Pirelli: How Formula 1 tyres are made

BY CHERYL TAY

Tyres are a very important part of the car, being the only part of the vehicle that is in contact with the ground. Taking over as sole official tyre for Formula 1 this year is Italian tyre company Pirelli.

Paul Hembery (Photo courtesy of Pirelli)

During the Singapore Grand Prix last week, I had the opportunity to lunch with Paul Hembery, global motorsports director for Pirelli, who shared how challenging the F1 journey has been for the company thus far.

Hembery was based in Singapore during the inaugural Formula 1 SingTel Singapore Grand Prix in 2008. While watching the world's first and only night race, Hembery sent a text to his Chief Executive Officer saying "This is where we (Pirelli) need to be."

He was supposed to be posted to Russia next, after Singapore, and was undergoing training for his Russia project when the topic of Formula 1 came about. After some serious discussion within the company, a meeting was then set up with Bernie Ecclestone sometime in March. From there, things snowballed quickly and negotiations for the deal started going back and forth.

Finally, the deal was inked in June 2010.

With the contract only given to them at such short notice, Pirelli just had eight months to build the facilities and form a team to develop the tyres for Formula 1. It was a huge challenge putting everything together but Pirelli has been enjoying the process.

Within three months of being nominated as the official sole tyre supplier for Formula 1, the first tests took place and then the first official tests with teams took place in Abu Dhabi at the end of the 2010 season.

"At the moment, we're almost to the end of the season and everything is so intensive it feels as though it has been two to three years already. All of us work seven days 24 hours, but the results have been positive. Despite the championship being dominated by one car and one driver, people are still watching," said Hembery.

"Going forward, our commitment to Formula 1 is three years at the moment. We like to take a medium view; it's not something we are doing short term. Being in Formula 1 has a tremendous impact on our brand recognition globally.

The company's very ambitious — We want to grow and expand as a company, to create more awareness for our brand especially in the Asia region. In Europe and South America we are very well-known but in certain regions like Asia, we need to make ourselves more known. Formula 1 has six races in Asia and it's an ideal platform for us to make our presence known."

Pirelli is the sole official tyre provider for Formula One

Part of the brief from the Formula 1 teams and organiser included this task — "more overtaking, more pit stops, a better show and better races to remember". To create a Formula 1 tyre is not as simple as coming up with just one tyre — Pirelli had to come up with tyres for the entire season and these tyres had to be "equally effective on 20 different circuits, with hugely varying track and weather conditions, as well as on 12 different cars with 24 potentially different driving styles."

In the Pirelli Milan research laboratory, 150 research engineers work just on Formula 1and at the motorsport department in Izmit, Turkey, about 200 people work in the Formula 1 department to put theory into practice and finished tyres are produced here. They are then taken to an experimental test centre in Milan for physical tests and simulations.

The tyres are accelerated to 450km/h by special machines and subjected to loads four times greater than those experienced during normal usage, for periods of time up to 20 times longer than usual. This scientific evaluation recreates conditions commonly occurred in Formula 1, such as vertical forces superior to 1,000kg, longitudinal acceleration equivalent to 5G, tread pattern temperatures higher than 150 degrees and impacts with kerbs at 260km/h.

Only tyres that survive these tests will move on to the next stage of development. When the data from the practical tests matches the theoretical results, then the tyres will move on to a real circuit for testing.

Altogether, Pirelli has done 13 tests in Europe and the Middle East, covering 18,000km during private testing with circuits in Barcelona, Monza, Jerez de la Frontera, Le Castellet, Mugello, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain. Finally, only those that survive can then be part of the final selection offered to the Formula 1 teams.

There are four slick tyres in 2011 — supersoft, soft, medium, hard — and two rain tyres — intermediate and wet. Pirelli takes about 1,800 tyres to each race, in the two compounds that are pre-selected for each Grand Prix, as well as a supply of rain tyres in case of wet weather. Each team also has a dedicated Pirelli engineer who is continuously monitoring the tyres.

Here are some fun facts of the Pirelli P-Zero Formula 1 tyre in numbers:

  • Over 100 elements in each tyre
  • 18 structural components
  • 5 hours of work needed to make each tyre
  • Total weight of a front wheel and tyre = 8.5kg approx
  • Total weight of a rear wheel and tyre = 9.5kg approx
  • About 1,800 tyres are taken to each Grand Prix
  • 30 laps is the average working life of each tyre under race conditions
  • 450km/h is the maximum speed reached by tyres during lab tests
  • 260km/h is the speed at which tyres were impacted against kerbs during testing
  • 5G of longitudinal acceleration affects each tyre (4.5G is vertical acceleration)
  • 150 degrees Celsius is the temperature the tread pattern is exposed to in lab testing
  • Contact patch increases 3 times in size under full aerodynamic load

Passionate about cars and motorsports, Cheryl Tay is a familiar face in prominent local, regional as well as international automotive titles. More of her at www.cheryl-tay.com.

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