It has been a difficult 2013 for Paul Hembery, the motorsport director of Pirelli, as the Italian tyre manufacturer has been on the receiving end of considerable criticism from Formula One teams, drivers and fans over the tyres supplied this season.
Pirelli will just roll with the punches
It has been a difficult 2013 for Paul Hembery, the motorsport director of Pirelli.
The Italian tyre manufacturer has been on the receiving end of considerable criticism from Formula One teams, drivers and fans over the tyres supplied this season.
Even worse for the Englishman is the fact he has not been able to enjoy his favourite pastime of watching football, his ideal way of unwinding, away from the pressures of F1.
“I used to like watching my football team, Bristol City, but they have been an absolute disaster for the last two years so I can’t even enjoy my football,” he lamented on Thursday as he recalled a season that saw the side he supports relegated from the English Championship to Division One.
The conclusion of this season’s championship in Brazil on November 24 will complete a year that Hembery describes as “challenging”.
From the start of the season there were complaints that the tyres were degrading too quickly, with drivers at times having to cruise to preserve their rubber.
The nadir came at the British Grand Prix in June, at Silverstone, when multiple tyre failures blighted the race, which was stopped for a period as Pirelli, the teams and the FIA, motorsport’s ruling body, tried to understand what was going on in front of them.
The race was restarted and completed, and Pirelli then supplied new, harder tyres, based on their 2012 design, for the Hungarian Grand Prix in August.
Those compounds have been in use since, removing the threat of more races like that in Britain.
Through it all Hembery has been a composed figure, giving considered responses and leading the fast reaction to the dramas of Silverstone.
So, was it all a front and a brave face? Did Hembery ever panic during the year?
“I think you have to be a bit like a swan,” he said with a laugh. “Calm on top, but going like the clappers underneath.”
Hembery said he got through Silverstone by refusing to be caught up in hysteria.
“You have got to work with facts,” he said. “There is a lot of comment made that is often very unfactual and comes from emotion rather than fact.
“In this business you have to try and divide between the two. People were trying to get us to make comments after Silverstone, but you can’t.
“You need the facts. It is pointless trying to invent things. You need to know what happened. “
Pirelli’s current spell as the sole tyre supplier in F1 began in 2011, and despite the difficulties faced this year, Hembery said that, overall, it has been a successful period. Bernie Ecclestone, the F1 chief, asked Pirelli to produce softer tyres in a bid to make the racing more unpredictable, and the company responded.
“You live and learn,” he said, when asked to describe the period. “You can’t stop learning, and if you stop learning you need to change your business.
“It has been an exciting three years. We were asked to make a change to the way the sport has happened in the last period of time.
“Looking at either the viewing figures or the overtaking numbers, then, between ourselves, Kers [kinetic energy recovery system] and DRS [drag reduction system], we have delivered what the sport set out three years ago to have.”
So, having been asked to supply fast-wearing rubber, and doing just that, is it fair that Pirelli has been the target of so much criticism?
Hembery answers by saying critics would do well to remember the processional races that dominated the sport, prior to 2011.
“It depends on how you want to look at,” he said. “Certain races have been extremely good, very exciting and stimulating, and sometimes I believe people have very short memories.
“When you look in history at some races we have had that have been fantastic and historically have been usually dire and boring, I think maybe you need a few more dire and boring races to remember what they were like before we arrived.”
Hembery and Pirelli have suggested the ban on in-season testing created a situation where the season began without teams understanding the characteristics of the tyres.
Hembery had warned last month that if more testing time were not found then Pirelli would have to consider its future with F1.
Yesterday, he said he was encouraged by how things were moving forward.
“We have had some good steps,” he said. “This year we have managed to get a 1,000-kilometre test in with four teams, and we have a McLaren test coming up in seven days’ time.
“We are still hopeful of doing something in December and January. It is hard because it is not a lack of willingness by the teams, who are strapped by regulation.
“Changing regulations is sometimes one of the hardest parts of F1. What we would like to do is often very simple, but it is often very complex because it is bound up in various regulations.
“But we are getting there.”
Looking forward to 2014, Hembery said Pirelli will take advantage of experience, good and bad, to continue developing.
“I think sometimes you have to hurt a bit to learn a bit,” he said.
“I think we have seen some things that in hindsight we wouldn’t have done, but equally we have learnt from it and we are now closing this chapter and preparing for the opening of the next one.”
The Yas Marina Circuit was where Pirelli first began its return to F1, conducting tyre tests at the facility in late 2010 and early 2011.
Hembery has fond memories of a particular episode: the time they soaked the track with water to create a wet-weather test.
“When the first car passed we laughed because it was just so spectacular,” he said. “The car was throwing the water up high in the air …
“It looked like diamonds, almost, going up, because the lighting is so close to the circuit, and unlike a normal wet race where the clouds come in and the sun goes and it is very dark, it was actually brighter than bright with these blue diamond droplets going up in the air.
“It was very beautiful to see and I took some photos myself, and I still look at them and still go, ‘Wow’.”
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