Is F1 still good for Pirelli?

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As the Formula 1 season winds down, the call for tire testing is still up for debate. Pirelli have asked for serious testing to be completed before the official winter testing program and they’d like to complete that test with 2013 cars. The teams will run new compounds during the Friday practice session in Brazil so that should help.

The reason is simple; avoid the types of situations that cropped up this year in which tire blowouts at Silverstone marred and otherwise interesting year. The company was forced to go back to the construction of last year’s tire and this, it is said, played directly into Red Bull Racing’s hands. The team has already secured the 2013 championships.

So how does Pirelli feel about the criticism it has taken in 2013? According to a CNN interview, they are still benefitting from the relationship.

It’s an interesting notion if you consider the heat that Pirelli took over the tire issue but it appears that Formula 1 fans are not jumping to conclusions or laying that blame on Pirelli. The company had sales of $8bn last year so they still feel that the brand exposure and health is still good. If it weren’t, they would be leaving Formula 1.

As for the 2014 season, Paul Hembery is certainly focused on getting the tires right and avoiding any potential brand equity issues along the way. Guarding Pirelli’s investment is his goal and it takes the cooperation of the teams to make that happen. Paul told F1’s official website:

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.

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