- Paul Hembery Q&A
Tale of the tyres
Motorsport director Paul Hembery talks to ESPNF1 about Pirelli's season so far, its plans for the future and the impact of the blown diffuser regulation changes
There was a big gap in performance between the two tyre compounds in Valencia, was that down to the track temperature?
The temperatures are certainly one aspect of it. In reality the medium we brought here - because we wanted to get some race experience with it before we go to Silverstone - is a compound that we probably wouldn't have brought here, under normal circumstances we would have come here with the super-soft compound which is what we use for street circuits. Having said that the super-soft at 46 degrees track temperature would be right at its limits of durability, so it's one of those challenges where there's probably not the perfect solution when you've only got four compounds to choose from.
Have you been asked to change the hard compound as only Red Bull and McLaren seemed able to switch it on in Barcelona, or do you just say that's for the teams to work at?
We have compounds that give a high level of chemical grip, and in that case you can get away with having low downforce. When you go to the faster circuits where you need a tyre that is more resistant in terms of wear then if you don't have a lot of downforce you might struggle compared to some teams to turn it on. You've got to bear in mind that at Silverstone there's a very significant change coming with the blown diffusers being taken away so that's probably going to even things up for a lot of teams. And as long as they have the same opportunities then I think they'll find a balance that works best for them.
So has the off-throttle blown diffuser had a detrimental effect on the way that the tyres work?
Detrimental? No, but it's bound to have an impact because the loads are so high. If you understand correctly the way it is working it really is about how it forces the car in to the ground through the corners, and clearly we are a major part of the cornering ourselves with the contact patch, so if you're loading the tyres more heavily then it's bound to have an effect on the way the tyres are being used. So it's going to be interesting for us to see how in fact that will effect and will change the general use of the tyre, definitely.
You had tweaked the hard tyre before Barcelona, and Valencia is the first time we've seen the medium compound, are any more changes planned during the year?
No that's it really for this season, we're now working on 2012 which is what we are perfecting. We will obviously monitor what goes on for the rest of the season in case there is a need to change, we've always said that if we're asked by all the teams - it has to be all the teams because you have to be careful that you're not pushing in a direction to assist one or two teams in particular, we have to be equitable in our treatment of all teams. We've got twelve teams that we work with and we want to make sure that not one is being favoured over another. So there are no other plans to change anything this season. We might just mix the compounds together, mix the way that they come together, but Silverstone's going to be a big learning curve for us and the teams to understand what difference the blown diffusers being removed does make to the overall balance and performance of the cars.
Does it make your job harder to have such a regulation change coming in midway through the season?
It's not so much the tweaking them, it's the lack of ability to test. If they want to change them then that's fine, but we have no access to the cars and there's no testing that goes on with the cars once the season has started. So from that point of view, yes it's difficult because we can't understand what the effect will be on the tyre until we actually get to the race, which of course is quite late then.
Looking back at Canada, an incredible race meant the first race running of your wet tyre got somewhat overlooked, how did you feel they held up?
I thought it was fantastic actually, we had three tyres used basically in that race; we ended up on the super softs as the track was drying out, and I think that obviously having Jenson coming from behind and winning quite amazingly made for an amazing race. We did our bit, and we're happy that all three tyres were used and we had very good feedback for all three tyres used in the race, so it was very satisfying.
When you secured the contract for Formula One, if you hadn't been asked to develop a tyre to improve the show would you have ended up with a tyre very similar to the Bridgestones of last year or would you still have attempted to stamp your own mark on the season?
It's almost a chicken and egg scenario as we are a partner, and you have to define with your partners what it is that they want. If they hadn't asked us, I think you're right we would have ended up with a tyre that would have lasted all race weekend; I think it would have been very hard for us to impose on a sport something that they didn't want. So we've always said that we're trying to do what the sport asks us and if the sport changes its mind one day and says we want to go back to what we had before then we could do that if we want. I don't think that's likely to happen at the moment because the team principals in particular are very happy with the extra drama of the weekend.
Cost factors mean it isn't the best time to have competition between tyre manufacturers, but when the contract comes up for renewal [in 2014] would you welcome competition? And would it improve the show or would it force you both to develop harder compounds?
We'd go back to harder compounds, you'd go back to having minimising pit stops and you would go for the highest stability compounds that you can find. That's certainly what would happen, it would change completely the philosophy for the race weekend for sure. And of course when you're in competition you could be OK you might be on the right tyre for one race and then on the wrong tyre for the next and that's the risk you take with open competition. Unless you say that you have to maybe force three pit stops per race or you allow three pit stops per race or it's obligatory to do three pit stops per race which might force you then at least in to a sprinting formula, maybe. But otherwise if the rules were as they are where there are no obligatory pit stops then you would certainly go back to a situation that you saw at the end of the tyre wars.
Looking at the more immediate future, it's been mentioned that you'd like to see a rule tweak that forces drivers to go out and set a lap in the final part of qualifying - Sutil and Heidfeld didn't in Valencia - what's your thinking behind that?
It's because we saw an example, Michael Schumacher did it in Monaco so we saw there was a gap in the rules, and it's been proposed to be formalised through the Sporting Working Group that exists to say that if a driver didn't do a time then they'd have an opportunity to choose which tyre they started on. So I suggested at the F1 Commission meeting that we go back to the Sporting Working Group and say no. OK, if you don't do a time there can be many reasons for that, but you should still be starting on the tyres that you used to set your time so that at least the cars when they start have an equitable position. You'll still save the one set of new if that's what your objective is because you won't have gone out and done a time, but at least as you start the race the advantage is minimised because you've still got to start in the same condition.
What about other changes that you'd like to implement in the future? A qualifying tyre has been mooted - is that something you would like to see?
We're looking at all sorts of things. We're going to sit down after Silverstone with our team and then we're going to go and speak to the teams and propose to them some ideas for the future, and see what they'd like to do and see if they like some of our ideas. So that's something we'd like to do continuing on from what we've learned this season. There's nothing that we are currently proposing to anybody, we're mulling over numerous ideas and talking to teams, drivers, fans, to understand areas where we can still do better. I think the message really is that we inherited a set of regulations and rules and once we have more experience of those we certainly have some ideas where we think we can make it even more exciting as a spectacle.
Looking at the season as a whole, from your expectations before it started has it gone better or worse? How would you sum it up so far?
I think very satisfactory. I've been quoted as saying a number of times that we'll only look at the season when it's finished in Brazil and only at that point I think that we can look back and say whether we've done our job or not, because every single race has its own particularities. All the circuits are still new to us for Formula One and they bring different challenges. Sometimes you think a race could be relatively easy with tyres and it turns out to be more challenging than you thought. So we're not resting on our laurels, we take every race seriously and we plan meticulously before each race and we will sit down after Brazil and then I'll be able to answer to you with facts whether I think we've done our job well enough or not.
Chris Medland is an assistant editor on ESPNF1.