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Pirelli returns to one of the most significant venues in its Formula One history this week for a three-day test at Mugello: the first time that in-season testing has been seen since September 2008 (excluding last year's Abu Dhabi young driver test).
For Pirelli though, Mugello has a much more recent significance, as it was where the company's prototype Formula One tyres first took to the track in August 2010, less than two months after the Italian firm's three-year agreement as exclusive Formula One tyre supplier was confirmed by the FIA.
On that occasion, Nick Heidfeld (above) was at the wheel with Toyota's TF109 test car. Now, all but one of the Formula One teams will visit the central Italian track for three days of testing, a large part of which will be aimed at further understanding how the 2012 Pirelli P Zero tyres behave. In particular, they are likely to focus at optimising car balance with all the different compounds, as well as looking at different aerodynamic upgrades and how they interact with the tyres. Many of the teams will also be running their third drivers for the first time this year at the test.
Pirelli will bring all four slick compounds to Mugello - supersoft, soft, medium and hard - but the teams will only be able to use the tyres that are left to them out of their testing allocation of 100 sets of tyres per car per year. It is down to them to decide which compounds they would like to use within that allocation. The Cinturato intermediate and wet weather tyres will also be available at Mugello in case of rain.
Mugello has never hosted a Formula One race but is well known for sportscar, touring car and motorbike races. The 3.259 mile track has 15 corners and an extremely long straight, which will allow the cars to reach top speeds in excess of 208 mph. The first part of the circuit features plenty of direction and elevation changes, with the final part of the lap containing longer and faster corners that will be particularly useful when it comes to analysing tyre behaviour and performance.
All the cars use the tyres in different ways, which is why the tyres do not always behave in the same way on all the cars. Generally speaking, the supersoft tyre is the easiest to warm-up, operating at around 95 degrees centigrade. The soft tyre, which is still biased towards performance, works at 105 degrees. The medium tyre has improved consistency while maintaining high levels of grip and operates at 115 degrees. Finally, the hard tyre works at about 125 degrees, with less ultimate grip but plenty of performance stability. All these figures are approximate - and there is a wide temperature window during which they are working at their best - but they give an idea of the key differences between the compounds, which has been an important element of unlocking car performance this year.
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