The return of Pirelli to Formula 1 after an absence of two decades has the potential to mix up the grid in 2011, as teams scramble to adjust to the new tyres.
Pirelli ﬁnally got the ofﬁcial nod from the World Motor Sport Council at the end of June, weeks after the teams had agreed to go with the Italian company rather than Michelin.
Although Pirelli has been developing its F1 tyres behind the scenes for some months, there is now a relatively short window in which to prove them on track.
“We had to start work because the decision was being delayed so much,” Pirelli motor sport boss Paul Hembery told Motor Sport. “We’re well aware of the timing. Wind tunnel tyres, for example, have to be ready by September. It sounds like a banal thing, but it’s actually a specialised product.”
Track testing is due to commence with a 2011 GP2 prototype at the end of July, while the company is still trying to find a suitable contemporary F1 machine to use as a test hack without being seen to favour any of the current teams. It also intends to use drivers who have no aspirations to race in F1 in 2011.
“We’re still trying to deﬁne the F1 test car that we’ll be using,” said Hembery. “We don’t want to provide any favouritism to any one team, but the teams somewhere along the line are going to have to accept that we need a relatively current car to actually do our work. I guess a 2009 Toyota would be an excellent starting point, but we don’t know what they have left.”
The ﬁrst proper test with all 12 teams involved will take place at Abu Dhabi in the days after the ﬁnal Grand Prix of the season, which will provide a useful comparison with the Bridgestones used that weekend.
Pirelli has been working closely with FOTA’s Technical Working Group, which has attempted to form a consensus on what the teams require. In essence Pirelli has been asked to create tyres that are similar in characteristic to the Bridgestones, in order to effect a smooth transition. “They have come up with some working ranges and asked us to design a product within these areas,” said Hembery.
The teams have also agreed to build their 2011 cars within a small range of weight distribution. There is a concern that someone may luck into a huge advantage by having a signiﬁcantly rear- or forward-biased distribution that happens to favour the new tyres.
Pirelli has indicated that it is willing to do what it can to create tyres that spice up the racing. The Canadian Grand Prix provided a timely example of what can happen when tyres are marginal, and drivers have to adapt.
“It’s an element that will come back into F1,” said Hembery. “We can’t promise it overnight because we’ve got a big learning curve going to circuits where you can’t test. But it’s something that we’ll work on, with the sport. You have to manage it. The team principals say as long as the tyres are the same, the drivers just have to get on with it! Clearly the drivers will be looking for optimum performance everywhere.”
Pirelli is able to use a GP2 car for early testing because its tyres will have similar sizes and constructions in both categories in 2011. The company has already been gaining some single-seater knowledge, and information about European F1 venues, through its involvement in the GP3 series.