Paul Hembery Q&A: F1's tyre debate
With tyres F1's current buzzword, Pirelli's motorsport boss spoke to Sky Sports F1's Simon Lazenby and Johnny Herbert in Bahrain to set the record straight
By Sky Sports F1. Last Updated: 19/04/13 11:18am
Simon Lazenby: Lot of talk about tyres at the moment. Let's just start with decisions here and your decision to switch the compounds after Malaysia....
Paul Hembery: "Yes, on the Sunday night after Malaysia we thought that race went ahead with not too many issues so we thought we'd bring the same combination here with it being very similar in terms of temperature and quite an abrasive track."
SL: How have you responded to certain amounts of criticism from some parts and some teams as to how the tyres are performing this year?
PH: "It's really bizarre because behind the scenes we've actually got a lot of lobbying from people telling us not to change things. There's obviously a media-led point of view which comes from the drivers and then behind the scenes we've had a lot of lobbying. I think there's now eight teams that have come to us, written to us, emailed us, saying 'whatever you do, don't change anything'. So we're in a bizarre situation really."
Johnny Herbert: Talking of drivers, when we were in China, after qualifying Lewis said that he thought that Fernando seems to be the best guy that looks after his tyres. Is this a factor that there is a difference between certain drivers that can do a better job than others?
PH: "Well it's certainly the case - it's good that it's the case in reality because the driver has an input. There are differences, as you've seen really. Between team-mates is the best descriptor as between cars as you know it's often very hard to know what are the real differences."
SL: Those arguments for and against Paul, if you're looking from a fans' perspective, we're getting great races - we all understand that - and it was the same last year. But from the drivers' perspective, some of them are saying they're having to go round at about 70%...
PH: "Well, you race to the package you've got. It's tyre-limited in some cases - it's been like that through history in many ways. You'll still find at the end of the race it's going to be the fastest car and the best driver on the day [that wins]. It's like saying 'can I have 100 horsepower more?', these engines could easily give you more. So it's where you want to take it.
We got asked 'can you replicate Canada 2010?' If you remember that race, that was quite a novel race compared to the format of the races at that period of time, and that's the input we've had and the impact we've been told to continue giving."
JH: Back in the late '80s and early '90s you had a similar situation there in that they were good for two or three laps, there was a bit of a drop thereafter, and one guy that was very famous for looking after them - Alain Prost, the Professor - was good at massaging them back. I think it's something we're starting to see again this time around, is that what you see?
PH: "I think that is the case. Also brakes at one stage in history, you had to look after your brakes and then go strong. Nigel Mansell himself was a famous charger and he could only have done that after managing his race. And you see it in other sports - Valentino Rosso was famous for charging through the field [in MotoGP].
"So that is an aspect that's there, it doesn't mean to say that everything's perfect, we get to see the cars like everyone else in Melbourne and seen the development of some cars has been vast - much more than anticipated. Last year we were looking at one second between 16, 17 cars in Q2, this year there's a big gap of almost up to two seconds. So the guys are the front are pushing a lot harder than we saw last year."
SL: The degradation in China on the softs was not much less than a second a lap. Was it too much?
PH: "Well we intended that really to be almost like a qualy tyre. They need to use it to get the time and then you found at the start of the race they had to pit early. The hope there was that more of the Q2 teams would take the harder option, they didn't actually and we were surprised by that because that would have enabled them to gain position on the circuit and that would have made it more interesting as the Q3 came charging through.
"So that was the idea - it wasn't intended really as a race proposition."
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SL: Everyone's in it together, we all want to see good racing, how do you go about developing your compounds for the season now. Are there little tweaks and adjustments as we get into Europe?
PH: We'll do a review actually after the race here on Sunday night and we'll probably decide what we're going to do Monday, Tuesday before we get to Spain.
"You've got to be careful because if you make changes during the season...say for example we make a change and one or two teams suddenly made a big jump forward, you'll be now be asking me 'you've just favoured a few other people'. So you're in a bit of a no-win situation and you've got to be really careful because if that does happen you are influencing the championship. If we make changes we've got to make it early on - you don't want to do it after eight or nine races because again that's going to favour probably one or two teams.
"Also bear in mind we were having the same conversations last year and by the end of the year nobody was talking about it. The teams have the best engineers in the world, the drivers are there at the top for good reason, they are intelligent people and work out how to get the best out of the package. You'll see the same as we go forward."
SL: Lewis Hamilton's saying he's having to change his technique and learn new techniques as a driver this year. I don't know if that's a suggestion that he used to be able to push coming out of the pits for a couple of laps and actually he's having to hold off now. Is that a technique or is that a strategy?
PH: "Kimi in Melbourne was probably a good example: in his final stint you saw him come out and he was being chased down at the rate of one and a half seconds and he did a couple of laps quite calmly and then he started going away and setting the fastest laps of the race. That was really about him trying to make sure he gets into the stint in the right manner.
"Bear in mind as well now that we're in the more extreme races - we're certainly not going to see this temperature at Silverstone are we! We're at 50+ track temperature and for the majority of the season you won't see that, it runs at around 25 degrees. So you're probably pushing the levels of degradation more here which probably explains why the end of each season we talk less [about the tyres] because the types of tracks we have, the surfaces are a lot less aggressive."