Pirelli at centre of gripping tyre battle

Italian sole supplier wants rare consensus by teams while pushing for independent testing

In a season where it has become the norm for Formula One drivers to blame the rubber for not performing, the talk has reached the point of being tiresome - at least for Milan-based tyre supplier Pirelli's motorsport director Paul Hembery.

With the Italian company's F1 contract expiring at the end of next season, the outspoken Briton called on teams to be united and to engage in constructive debate in order for improvements to be made.

"Right now, there are so many vested interests in the sport," the 49-year-old told The Straits Times at Pirelli's Marina Bay paddock yesterday. "Some people need to look at the big picture a lot more. We need drivers, teams and ourselves to agree on what's required so we can get on with work."

Introducing wider rear tyres is one of the proposals being looked at for 2017 to make cars quicker, lighter and more aggressive.

Trouble is, consensus among F1 teams is rare. And even when they do agree, there are repercussions.

A few years back, Pirelli was asked to supply tyres of varying compounds which were "made to degrade", thereby enlivening each race while forcing teams and drivers to preserve their efficiency.

Inevitably, drivers complained their tyres were "going off" and that they could barely last a handful of flying laps.

At the Belgian Grand Prix last month, Pirelli had to deal with a furious Sebastian Vettel after his Ferrari's right rear tyre blew out.

Pirelli admitted its tyres needed to better resist small surface cuts caused by debris or by friction with a car part, but one must also factor in how drivers are taking more liberties in some run-off areas.

Reflecting on the criticism, Hembery said: "It comes with the territory of being a tyre supplier in a high-profile sport."

At the Italian GP a fortnight ago, Mercedes were accused of flouting tyre pressures mandated by Pirelli, but the race stewards found no case to answer.

After qualifying at the Singapore GP on Friday, Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff was quick to say Pirelli limits were "no contributing factor" to their failure to land either car in the top three on the grid.

On the season-long tyre debate, Hembery points to Pirelli not being allowed to independently test tyres on its own, which he regrets not setting as a condition during the last contract renewal talks in 2013.

"This time, if we are not allowed to test, we will not sign the deal," the Yeovil native added.

"What we have learnt from our time in F1 is that we need testing, and we need more data in a timely fashion from teams."

Rival company Michelin is reportedly bidding to re-enter the sport. It withdrew from F1 in 2006, a year after a farcical United States GP that went ahead with only six cars after all the Michelin-equipped teams pulled out on safety grounds.

The sport has had a sole supplier since then, with Bridgestone replaced by Pirelli in 2011.

Hembery remains confident that Pirelli can meet the demands of drivers who want to go faster with more grip on track.

He said: "There's a lot of performance we can find but without testing, we can't bring innovative solutions.

"If F1 is really serious about making races quicker and more exciting, it must realise Pirelli is the best partner for it."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2015, with the headline 'Pirelli at centre of gripping tyre battle'. Print Edition | Subscribe