The Italian tyre manufacturers plan to make slight adjustments to their compounds for the new season.
Pirelli confident of helping F1 give a 'better show' in 2012
ABU DHABI // Now try to contain your excitement because an exclamation mark almost seems appropriate. After almost two months without any Formula One on-track action, Pirelli, the Italian tyre manufacturers, yesterday unveiled their new range of rubber compounds for the 2012 Formula One season. The reinvention of the wheel even warranted a press conference dedicated to it.
Marco Tronchetti Provera, the Pirelli chief executive, was joined at Yas Marina Circuit by Paul Hembery, the company's head of motorsport, and Maurizio Boiocchi, the director of research and development.
The three men found themselves addressing an assortment of 140 members of media from as far afield as Argentina and Australia. (It is amazing what free flights and a two-night complimentary stay at a five-star hotel can achieve with those media sources who accept free travel.)
Hembery is an astute and intelligent director and regularly acknowledges that tyres can be a rather unglamorous matter.
Before removing the dark cloth to uncover what everybody in the room knew to be the sextet of compounds available to teams this year, the Englishman felt obliged to say sorry; apologising for the fact underneath the cover was not a shining, sponsor-laden car, but six dull, black rubber tyres with different coloured markings.
Yet, if one key observation was gleaned from last year's world championship, it was that, regardless of how unstimulating tyre compounds may seem, they are crucial to creating exciting racing.
The speed at which the different compounds degraded - and thus forced teams to pit - produced an additional strategic battle that often ran throughout the weekend between the 12 racing marques.
Pirelli's first season in Formula One since 1991 was a wholesale success with drivers and teams congratulating them on improving the racing spectacle. Without exception, every driver said the introduction of Pirelli's quick-wearing tyres had proved the sport's most important regulation change.
Following such positive feedback, Hembery said the changes for 2012 were "minimal" with minor tweaks rather than wholesale changes. The Pirelli press release announced a "squarer" tyre, which while sounding Neanderthal, promises more competitive racing.
"These changes will provide more opportunity for passes, and help make a better show," Provera said. "Our tyres will be a bit softer, which will add speed and show."
The lap-time gap between the six compounds has been reduced, Hembery said, in order to ensure teams face a tougher challenge. Last season, there was often a 1.5 second difference in lap-time between compounds, but for this season the aim is to reduce the difference to around 0.8s.
At times last year it appeared the reason the racing was so exciting was because the gap was large, but Hembery said the logic of decreasing the gap was due to teams maximising the higher performing tyre, before using the slower - but mandatory - tyre for a short stint nearer the end of the race.
"From that point of view, the second compound didn't come into the strategy at all because the gap was far too great, so what we needed to do was work on the cross-over point between performance and durability," Hembery said. "What we will have is a smaller gap, but the slower tyre will be less degrading and the faster tyre will degrade faster. Teams will now have to make more decisions."
Pirelli is hoping the alterations to the compounds will ensure multi-stop races remain prevalent this season, with Hembery adding he would prefer three-stop races.
"We averaged 2.2 or 2.3 last year, and we are hoping for the same thing," he said. "Some races were two, some were three - and three was proving to be the most popular. We felt that broke the races up in a nice way, and the public felt that three gave it a nice perspective. But we haven't seen the 2012 cars yet."
For those not yet tired of tyre-talk, spectators can look out for more pronounced markings on the sidewalls when the majority of cars are unveiled in two weeks at the first testing session in southern Spain. The bolder coloured stripes, Provera said, allows spectators to better follow race strategies. A green stripe has been added to indicate the intermediate tyre, while a wet tyre will have a blue stripe.
Adding colour to a tyre presentation is no easy task, but as the masses of media inspected the rubber and interviewed the Pirelli officials, there were whispers that the Italian manufacturers might just have managed it.