The Badger team were out in force at the Autosports show this weekend, and Sarah Merritt was lucky enough to catch up with Paul Hembery from Pirelli.

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On the new 2016 regulations

“It’s obviously an interesting change for the teams having the ability to choose the compound from the three nominated for each race. I’m quite sure that is going to throw up a few variations in the first races, and that could lead to some different strategies on the race weekends.

Probably during the year, that will normalise a little bit, as teams get to understand patterns, and you’ll find that competing teams or those that are very close together in performance will follow as well as they can their competitor.

Hopefully, it will lead to something like 2012/2013 where Force India, Lotus, and Sauber were able to take a different approach, and maybe divide strategies between cars and that was able in the end to provide them with a result that was probably in excess of where their qualifying position was. That is still the real hope, and it would be pretty good if a few teams do split the strategies between the drivers.

I’ve not seen the choices, I’m not sure when we are allowed to see them, but it won’t be for us to talk about it, it’s going to be the FIA who announce the choices made by the teams, I’m just led to believe that there are variations, so that will I hope provide that element of surprise!”

On Tyre Testing for 2017

“In the previous two years, we have had one day, and we are now up to 12 days for 2017 and during 2016 to prepare for 2017, so that’s a big step forward.

We need a minimum of 30,000km testing; it’s a big change going to the 300mm width front and 400mm width rear. We still need the definition of the regulation, that’s not totally clear yet what that will be. Having said that, we know that at least having 30,000km testing will mean that we have a good chance of getting close to what’s required.

We were asking for a very clear “definition of the target” letter, we want to understand clearly what it is the sport wants to avoid the perception that different people want different things, so we really need the team, the promoter, the FIA and the drivers as well themselves to all agree, or at least understand what the objectives are and then know that that’s the direction we are going in.”

On Pirelli’s Contribution to Raw Speed in 2017

“Of course, going to wider tyres, it’s clear you’ll have more tyre on the road, and more grip, more performance, and that in itself will account for 1.5 to 2 seconds without pushing too hard.

In terms of performance, with the natural evolution of the car, teams are already saying that between ’15 and ’17 they’ll be looking at 2 seconds. So overall, 4, or potentially 5 seconds is the performance gain that’s being looked at without overly changing the aero loadings that we see today, maybe 15-20% up on what last year’s cars were.

There was talk of going for 60-70% figures in aero load, but that would have required a very substantial re-engineering of the tyre, well away from the type of products that we see today. It was felt that would be such a major engineering job for everybody, and it would create, certainly for Pirelli, a big challenge, but also I think for the teams, to have to get used to a very different type of product.

You also have to bear in mind that all of that performance is going to be in cornering. It’s not going to be straight line, there’s going to be a bit more drag in a straight line, so 5 seconds in the corners monumentally improves the performance.

Bearing in mind that today, the cars are 120 to 130 kilos more than what they used to, if you took that out of the cars that’s 3.5 seconds performance compared to the past, so the cars today are already substantially fast and there’s no refuelling today either.

The cars where they are today are already very, very high performance. We see at Silverstone, and at Spa that they are 5 or 6 seconds a lap quicker than an LMP1 car, which at the end of the day is 4 wheel drive, traction controlled, 1000bhp, huge down force, so a Formula 1 car is a very high performance car.

When we came to the sport, we were clearly given indications that cornering speeds need to be controlled for safety reasons. We’re now being asked to go quicker, and I think we all make sure that we’re not creating an own goal. We have to be a little bit pragmatic on these things – if you’re in a circuit or you are watching on television, you can’t see speed anyway. What you can see is overtaking battles – that’s really what people need.

I don’t think people will watch the sport more because we’re lapping 5 seconds quicker, they’ll watch the sport more on what you see, the images, and not what the commentator says on the television.

I try to explain this to people, if you go to a football match, you don’t have to have John Motson telling you in your ear that Messi is doing something amazing on the pitch. You have the crowd with you, and you’re watching it, and you understand what’s going on.

That’s no different to if you’re at a race circuit – if you see an overtaking battle, you don’t need a commentator to tell you. Turn the volume down on the television, not to discredit the wonderful people at Sky, BBC or Channel 4, but it’s what you’re seeing on the television screen. As we know, a lot of people go to bars to watch sport, be it football or whatever, and the volume is turned down. It is what you are seeing on the screen that will compel you to say this is exciting or not.”

