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Column: Vettel aside, tires are star F1 performer
The first tires Pirelli tested preseason were so durable they could have lasted for three races; “we were too conservative by far,” Hembery added.
The teams and F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone wanted tires that would require about 2 or 3 pit stops per race. That required tire compounds that would wear neither too quickly nor too slowly, and “it took us a lot of time to understand how to do that,” he said.
“It would have been far easier from our point of view to have made something that just lasted the weekend,” for the whole Grand Prix, he said.
Hembery promises more of the same next season, with “2-3 pit stops average,” and only modest tweaks to the tires. One of those is to encourage teams to make more use of Pirelli’s somewhat harder “medium” compound tire.
At the moment, cars running those more durable tires can expect to be about 1-1.2 seconds slower than cars with the less durable but faster “soft” tires, he said. So that, in layman’s terms, is roughly a choice between sprinting for a short distance or running a little slower but over a greater distance.
Hembery wants to close that gap to 0.7-0.8 seconds, so cars on the harder tires aren’t penalized so much for using them. The hope is that will give teams a greater variety of viable tire strategies to play with. Pirelli tested tires for next season last week in Spain.
“The idea is to close the gap, maybe, some of the gaps, in performance,” he said.
Vettel’s audacious overtake of Fernando Alonso at the Italian Grand Prix in September, in itself, proved him to be a worthy champion. With two tires on the grass, Vettel was brave, decisive, quick and error-free _ everything you want the world’s best driver to be.
But Pirelli should take a bow, too. Hembery says they’ve been getting fan mail. Deservedly so.
“I get people randomly coming up to me and just saying, ‘Brilliant, well done, thank you, I’m finally watching Formula One again,’” he said. “That, certainly, in my motorsport career, has never happened before. That is gratifying.”
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org or follow him at twitter.com/johnleicester
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