Mat Coch writes:
Returning to the sport for the first time in almost two decades, Pirelli may have bitten off more than it can chew if rumblings in the paddock are to be believed.
With the first pre-season test of 2011 barely under way the Italian company has come in for some criticism, most notably from Ferrari's Fernando Alonso.
Speaking with Germany's Auto Motor und Sport, Alonso said the tyres "degrade quite a lot, especially the rears, and the lap times are not consistent." The Spaniard's complaints appear to be fair, a photo comparison of the circuit shows it littered with chunks of rubber off the racing line.
Taken from the same corner a year apart the images appear to highlight Pirelli's increased degradation (above) over the Bridgestones used in 2010 (below).
When contacted by Pitpass in response to the abundance of marbles Paul Hembery, Pirelli's Motorsport Director said: "As we weren't present at the official Valencia test last year, it's hard for us to make comparisons at the moment. The amount of marbles depends greatly on track temperatures and compounds used, as well as the time taken for optimal working temperatures to be reached. From our information, most of the tests held here last year were in rainy conditions."
While Alonso's comments were not flattering one insider has gone even further, suggesting the Pirelli tyres are so bad they could be considered "dangerous". Gary Paffet, a highly experienced test driver who has been with McLaren since 2006, was more diplomatic in his assessment. "Happily, the wear issues we experienced in Abu Dhabi have definitely improved," he said, "we saw better wear patterns and fewer problems with the tyres. It's useful to understand how the tyres go off, and how the balance changes once they do."
The comments suggest Pirelli has a lot of work ahead of it as it comes to grips - no pun intended - with the pressure associated with Formula One, though Hembery says the company is ready to meet the challenge: "The pressure is a normal part of our work," he says. "We want to achieve excellent results and so we have always been working to a tight time schedule. We will of course learn much more as we make progress, and we pay a lot of attention to the feedback and data we obtain from testing. Naturally, the teams have their own competitive agenda, which is a constant element of Formula One."
However, not everyone one in the Pirelli camp shares Hembery's optimism, with some staff members already understood to be abandoning ship even before the opening race of the season. Indeed, the situation has been described by insiders as "a disaster waiting to happen", suggesting Pirelli has no idea and little organisation. Such assertions back up Alonso, who bemoaned the lack of track time because there simply aren't enough tyres on hand.
Pirelli has constantly faced tight deadlines, only announcing its intention to bid for the supply of tyres to Formula One in April last year. Less than two months later it was announced that the Italian firm had secured the contract. Work then began in earnest, the company began testing in August using a 2009 spec Toyota before an open test in Abu Dhabi at the end of the season gave the teams their first taste of the rubber.
With just a few weeks before the opening round of the championship in Bahrain, Pirelli looks to have its work cut out not only in satisfying the concerns the drivers and teams, but even members of its own staff.