The newly crowned two-time Formula One world champion, Sebastian Vettel, took on Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery in a unique tyre fitting challenge at the Buddh International Circuit in India yesterday afternoon.
Vettel and Hembery both had to fit a P Zero tyre from scratch: involving mounting the tyre on the rim, inflating it to the right pressure and balancing it to the correct weight. Watching them were television crews from all over the world, waiting to see if years of experience in the tyre industry could outdo the competitive instinct of a world champion.
Fitting a tyre is a physically demanding job that calls for plenty of precision at the same time: each tyre has to be levered onto the rim by hand after the edge is coated in a special glue, while the tyre pressure and balancing weight has to be exactly right.
Pirelli brings a team of around 20 experienced tyre fitters to each event, and it takes them approximately two and a half minutes to fit one tyre. With the help of a Pirelli ‘instructor’ each, Vettel and Hembery successfully completed the challenge – but they both took a little longer than the professional fitters.
Vettel completed the P Zero challenge in 5m13s, whereas Hembery took 5m44s: meaning that the Red Bull Racing driver was once again declared a winner. Afterwards, Vettel met Pirelli’s team of fitters and spent some time talking to them about their jobs.
“We’re getting used to seeing Sebastian winning everything!” said Hembery afterwards. “It was tough actually: I’ve not fitted a tyre for about 15 years and Sebastian had never done it at all. Well done to him: you can see that he’s got a real competitive spirit and exact attention to detail in absolutely everything he does. I don’t think that either of us got the pressure or the balancing exactly right: Sebastian still had 65 PSI in his tyre but I didn’t want to try and ruin his winning streak… The main thing is that it was a lot of fun and it made us appreciate once again the essential contribution of all our fitters to the sport.”
Sebastian Vettel added: “It was good fun and interesting to have the duel against Paul. Last time I did something similar was in karting. When the Pirelli boys explained it to us it looked much easier than it actually was. Paul and I were pretty close timewise and then towards the end my tyre decided to jump a bit earlier onto the rim, so I was controlling the lead until the chequered flag.”
Today the fun stops and the serious work begins, as the drivers have their very first taste of the brand new Buddh International Circuit. Pirelli will fit nearly 1800 tyres this weekend – but the two P Zero Orange rain tyres mounted by Vettel and Hembery will luckily not be finding their way onto any of the cars.
As a souvenir of the occasion, both Vettel and Hembery were presented with prizes: Vettel received a 50% scale Pirelli wind tunnel tyre, while Hembery was given a carbon fibre component of the 2010 title-winning Red Bull Racing car.
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