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Talking with Roberto Boccafogli

NEWS STORY
06/08/2014

I was recently afforded the opportunity to chat with Roberto Boccafogli the Head of F1 Communications with Pirelli. However, long before joining the Italian manufacturer, Roberto's life had been almost entirely entiwned in the sport, as a journalist, editor author and broadcaster.

In terms of his multifaceted career in motor sport, and F1 in particular, I began by asking how different it is to write and talk about F1 from inside the Circus.

"Not so different, in reality," he replied. "There is lots of travelling, airport lounges and hotels. After half the season, you feel you are always either leaving or coming back. However, nearly all the people you meet and to talk in the paddock, go through very similar rituals.

"In the paddock, and especially at Pirelli hospitality, it soon becomes like a club: everybody know everybody, you talk each other of home and family as 'the other life'. F1 things become more and more central.

"The difference with the past is that now I know some more 'inside' facts and news thanks to my position at Pirelli. This adds much interest in the weekend... and also the need to hide some things from my ex-colleagues."

I then sought his view on the sport's evolution over the last twenty years, and if he might perhaps select five particular events from the period that had changed the sport.

"Senna's death," he immediately replied. "You know when something bad happens to somebody close to you and you feel sorrow but very deeply yourself you think 'it can't happen to me'? It happened to Ayrton, and we were all so shocked like it had happened inside our family, or among close friends. The strongest ever had died: we all felt weaker.

"Then there was Schumacher to Ferrari (1996), together they really gave birth to a new era in F1.

"Then, the increasing power to the cars companies (manufacturers). It brought the technical and technological fight to an incredibly high level, but also it made the cost gigantic.

"Also the increasing number of circuits which allow drivers to make any possible mistake with no personal risk, consequently less sense of appreciating 'drivers like heroes'.

"Finally, the new meaning of F1 produced by Red Bull's attitude and success: from 2010 on they made the previous F1 look old."

"How different is the Circus today?" I asked. "Do you miss the crowded paddock of the early '90s?"

"There are less people, indeed," he replies. "It's more and more a closed club now. But then I honestly don't remember such a crowded paddock in those times anyway... The very big difference is that in the 90s you could happen to meet a top driver and have a chat with him. Today, for a journalist, that's nearly impossible."

Obviously, we cannot avoid talking about tyres, and even knowing this might be a sensitive question, I ask if the sport is missing out in having just one tyre supplier and would Pirelli want to be involved in a tyre war.

"I don't think F1 misses a tyre-war," he replies. "The situation today was chosen by F1's powers-that-be, the FIA and the teams. We know the reasons, it's tied to saving money. With a new tyre war, costs would quickly increase. As for last part of the question, Pirelli is in F1 aware of this situation. If it changes, Pirelli will evaluate."

(Pirelli motorsport boss) Paul Hembery says the two tyre rule is good for Pirelli from a branding perspective. Why is that the case and are there any metrics which support that?

"His view is based entirely on reputable metrics supporting this point," replies Roberto. "Today it's often said that F1 is living in a period of crisis. It can be true, as it is for many other sports. The recent worldwide economic crisis affected everything, including F1. But Pirelli is historically connected with motorsport, and F1 remains, by far, the best showcase of top motor-racing."

In view of some of the negative press that Pirelli has received – much of it wholly undeserved – from the teams and so on, why does it continue? What measurable benefit has being in Formula One had for Pirelli?

"The benefit is definitely big," he replies. "F1 offers an incredibly wide, worldwide, perspective. And, all things considered, teams don't give a bad press to Pirelli at all. Look at this season: somebody is sometimes complaining about Pirellis being too hard. But it's exactly what F1 asked after the past seasons, when the common goal was to have races with more and more, with tyres going off quickly in order to add some thrill to the GPs.

"Maybe it had gone a little bit too far in that direction, and things have been changed by a totally shared agreement. 2014 had to be finally focussed by the end of the 2013 season, when nobody knew totally what this year's F1 cars would be generating in terms of aerodynamic load (which is well reduced) and hugely increased engine torque due to the adoption of the turbos. That's why tyres are now more consistent than last year. And not every team can count on aero-load enough to use them properly. But some can..."

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