On The Pirelli Decision Not To Bid To Supply MotoGP

“We are very happy with Superbikes. Of course that’s historically been the cornerstone of our circuit motorcycle racing – it’s extremely popular – and it links very nicely with the road bikes. That works for us, and I think it was felt that to do MotoGP as well, maybe that was overkill.

And of course, MotoGP without Valentino Rossi, that will be an interesting thing as well. That was something that we also considered. I think if Valentino was 22/23 years old, we might have had a different viewpoint, being an Italian company, but I’m sure that at some point over the next few years he’ll be thinking of retirement.

He’s a great character, and has been a fantastic ambassador for Italian motorsport. We could do with a Valentino Rossi in Formula 1, actually, as an Italian company that would be our great desire and I’m sure Ferrari would say the same. It is 60 years since Italy had a Formula 1 champion, and that’s far too long.


On Fan Engagement – following Pirelli’s vote on Social Media that selected purple as the tyre marking colour for the new Ultrasoft – could the Tyre tests be opened up to fans to continue that engagement?

“We might well do that, actually. We are going to do 12 days testing, as I said, and probably two days at a time, and certainly, they are going to be varied tests in F1 circuits. You can imagine the sort of circuits we go to, the classics – Barcelona, possibly Silverstone. We’d be quite happy to open that up if it doesn’t create a problem for the circuit, in terms of organising.”

And Paul Ricard this month? A circuit may fans might not have had the chance to visit.

“That’s a tough one though, because of the way it is structured. Sometimes there are all sorts of practical considerations; it’s not just ourselves as such, but that’s something which certainly we should take into account, and if it’s something the fans would like then that gives us a nice opportunity to interact with them – maybe an opportunity to do a little event, bring the motor home along and give you all some tea and coffee!”

With all of the staff overheads, research and develop costs for the compounds, and the huge number of tyres Pirelli have to bring to an F1 weekend, is it possible to put a hypothetical value on a tyre?

“I try not to do that, I don’t want to scare my bosses!

There’s certainly the material costs and manufacturing costs, but as you rightly say, that doesn’t take into account the research and development, the sponsoring involved in being in Formula 1, so if you did divide that up against the tyres, it would be a very substantial cost per tyre.”

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Regarding personalities on the grid, is there anyone that Paul has been starstruck in the presence of? (Apart from Bernie!)

“Not Bernie no, he’s just one of the more expensive people that I deal with! Reassuringly expensive, as he tells me…!

I’ve had many years in motorsport, and you see a lot of people come and go, but I think there’s only one person. I had an interesting situation. It was in Abu Dhabi, a few years ago, and I was in the pit lane, headphones on, and I looked up at the big screen and the camera came on me, and some guy stood next to me.

I didn’t really want to look, and I knew they weren’t focusing on me, because I wasn’t particularly important at that point in time, and I couldn’t recognise who it was without looking, so I said on the radio to my team ‘I know the camera’s are on me, I’m on the screen, who the hells this bloke stood next to me?’ and they said it was Paul McCartney! You could see me on the screen go ‘Oh *@$&’!

I did just then turn around and say hello to him. I mean if you’re a Brit, he’s up there with royalty, iconic. But everyone else? Well quite frankly, they’re just people, aren’t they? Maybe if Winston Churchill was still around and came to an F1 race, I might be a bit star struck, but I don’t tend to.

There’s a lot of beautiful women though, that come to races….I guess we are fortunate as we do make a calendar every year and we have a lots of supermodels in it, and I think the one model that I have met over the years, well seen I should say, met would be stretching it a bit as saying hello isn’t quite meeting – that was Helena Christensen. She’s probably one of the most beautiful women I’ve seen.”

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If we’ve calculated correctly, Paul has a big birthday this year! Anything special planned to celebrate?

“We don’t want to talk about that! Well obviously I need Melbourne to go very well the day before, but at midnight, I will be partying very heavily! I was thinking, at one stage, of taking a plane very early in the morning on the 21st March to LA, because then I could have two birthday parties, with the time difference.

It sounds like I’ve got some good friends coming down and we’ll be decamping to Sydney for a night out as well, then I’m flying to LA for another party with my friends there, and then I’m coming back to Europe where the weekend after, I’ll be having the third and final part of my half century celebrations.” (We didn’t mention the number, Paul!)