The last day of school this year came first in the world of Superbike as the 12th championship with Pirelli as the single tyre manufacturer officially ended in Qatar on 18 October. WRC cars turned off their engines for the 2015 season nearly a month later, in the Welsh hills on 15 November. The last to leave the classroom—sorry, pit lane—were all the Formula One drivers, with their final race of 2015 having been fought out on 29 November amid the dunes and skyscrapers of Abu Dhabi.
The time for a much-deserved break in motorsports has come; time to turn off the engines, hang up the torque guns, put the tyre warmers back on, and head back to the garage for the season’s longest refuelling. This time, though, it’s more about recharging the metaphorical batteries as engineers wait to hit the tarmac again on race tracks around the world.
We are never far from our tyres
At least, that’s what people tend to imagine.
They can just picture Giorgio Barbier, Pirelli’s Motorcycle Racing Director, away on a golfing holiday, enjoying this secret passion of his as he pursues the perfect swing; or Mario Isola, racing manager at Pirelli, doing volunteer work behind the wheel of an ambulance; or maybe Max Damiani, Pirelli F1® chief engineer, back spending time with the family and playing with his kids. And what about Paul Hembery, Motorsport Director for Pirelli, preparing homemade fish and chips as he enjoys his home-away-from-home in Milan? In fact, this is how we actually can see them in a video shot to say goodbye until next season, but that’s not exactly how it goes. At Pirelli, we are never far from our tyres.
It should come as no surprise, then, to see Pirelli engineers back on the track just a few short days after the close of the Superbike championship, from 27 to 28 October in Aragòn (Spain), from 3 to 4 November in Jerez (Spain), again in Aragòn from 16 to 17 November and, finally, from 23 to 27 November back in Jerez. Of course, what they were doing there was private testing prior to the official test sessions to be held during the run-up to the first race of 2016, on Phillip Island from 22 to 23 February.
At least they can stay home in January, you might say. But no, in January they have three more days of testing in Portimão (Portugal) followed by three days in Jerez before heading back to Aragòn for two more days of tests. Formula One, though, is less generous with opportunities for tyre engineers to tackle their various challenges, given that race rules have eliminated test days almost entirely.
When pit lane falls silent, tyre labs are where the action is
Nonetheless, Pirelli has managed to gain an extra session of testing in order to develop tyres for 2016 on the track. On the Tuesday following racing in Abu Dhabi, when the rostrum was still wet with rose water (which is what racers are allowed to drink in the Emirates in place of champagne), Pirelli held the longest session of testing in F1® history: 12 consecutive hours during which teams tried out the various solutions for the coming season, including the brand-new “ultrasofts” to be debuted in 2016. Over the course of these 12 hours, drivers covered some 6020 km and completed a collective 1084 laps. Imagine the amount of data that Pirelli engineers had to analyse in the days that followed in order to decide which tyre constructions and compounds were right for the coming season.
And when they’re not on the track, the engineers are in Pirelli Research & Development labs in Milan where, just for example, tyres are put to the test to verify their integrity and consistency, simulating speeds of up to 400 km/h or giving them to the MTS, which subjects them to extreme angles of camber. All testing takes place under the watchful eye of these experts of motorsport.
What golf courses? Pirelli engineers are never far from their tyres.