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Exclusive: Pirelli: We will do whatever F1 needs

NEWS STORY
24/05/2012

Mat Coch writes:

Pirelli will do whatever the sport deems necessary to encourage teams to take part in the final phase of qualifying.

F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone has told Pitpass Business Editor Chris Sylt that he wants to give teams more tyres for qualifying. With drivers making it through to the final phase of qualifying having to start the race on the same tyres they set their fastest lap on many have simply opted not to run.

It's reduced the climactic final phase of qualifying, where drivers should by rights be battling for pole position, to the farcical situation where many of the fastest drivers don't run in order to save tyres for the race.

"We've been quite consistent from last year in saying we'll do what the sport requires," Pirelli boss Paul Hembery told Pitpass today. "We said that extra tyres, qualifying tyres, might be an idea, we're willing to come up with a solution."

Discussed among the teams last season it was decided that not having cars run in qualifying was as interesting to fans for tactical reasons as those taking part. "If we have to take a position, we'd prefer to see the cars running," Hembery admits.

"We can appreciate some fans not enjoying qualifying when three or four aren't running but we also have to take into account the view of the teams," he adds. "The teams at the time were of the opinion that the non-running of some cars was actually of tactical interest to fans and there was nothing wrong with qualifying as TV figures were actually up."

It's a view however that now looks to have changed, a point given weight thanks to Ecclestone's comments. "Whatever it needs we're willing to do," insists Hembery. "We've always told him that and we made that clear at an F1 Commission meeting that 'you guys have got to tell us what you want and we'll come up with solutions'.

"We can go to the extreme of giving everyone two sets of qualifying tyres or just giving a new set of tyres to the teams who are in Q3, for example, which forces them to run a set of tyres that they'd lose. There are ways of doing it. It would likely be more costly to ourselves but if it improves the show we're willing to make the investment."

Tyres were recurring themes in Pitpass' latest Talking Point with many lamenting the fact that drivers are unable to push their cars to the limit, a point we put to Hembery. "I think it's a misconception," he says. "You drive to the maximum performance of the package and the drivers are still driving very, very fast. If you want to go back to having driving at the limit of everything then you end up with a procession, which is what happened, it's what we were asked to do.

"At the end of last year we had the teams saying they wanted an extra technical challenge," he continues. "The other aspect of this season that's not coming out as clearly is the closeness of the performance of the cars. Last year there might have been 3.5 or 4 seconds between the top sixteen or eighteen cars. This year that's under 1.5 seconds. That means every small difference has a dramatic impact on position in either qualifying or in the race.

"Think back to last year," he adds. "We used the soft tyre in particular for 18 out of 19 races. In many ways we made it rather easy for teams to just focus the tuning and development of the chassis around one particular tyre. This year we have made the tyres softer because, apart from maybe a couple of teams, a lot of the cars were struggling to get the harder and medium compound working well. We were perhaps a little bit too conservative.

"In the pit stops this year we're seeing possibly a few less than last season. Saying that, wear levels are very similar but what we did do was soften up the medium and hard compounds which means that in certain extreme conditions, and Bahrain was probably pushing it to an extreme, you might run in to areas that you're struggling if you're not looking after them right, or not having a strategy that maximises what you've got.

"Is it too much? I don't know," he admits. "I was just looking at the practice here (FP1 in Monaco) and it's not as if you're seeing a car that hasn't won this year in the top group. You've got the Williams' there and you've got the Saubers showing well and you've got McLaren, Red Bull and Ferrari. Here in Monaco where you're working with, let's say not an aero circuit but it's all to do with mechanical grip, you're still seeing the cars that have been competitive this year.

"It's a complex case. We did change the tyres, but the cars have changed quite considerably and that change hit probably the top teams more than everyone else because they're the ones who mastered the blown diffusers and had a huge advantage, particularly on the high speed circuits.

"You can't please everyone," he adds, "we understand that, but if anyone wants to suggest the five drivers who have won races haven't justified it, or aren't great drivers, I think that would be a rather strange thing to say."

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