scratch their head a little bit but when you arrive at midseason you can already see that they understand what they need to do to get the maximum performance for longer.
Q: How different are the tyres to those of the 2012 season? What are the main differences?
PH: Weve changed all four track compounds simply put they are softer, but in reality its a bit more than that. We have tried to make it a bit easier for the teams to have a wider temperature range. In theory, they should be able to find a better balance. We also changed the structure of the tyres: we wanted to improve mid-corner traction so we added in some material and increased the weight of the rear tyres using some clever technology with materials that some people would be surprised we are using. We had some ideas and technology threads that we wanted to try to give the teams a different feel to the product. And generally speaking, they are happy!
Q: When you speak of new materials and new technologies, is that something that in the longer term could also be implemented in consumer tyre production? Is Formula One the lab for sophisticated consumer products?
PH: Yes, there are some technologies that we are using in F1 that we are looking to insert into our high performance tyres. There might be materials that our competitors have tried in the past and have not been able to make it work, but we have found some new technologies that enable us to use them very well. In the future we definitely want to try other materials in F1 to later introduce them into our high performance tyres. I am not saying that everything that we do in F1 can be transformed into normal usage, but clearly our philosophy is that some materials will be used for the production of our road tyres.
Q: Who is going to perform best this season? Will it, once again, be those drivers who are known for their excellent tyre management?
PH: I think I may sound boring saying this, but the top drivers are top drivers for good reason when they analyse the data they maybe have one bad race, but the next race they have understood what was not right and they adapt their style of driving. There might be one or two odd races at the start, but from there on they very quickly adapt and become very similar.
Q: That sounds like youre saying we should expect to see the usual suspects at the front
PH: There is obviously a big aspect of matching top drivers with top cars. Dont forget that F1 is a team sport and these top drivers need to rely on the 500 or 600 people in the factory to give them the matching car.
Q: During the winter tests there were conditions that we hardly find during the season. Given that, how meaningful are such tests?
PH: I cannot speak from the teams point of view but if one of my engineers came to me telling me that he plans to go tyre testing in February in Barcelona I probably would fire him! (laughs) It makes absolutely no sense for us as a tyre maker. It is completely the wrong kind of conditions. Of course, you could design tyres to work in winter conditions, but then they would not work in the season. We only have four compounds for the season if we had ten or twelve it might be different, then we might be able to have something a bit more suitable for cooler conditions. But we have only four and have to make them work over 19 tracks under all sorts of weather conditions but not winter.
Q: What would be an optimal test location, from your point of view, to get real data valid for the season?
PH: As we start the season in Australia and then go on to Malaysia it would make sense to stop in Abu Dhabi or Bahrain. I know that these tracks are sometimes limited from the teams perspective but at least you have operational conditions for the first two tracks that you are going to. There were talks a couple of years ago to go to Bahrain but that hasnt happened. Maybe we have to return to these talks, as a couple of teams would be keen to do that.
Q: We have not seen the first grid yet, but if you could dream up something: how would it look?
PH: From the testing and the Friday running herein Australia, I have to say that Red Bull are looking strong again and Ferrari look a little happier now compared to last year. But equally Lotus are there and Mercedes have been improving. We have seen a lot of data as we are very close to the teams and it is fascinating to see that we will very likely have very close races again.
Q: Who is the best driver when it comes to handling the tyres? You get the tyres back so you get to see who is using them or abusing them
PH: Ha, everybody wants to draw that out of me! There is not really one that I would say is the best. There are races where one is using the tyres better than the other. Look at today this strange aborted qualifying session: Jenson Button went out on intermediate tyres when there were pretty much rain conditions and I thought to myself wow, thats courageous. He felt that he could manage that also on parts that were clearly pretty much under rainy conditions and he managed to get a time. These are things that are very interesting to watch: that mixture of ability, skills and experience.
Q: What would be a good season for Pirelli?
PH: If the fans have enjoyed it. At the end of the day we are all working together to create a product that the fans enjoy. We are - and some might not like hearing this in the entertainment business. We are competing with other sports and if we are going to go to new markets, we are competing with sports that are already established in those markets. So when people turn on their TV they need to see a product that looks interesting and makes them come again. If we can say that we have contributed our small part as a tyre maker: that would make us happy.
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