Exclusive interview with Paul Hembery
23 July 2014 – Pirelli faced one of its biggest challenges since returning to the sport this season, having to adapt its products to all-new regulations with limited testing. GPUpdate.net sat down for a conversation with brand Motorsport Director Paul Hembery at the German Grand Prix to discuss the season so far and what lies ahead.
Firstly Paul, is it pleasing not to be the centre of attention this season?
(Laughs) A lot of people have asked me that! Formula 1 is also an entertainment business and you're going to get themes each season. Last year we became the theme and you have to be slightly pragmatic. That comes with the territory. If you want to be more than just in the background then sometimes it will bite you. You have to live with that and just continue believing in what you're doing and make sure you're doing the best you can.
Of course, it would be wrong if we were in the limelight all the time. But I think we've got back to a good balance as we did in the first and second years, so we're very happy with the level of interest this year.
We've had massive regulation changes this season, with a move from V8 engines to turbo V6 power plants and aerodynamic cut-backs. What have you learned so far and what can you take into 2015?
We've had less wheelspin than anticipated. Sliding at the start of the year was heavy. That made them slow, they put a lot of energy into the tyres and they degraded heavier than what we knew would be the case as the season progressed.
As you see now, they've got relatively low levels of degradation and the cars aren't sliding as much. They've still got low levels of grip as they haven't got the rear downforce that they had in the past, and the rear end is twitchy on most cars. So we still see the rear tyre as pretty critical. We see that maybe we need to do some work in the centre of the tyre; there's a bit of a concentration heat build-up there, so we just need to even out the footprint pressure.
It's minor detailing and we've done that now. The Silverstone test was the finalisation of next year's structure. With the compounds, we'll wait until we get to the end of this season as we still want to see the development rates. Teams will still be pushing, unlike last year when a lot gave up mid-season because they were working on this year. What they do this year is still going to be very relevant for next season, so we need to check where we are at the end of the year. But as it is, I don't think we'll see any huge changes in compounds. Maybe just some of the temperature working ranges – when it's cooler we've had a bit more graining than we would have liked.
It must serve as a boost for your simulator tools, that only small changes are required...
We have been able to improve our simulation tools and indoor simulation work.
But it did help, of course, going testing in Bahrain pre-season. In reality we didn't change anything, but at least we knew where we were. In previous seasons, testing at a cold Barcelona, it wasn't until you got to China that you really knew what was going on. So it was much better going to a relevant circuit. That was really positive.
We've got gradual changes to the testing regulations on the way; test days are being cut and there will be no pre-season gatherings outside of Europe from 2015. How does this sit with you?
It's a shame, because this year we had what we felt was a good compromise. Looking selfishly, this was a very good way to start a season and a good way to have in-season testing.
The European venues aren't confirmed yet. What would be your preference?
Barcelona's a good one, because of the start of the European season. Jerez, no. Absolutely not.
We will be making comment that we still feel that the sport should be having at least one session in Bahrain, pre-season, before that's a lost opportunity. Because [the teams] have to get a consensus I guess it doesn't work, but there's a number of them that feel we're losing out by not doing something like that again.
If there's some financial assistance for the teams to get there then maybe [a test] could be the case.
You recently tested the 18 inch low profile tyre concept. Have you had any more reaction?
For us it goes back to the F1 Commission. I'll prepare a little booklet for them, a couple of pages showing the images and any comments that we pick up. They can then make a qualified decision.
The idea was really to provoke the discussion. So instead of just talking about hypothetical situations, we've shown everyone that's what a current F1 car would look like. By and large, people are positive. It's not really us pushing it, it's more us trying to be proactive and give the sport a decision. It's not our decision. We will do whatever the sport asks us. If they want to stay 13, we will stay 13. However, if they want to change the look and the feel of the car, then 18, 19, 20… that's what it'll look like. The engineers will probably want to stay 13, because change costs money. But I'm told that 2017 will also bring a whole raft of other changes to the sport and it would be the ideal date for making wholesale changes.
I think we did what we needed to do to give a service and allow the sport to make a qualified decision.
But on the whole it's been positive?
We haven't really had any negativity. People keep sending me surveys and I think the lowest score I've seen is 70 per cent in favour up to 90 per cent. We wanted to hear what people thought, because we have heard from fans that are a bit tired of us making changes to the sport and they go, 'What the hell are you doing?'
You are obviously supplying tyres to GP2 and GP3, which run alongside Formula 1. Are you looking at all three categories switching to the lower profile tyres if the change is ratified?
Yeah, we would be looking at the whole package. We've got the tender for 2017, so we need to understand if Formula 1 is definitely going that way. If it is, then we need to be preparing the other series behind that.