One of the main men involved in contemporary Formula One, Paul Hembery is the Motorsport Director of Pirelli. His tyres are one of the principle factors behind the competitive, tight and exciting racing we see every racing weekend. He joined Pirelli in 1992 and became the Motorsport Director in 2001. After being heavily involved with the World Rally Championship, he focused his efforts to Formula One. Pirelli were given 6 months to recreate the close racing witnessed during the 2010 Canadian Grand Prix thanks to fast degrading tyres and they delivered in 2011.
I’m very pleased and humbled to have had the opportunity to ask him a few questions regarding tyres, the current state of F1 and his interests and to bring this to you all, my readers.
Q: How much of a challenge is it to produce just 4 compounds of tyres for the vast variety of tracks we have during the season? I feel you often get unfairly criticised that the tyres are too soft at high degradation tracks like Malaysia and too hard on tracks like Monaco.
PH: “It is difficult, but that was the challenge we accepted at the start of the year and we knew how it was going to be. In the end, every element of Formula One engineering comes down to some form of compromise – tyres are no exception – but we think we have fulfilled the brief that we were given, and helped deliver some great racing at the same time.”
Q: How much do you think the technical changes to this year, such as the loss of blown diffusers and the addition of a strict weight distribution clause, have had an impact on tyre performance?
PH: “We think that the rules have had a profound effect on the cars in general. If you look at how close the midfield in particular is this year, it’s astonishing. The result is that nobody is managing to dominate. The intrinsic closeness of the cars means that every variable parameter is magnified and that’s certainly the case for the tyres.”
Q: At this moment, none of the teams appear to have a sound understand of this year’s tyres. Can you help teams better understand the tyres and if so, how?
PH: “We have a close dialogue with all the teams and a constant exchange of information. The teams understand the tyres pretty well, but with the cars being as closely-matched as they are now, they are constantly looking for more data and ideas as to how they can take a bigger advantage from tyres and strategy – and we do our best to help them with that.”
Q: Like all the teams, you are constantly working on and improving the tyres. How valuable is it to have your own testing car and test drivers for their input?
PH: “It’s essential. The opportunities for in-season testing are so limited that we would never accumulate the depth of information we need unless we had our own programme. In Lucas di Grassi and Jaime Alguersuari we have two excellent test drivers, and they have already given us some interesting ideas and feedback.”
Q: I’ve always wondered this, what happens to the lot of tyres, used and unused after a Grand Prix weekend?
PH: “All the used tyres are recycled at a specialised facility in the UK, along with the unused tyres that have been mounted on rims – as they cannot be used again once they are mounted. The unused tyres that have not been mounted on rims can be used again.”
Q: How do you prepare for new tracks such as India last year and Austin this year?
PH: “As soon as possible we are sent asphalt samples and this helps us to have an idea of the likely abrasion levels of the circuit and construct a simulated model of the layout in order for our engineers to calculate likely levels of wear and degradation. With a new circuit, we would also normally send some of our engineers for a site visit a few months before the race in order to validate the findings and collect the most recent information.”
Q: If possible, I’d love to know if you know what to Sebastian Vettel’s tyre at Abu Dhabi last year? I watched the interview with you on TheFlyingLap with Peter Windsor but couldn’t find onboard footage from Jenson’s car as you suggested!
PH: “We carried out a full investigation together with Red Bull, and we’re both satisfied that it wasn’t a tyre failure, although it’s hard to pinpoint the exact reason with 100% certainty.”
Q: Lastly, what are some of your own hobbies and interests outside F1? From your Twitter account, I gather you do like your football!
PH: “I’m a big fan of Bristol City, my home team in England, but I’m not around to watch them as often as I would like in person!”
I’d like to thank Paul Hembery for giving me this opportunity. He has great interaction with the fans who love the sport which is a rarity for a man right at the deep end of Formula One. He answers all sorts of questions on his twitter account, which I’m sure I can say for all fans, is highly appreciated. On top of that, he’s incredibly nice and I recommend you go follow him on Twitter.
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