With a flick of the reins and a burst of speed from his red-nosed engines, the world’s greatest deliveryman flies around the world in a distinctive red and white livery, his sleigh piled high with beautiful gifts. Ensuring all those expectant children are not disappointed is a serious logistical challenge, but a cheerful Santa Claus simply chuckles “ho ho ho” high above the ice and snow.
In the real world, of course, the challenge of travelling in winter weather is much more demanding. The dedicated army of drivers who deliver our Christmas presents and online shopping have to abide by the laws of gravity, and that can often mean ploughing through some unpleasant road conditions.
Testing, testing, testing
Luckily, help is at hand. At Pirelli’s research and development laboratories an army of scientists is creating tyres to conquer the worst winter conditions. Meanwhile, experts in the art of driving on snow are taking the new tyre designs for a spin – sometimes literally – on Pirelli’s specially-designed test tracks deep in the frozen landscape of Finland.
“Our drivers are very, very experienced,” explains Andrea Arcari, who manages Pirelli’s Tyre Testing Department. “They undergo two years’ intense training to learn how to judge the small differences that different tread patterns make. A lot of small differences end up making a big difference.”
Our intrepid deliveryman can embark on a global tour supported by a sophisticated variety of winter tyres
A global tour
And Pirelli’s research is making a seriously big difference to driver safety. Our intrepid deliveryman can embark on a global tour supported by a sophisticated variety of winter tyres, from an all-rounder that works well on tarmac and snow to a fully-studded tyre that’s perfectly at home on ice.
Luckily, our man will also have a choice of vehicle. In Milan he jumps into a Ferrari – this is Italy, after all – and picks a versatile winter tyre that works superbly on tarmac. The snow hasn’t arrived yet, but he’s heading north into the snowy Alps. With Pirelli’s Winter Sottozero 3s, the amount of siping – the slits cut into rubber for added grip – is perfect for the conditions.
Getting a grip
“On dry tarmac there is more grip when there is more rubber in contact with the surface of the road,” Arcari explains. “But on snow-covered surfaces there is more grip when there is snow in contact with the snow – so you need a tyre tread that traps snow.” In other words, the more extreme the conditions, the deeper and wider the siping needed. It’s not just grip that matters, though. When the temperature drops to or below 7°C, summer tyres lose the elasticity that boosts performance on snow and ice.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, our deliveryman can’t squeeze all the presents into the back of the Ferrari and is forced to hire a van. Luckily, it’s fitted with Carrier Winter tyres – hard-wearing and ideal for travelling long distances in the snow. Heading north through Switzerland and on into Germany, where he is legally obliged to use winter tyres, he switches to a Porsche SUV and opts for a tyre with thicker siping. Scorpion Winters, designed for high-end cars, prove to be excellent, especially when he is braking on hills.
Cutting into the ice
On the Autobahn, he steps on the gas – zipping through Cologne, then Hamburg – and on to the Danish capital Copenhagen. He crosses the famed Øresund bridge and enters Sweden.
The snow is deeper now; the risk of ice more serious, but tyre choice in Scandinavia is complicated. In Sweden, he can use a studded tyre in the countryside, but not in the towns, while in Norway studs are banned completely.
He immediately notices the significant increase in grip as the double claw studs cut into the ice
Russia passes quickly in a flash of conifers, barren steppes and isolated cities where children still lie fast asleep. The tyres can be studded like Finland... so he sticks to his Ice Zeros … and his load of presents is getting smaller.
In Japan he is not allowed to use a studded tyre and swaps to the studless Winter Ice Zero FRs, which are made of a very soft rubber and have sipes designed specifically for ice. His journey magically continues through Canada where he delivers his very last parcel, and just as the sun comes up, he arrives back in Milan. Santa couldn’t have done better himself.
A fitting ending
The dawn is beautiful as he swaps his SUV for a Fiat 500 complete with Winter Snowcontrol Series 3s and makes his way home. The balance of excellent traction, braking and lateral grip is ideal for the city roads.
Santa Claus may be tireless on his gravity-defying sleigh, but our determined deliveryman is ready for a rest – he has used a variety of tyres, each one perfect for the driving conditions, local regulations and the car.
At home he turns on the heating, slumps into his favourite chair, yawns and then scratches his head. Who, he wonders, delivered the large pile of beautifully-wrapped presents that lie under the Christmas tree?