Badger’s Sarah Merritt took the opportunity to chat to Pirelli’s Paul Hembery at the Autosport Show recently, and discuss the new spec 2017 tyres, as well as her favourite topic of Fan Engagement – which Paul wants to hear opinions from you!

As we all know, there are many changes to the 2017 regulations for Formula 1, and these include changes to the tyres, supplied by Pirelli. The front tyre, which is currently 245mm wide, will increase to 305mm, while the rear will grow from 325mm to 405mm, giving us 305/670-13 at the front and 405/670-13 at the rear (with the total diameter increasing from 660mm to 670mm). The diameter of the wheel rim itself will remain at 13 inches.

In case you can’t imagine exactly what these will look like, here are a few pictures that I took of the 2017 tyres on display at the Pirelli Stand at Autosport – a great opportunity for fans to see them up close.

The Pirelli stand at such events is always a great place to visit and interact, with various cars on display from all of the motorsport categories that Pirelli work with alongside a chance to race in their simulator, test your reaction skills at Batak, and see if you can be as fast as teams when you have a go at the Pit Stop Challenge.

I took the opportunity to meet with Paul Hembery, Motorsport Director at Pirelli, whilst he was at the show, and we sat atop the Pirelli stand itself and chatted about all things tyre-related.

Sarah Merritt: Great to see you again Paul. I’ve just been downstairs on the stand looking at the display of the 2017 season tyres, and they look great! Like the cars of old, and I think the days of me being able to pick them up for a photo may now have passed!

Paul Hembery: They are big, yes!

SM: Obviously we all know the statistics of the dimensions and the logic that with wider tyres and a greater contact area with the track, we get greater grip. You’ve been testing with three of the teams with a 2016 mule car, and whilst I appreciate the financial constraints on teams that may have led to it, were you a little disappointed that more weren’t involved? Would it have made for better results?

PH: In reality, no. Three is more than adequate because managing more teams is actually then the challenge. Three of the better-funded teams have gone out there and provided us with a good baseline to do our first screening. Of course, the cars were actually five seconds slower than we will see this year, so there are limitations to the work we could do in any case. We are very pleased by the support we were given by those teams, and now, we are just excited to get them on the actual cars.

SM: How accurate are the results that you feel are achieved with those 2016 adapted cars – as close as is possible?

PH: Realistically, it was as good as we were going to get because the teams couldn’t give us a 2017 car for obvious reasons – they were banned from doing that – so in the circumstances, we couldn’t have expected any more.

Having said that, the interesting part now is to understand the simulation data if the actual cars match it, so when we get going with the actual cars, do we have the downforce and performance levels that were anticipated during our development phase? That really is for us the phase that is missing. We’re quite excited because, as you mentioned earlier, the wider tyres look amazing, and when you see the design of the cars, fans, in particular, are going to think, yes, that looks an aggressive Formula 1 car, and that I think is a great step forward for the sport.

Image: Scuderia Ferrari Media

SM: Regarding the possible speed gains, which I guess is what a lot of fans are interested in, I’ve read about a potential gain of two seconds a lap from the wider track and tyres, and two seconds from greater downforce – so a total of four seconds. Is that realistic, or will we really only know in Barcelona at the first test?

PH: The target we were all given was five seconds compared to Barcelona 2015, so not last year, where we have already gained two seconds, and that five seconds is realistic.

SM: I’ve read that the new construction technologies that Pirelli have used allow for greater distribution of force within the bead area – does this perhaps mean that teams will and push the boundaries on the number of recommended laps, or does it mean that a tyre will now behave “gracefully” when it reaches its end of life?

PH: It’s going to be interesting because with the compound that we’ve got – with less degradation and less wear – you are going to see fewer tyre stops. That means that the cycle that the tyre is going to go under will be slightly increased, and it will be on the car for longer.

We designed the tyres – or you could say we over-designed them from our perspective – to last for two Grand Prix – that’s essentially where we are aiming for in terms of structure. If the tyre is used correctly there should be no reason for any challenges from that point of view. Of course, you don’t know if one team had come up with some genius idea to gain performance that we haven’t foreseen which might place the tyre under a different type of loading or a different type of usage, and that’s something that, quite honestly, we will only discover as the season starts.

SM: We always talk about Fan Engagement, so it would be remiss of me not to mention it to you, and it was certainly great that Pirelli involved fans in the choosing of purple for the Ultrasoft tyre last season – not to mention how supportive you were in supplying your signature caps to us for a Badger GP Bash.

Do you think that there are other ways that Pirelli can reach out to fans more, as seems to be the move with the arrival of Liberty Media, and new sponsors like Heineken?

The Biggest Pirelli Podium Ever? (Photo: Badger GP)

PH: What more do you want?

SM: Well, I’d like to see fans invited in to view the tyre tests, for instance. There are things that you do, and as you are doing them anyway, they could be a chance to just invite fans in!

PH: Well, sometimes it becomes a problem with actually managing and controlling people, and it’s not even the cost, it is more that if, say 2000 people turned up, and you haven’t planned for it, you have a safety issue. It’s not always that easy.

Also, if we have open tests and we have the media there, we then spend a lot of time being asked exactly what it was we were just testing, and then we have to say ‘I can’t tell you’ when all you want to get on with your work.

Having said that, going forward this year, when we have 25 days of in-season tyre testing, there probably is scope for the fans to come and follow those tests if they want to. Testing can be really boring just watching ones or two cars going round though…

SM: No it isn’t! I tell you what was really great, for me, before I’d even been to an F1 race, one of my first experiences of seeing a real car was at a test. I think for some people, that may be all they can afford, as we all know how expensive the race tickets can be, so I think knowing that you could go somewhere for say, £20, would mean a fan can go and see a real car and hear the noise in person, not just on television. It might be the only chance they have!

PH: Well, I’d like you to ask fans what it is they want. What would they like us to do? And then let me know.

So there you have it – we’d like to hear from you about what you think Pirelli could do for fans, so tweet us in your suggestions and ideas, and we will collate those and feed back to Paul and his team at Pirelli.

It’s a great opportunity, so get your thinking caps on, and watch this space!

Many thanks to Paul for his time, and showing us that Pirelli is interested in Fan Engagement!