In the first part of an exclusive interview with Paul Hembery, the Pirelli motorsport director explains how the teams have begun to overcome the challenges of this year’s tyres
With Pirelli playing a big role in Formula One again this year, how would you assess the season so far from your company’s perspective?
As a sport we have to be happy that we have had such a stimulating championship so far. At the start of the year we had various different winners and we’ve seen cars that are much more competitive this season as a result of the rule changes from last year – getting rid of the blown diffusers and flexi front wings that the top teams had. That’s had a grouping-together effect on the performance of the cars. Combined with the challenge that we’ve given them with the tyres, we’ve seen some very exciting races and we’ve got a championship that is by far and away not over at this stage, and maybe that hasn’t been the case in the last couple of years.
Those rule changes have had a big effect on the way the cars use the tyres, is that something you anticipated?
We only get to see the team’s new cars in February so we have a similar problem. We’re testing on a two-year-old car and at that time it was a modified Toyota set up to give similar balance and downforce to the 2011 cars. So for us it exaggerated some of the challenges we thought we were going to see because it changed the balance on the cars, particularly these big aero changes and the loading front to rear on the tyres changed quite dramatically. That made the temperatures front to rear on the cars change and with what we did that maybe amplified the effect and gave the teams an extra technical challenge on top of what we anticipated.
Pirelli also made some changes to the tyres for this year, including a wider footprint at the front [and rear], was that based on the 2011 levels of downforce?
No, we felt the cars would need a bigger footprint this year with less downforce – that was intentional. What we didn’t realise was that there would be such big differentials front to rear and as a characteristic this year we have seen a number of teams struggling to get the same temperature in the front tyres as they’ve got in the rear tyres. We anticipated cars maybe having a problem with wheelspin – with traction and overheating the tyres – but to be honest that’s been ironed out very quickly among the teams. What we didn’t envisage was the big temperature differentials front to rear. To optimise that with both compounds to get the maximum performance is difficult. It’s is a question of which compound do you want to maximise on and
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