Pirelli aims equal treatment – Interview with Mario Isola

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According to Pirelli’s head of car racing Mario Isola, Formula One’s sole tyre supplier Pirelli has no intention to supply any products which would favour any teams. F1Technical.net’s Balázs Szabó sat down with the Italian to talk about the company’s plans regarding the sport’s future tyres and the way how Pirelli work together with the teams.

The Milan-based company made some alterations to its 2019 products including both sporting and technical changes. On the sporting side, the sport’s governing body FIA and the Commercial Rights’ Holder Liberty Media asked Pirelli to simplify the names it uses for its tyre range to make it easier for casual fans to understand the tyre rules. The range has been made smaller with just five different dry weather slick tyres on offer. After the first twelve races of the championship, Pirelli believe that the changes have been met with success.

“There is no more confusion regarding the colours or the names,” Isola started his assessment. “We also give information which are the compounds selected to each event. During the race events, it is much easier to talk about the soft, medium and hard compounds. We had seven compound and seven colours last year. I can understand that it was for spectators a bit too difficult, so I think the general feedback on this change is positive.”

Only one compound

In recent seasons, teams were often vocal when it came to the behaviour of Pirelli’s wet weather tyres. Part of the criticism was that these tyres did not behave consistently on different tracks and in different conditions. To make it easier for the teams, the sport’s tyre supplier re-worked its wet weather tyres and decreased the number of compounds of the intermediate and the full wet tyre from two to just one. “Last year, we had two compounds for intermediates and two compounds for wet. Because it was a bit difficult for the teams as they had different problems in different races, this year we designed a product with a wider working range that is able to cover different conditions.”

Interestingly, the pre-season testing and the race meetings of the first half of the year hardly offered any chance for teams and the tyre manufacturer to try out the 2019 wet tyres. However, in the eleventh round of the season, during the German Grand Prix, Pirelli was able to “collect proper feedback on the intermediate in race conditions, but we still have no feedback on the wet, because they used the wets for the first two, three laps.”

Just a coincidence

When the 2019 season kicked off in Australia in March, Pirelli came under heavy criticism for its new tyres. Several teams struggled to get the best out of thy tyres with many of them finding it hard to keep the 2019 Pirelli products in their working range. The criticism led to suggestions that the tyre manufacturer favoured the reigning world champion team Mercedes with introducing tyres with 0.4mm thinner tread that was tried out in three race weekends last year.

Isola was quick to dismiss any suggestion revolving around potential favouritism. “Mainly it is because of the design of their car. We don’t just focus on Mercedes, I can say that lots of teams work with the tyres quite well. Just look at McLaren, how McLaren are going compared to last year. It is not just the tyres, it is the design of the car. There are teams that are working well.”

“Toro Rosso, Red Bull were complaining a few races ago, and they are now using the tyres quite well. There is a learning curve, this is true. Some teams are able to understand the tyres better, and for some teams it takes a bit more time. In the second half of the season, they are learning and converging, using the tyres in a better way. “

Asked about the reasons why Sebastian Vettel has been finding it hard to make the tyres work, Isola said that he does not believe that the four-time world champion who was a master of Pirelli’s tyres when the company joined the sport in 2011 has bigger issues with this year’s Pirelli tyres than his rivals.

“The understeer is also related to the setup of the car. In general, in Germany, the intermediates were working quite well. We had chaning conditions for all the race, two hours. The intermediate tyres are designed to work with water on the track. If there is a dry line, you wear the tyres very quickly. After the race, we analysed all the tyres and they were worn, but they were in good condition. It is the same with the wet tyres. If you use extreme wet tyres in dry conditions, you wear the tyres very quickly. I don’t believe that Sebastian had any specific issues with the intermediate tyres.

No significant changes for next year

As Formula One prepares for an extensive technical overhaul for the 2021 season, the sport is also looking at a whole new approach to tyres too, as it prepares for a switch to 18-inch wheels. While only minor changes are planned for the next season, Pirelli is working on a set of modifications for 2021 including the working range and degradation characteristics of its products.

“For 2020, the technical regulation is stable, so there are no big changes. For 2021, on our side, we are developing new constructions, we are developing new compounds, the main target is to have a wider working range, most of the comments from this year were that our tyres are a bit too peaky.”

“That is why we are trying to develop tyres with a wider working range. You can do that both with a different construction and with different compounds. We are going this direction, trying to keep the number of the homologated compounds. If it is possible to reduce overheating even more because overheating is something which drivers don’t like. If they can push the tyres more, we have then better races. “

Formula One often has to face criticism for the less exciting races of the previous seasons. Apart from Mercedes’ seemingly never-ending domination, race strategies have also become predictable with most of the teams opting for very similar one-stop strategies. Reacting on this ongoing issue, Pirelli altered its approach for the 2018 season after the previous years saw teams aiming to complete the race distances with only one stop.

It was believed that softer tyres would contribute to more interesting race strategies. However, teams managed to overcome the higher degradation by adjusting the race pace in order to decrease tyre wear. Reflecting on this matter, Isola picked out the 2018 Monaco Grand Prix where top drivers were circling around eight seconds slower than the pole position time just to extend their first stint and cover the 78-lap race with only the one mandatory tyre change.

“In 2011, the aim of the team was to push, make the tyre degrade and stop three times, four times. With four [stops] it was too much, too confusing. It was also easier to overtake. In 2018, we went a lot softer with the compounds, we selected compounds with higher degradation, but the approach of the teams was completely different, they slowed down the cars in order to achieve a one-stop strategy, managing the pace and reducing the degradation,” concluded Isola.

For 2021, rather than pursuing a push for rapidly degrading tyres, Liberty Media and the FIA want to head down a route that will allow drivers to push harder for longer.