A lot has been said about how much of a challenge it has been for the engineers to design and manufacture the new generation of power units, which produce the same amount of power, while using 35% less fuel. It is also evident from the on baord footage and trackside observation that the new cars slide a lot more, making life difficult for the drivers. What the majority of the people have forgot is the effort made by Pirelli to make sure their tyres deal with the increased stress due to a 4x increase in torque.
And to discuss about how 2014 has been for the Italian manufacturer, we sat down with their motorsport chief, the ever cool Paul Hembery in their glittering hospitality unit in Abu Dhabi. Also dominating our conversation was Pirelli's plans for next year and the increased tensions between F1's top guns and the midfield teams about the share of FOM revenue.
Q1) Paul, how would you sum-up Pirelli’s 2014 season, in consideration to all the regulation changes?
Ans- I think, we are very pleased with the season, in the sense that there was an element of unknown, coming to a year. The car has changed dramatically, and we feel that we got the balance right between and dealing with the new power trains and still providing the 2 or 3 pitstops we are asked to do. So, in consideration with the limitation in the testing, I think, we were very pleased with how things went this year.
Q2) Because of the regulation changes, you had to test the 2014 tyres in an old spec car. With the completion of one season, has Pirelli requested any team to lend a car to test the 2015 tyres?
Ans- Well, there was no possibility to have another car for next year, and so that means the changes will be limited. We are doing a little bit of work on the structure of the tyre, maybe change one compound. With the lack of testing facility, it means we really are unable to do anything more dramatic, not that we need to in reality. It is a pretty big case for not changing very much and that’s what we will do. Unless the sport comes to us, you know, the Strategy Group comes to us and says they want us to do something different, we will of course. But at the moment, majority of the people are quite happy, to continue just making small evolution of the tyres as we are doing.
Q3) How important is it for Pirelli to be the single tyre supplier to Formula 1 championship?
Ans- Of course you know, we don’t make the rules. We certainly don’t have to do it. We don’t have a choice to be a single tyre supplier or multiple. The reality is for reasons of costs and for sporting equity, if the sport wants to have single tyre supplier and I am sure there are some deals running for single engine supplier. For us you know, we have 170 championships around the world, bit of mix, in between open competition and single tyre. We have certainly drove in the highest level globally, the vast majority of the competition have single supplier because as I said for the sporting equity, in all fairness, it turns to be the model they like. Personally, it’s hard when you know you don’t have competition, you want a little extra adrenaline, when you are competing. However, it is understandable that it is not about championship of the tyres, it is championship about the drivers ultimately and little bit of the car.
Q4) Would you welcome a multiple supplier situation, should the bodies decide to bring in more suppliers?
Ans- Depends on the rules, but it is almost impossible right now.
Q5) Moving on, this is Pirelli’s fourth year since making a comeback to Formula 1; it has been a mixed response. How frustrating is it, to hear criticism from fans, drivers and teams? And how difficult it has been to convey to them, that you are doing what is asked from you?
Ans- Well, the reality is that, a good number of people understood that, we are doing what we have been asked to do. That is the information we have. When we came in, we had a situation, the car was mature and the racing became exceptionally boring and so we had to do something extraordinary, in that theory to bring in excitement and the result showed that, the excitement has been high. With the rule changes, there is less of the need for us to be doing anything, this year we have seen extremely good racing and so there is no need for us to be as aggressive as we have been in our approach. So, if there is anything highlighted prior to races, we have had a lot of criticism for important races, you cannot please everyone. But this year the balance has been quite reasonable for the type of racing we have got. In 2-3 years of time, maybe they will change, if the races become very monotonous, then we are sure they will ask us to do something different again.
Q6) On 2015 tyres, is everything on plan? What changes can we expect from Pirelli?
Ans- As I mentioned, there will be very few changes. Maybe one compound change, the supersoft might have structural changes in the tread to improve the footprint of the tyres. But we are talking about minor changes.
Q7) What is your take on the current big teams vs midfield/small teams issue? Is it damaging the sport’s reputation?
Ans- It has always been like that, I think people have selective memories as well. Formula 1 has always had big teams, had small teams, had lost teams, have changed teams many times over. And that is something that has happened as manufacturer has been gold. 10 years ago there are like 4-5 manufacturers and currently there are only 2-3. So, its nature of the sport and it is something existed for a long time. We just hope that we find the situation where there are 22 cars on the grid at least, that are able to complete the full season.
Q8) Were there any complications with your contract considering that Marussia and Caterham were not present for the last races. And that Marussia were not present for Abu Dhabi as well?
Ans- No, there is no complications. The contract ends of course you know, for Marussia it ended. We will have to wait where Caterham goes.
Q9) So, there were no issues for Pirelli, having supplied less number of tyres, as Caterham and Marussia didn’t race?
Ans- We took our tyres to the races, because we didn’t know who would turn up to the races. Marussia turned up but didn’t race in Abu Dhabi. We have been in a strange position, an expensive position. We were ready to race in the uncertainty surrounding them though.
Interview and transcript by Darshan Chokhani