Pirelli reveals complexity of F1’s restart plans

Pirelli’s head of Formula 1 and car racing Mario Isola has revealed the complex challenges that lie ahead for his company if grands prix are to restart in July, but he sees no insurmountable obstacle that could stop the sport getting the show back on the road.

Speaking exclusively to Motorsport.com as part of the #thinkingforward series of discussions on motor racing’s response to the coronavirus crisis, Isola said that Pirelli had some tough tasks to solve – which include ramping up tyre production in response to a compressed calendar, as well as finding solutions to minimise the risk of virus transmission between his staff and F1 teams at events.

“We need to be 100% sure that we are in a position to supply the tyres, otherwise the event cannot be organised,” said Isola.

Isola said that the calling off of the early season races had left Pirelli with a stockpile of tyres that could be used at the first races, but up to 35,000 more tyres would need to be produced quickly once a calendar had been released.

As part of an effort to help Pirelli deliver what is needed, it is likely that F1 will move away from offering teams a choice of compounds for races as has had happened in recent years.

“We are trying to work with an approach of flexibility,” he explained. “The current regulation says that we need to know the tyres in advance, by eight weeks for European events and 14 weeks for overseas events. Obviously this is not valid in this particular situation.

“That’s why we recovered all the tyres that were shipped to Bahrain, Vietnam, and we have been able to stop the tyres that were leaving for China. On top of that, we already started the production for another couple of events. So we have a stock of tyres that is available immediately for usage.

“We have some tyres in stock in Didcot, and we have some tyres in stock in our factory in Romania. Once we have the calendar, we have just to organise the trucks to bring the tyres to the event and the people to the events. The equipment for European events is slightly less complicated because we use trucks and not containers.

“But obviously we need visibility on a longer period, to be sure that we are able to supply not just the first or first couple of events but the rest of the season also.

“If we have the first part of the season in Europe and then we move to Asia, and America, in a very short period, it means that for production, it will be quite a busy period.

“We probably have to produce something in the region of roughly 35,000 tyres in probably a couple of months. Not in one year. You can imagine the impact on production. That is quite big.

“We are having discussion with the teams. And I have to say that they are quite flexible in order to find sensible solutions like, for example, standard allocation or some flexibility in this respect to be ready to supply in a very short period of time.”

Once racing resumes, Isola thinks that beyond cutting back on marketing and communications staff, his company will still need to send its usual amount of tyre fitters, engineers and technician to races – totalling around 45 people.

However, careful planning of its operating space, plus shift work, would minimise the dangers of staff being put too close together and ensure that social distancing could still be respected.

With F1 planning for teams to remain in their own ‘bubble’ at events – so they do not mix with other competitors – Isola said that one thing that still needed resolving was how companies like his that work across all outfits can safely operate.

“I know the plan of Formula 1 to keep the teams as a ‘bubble’ to avoid contacts between teams. The problem is that we are everywhere,” he said.

“Pirelli is in every garage with one engineer, and we already discussed that. One question was if it is possible to allocate a space in the garage just for the Pirelli engineer, the tyres and Pirelli technician in order to avoid contact with the team.

“We also have to understand how to attend meetings inside the teams. I prefer if they can do that via video conference for example, because the problem is that if we have anybody in Pirelli that is positive, then the risk is that we spread the virus inside all the 10 teams, or everywhere in the paddock.

“It’s a problem that is not just affecting Pirelli, it is affecting all the companies and associations that have contact with all the teams. You can think of the FIA: the FIA has contact with all the teams, for example, different suppliers, helmets, or brakes or any other component that is available to more than one team. So we need also specific procedures and protocols for providers that have this kind of job inside the paddock.”

With Pirelli not covered by the current factory shutdowns that have been enforced on F1 teams, Isola said that development work was continuing on the 18-inch tyres that were now coming for 2022.

“Obviously we cannot do any outdoor tests. But last week we started our activities, for example with indoor testing,” he said.

“We are not subject to the shutdown, like the teams are, so we are working and we can make some analysis or some prototypes to be tested with our indoor facilities before going on track next year.”

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