Does Pirelli have F1's biggest challenge?

Austria’s breathtaking Styrian mountains are again set to echo to the deep harmonic throng of 20 Formula One engines racing, with the long-awaited start of the season now just over one week away.

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Austria’s breathtaking Styrian mountains are again set to echo to the deep harmonic throng of 20 Formula One engines racing, with the long-awaited start of the season now just over one week away.

And while we’ve recently had a taste of F1’s “new normal”, complete with masks, hand sanitiser, social distancing and COVID-19 testing…

…arguably the toughest, and most complex challenge will be shouldered by Pirelli, given its position at the centre of the sport says tyre boss Mario Isola, who spoke exclusively with The Inside Line.

SOUNDBITE (English) MARIO ISOLA, HEAD OF F1 & CAR RACING, PIRELLI: “We are everywhere, and we are in all the teams. That’s why also in Melbourne we already adopted some different procedures in order to minimise the contact with other F1 teams. At that time, the corona virus was already in Italy… maybe not so much in the rest of Europe. But we had a knowledge of this.”

There, at Albert Park, Pirelli changed its tyre fitting area, hospitality setup, and avoided close contact. Its plan for Austria and beyond, more than two months in the making - builds on that.

…ensuring each team’s separate grouping - or “bubble” - is not affected.

SOUNDBITE (English) MARIO ISOLA, HEAD OF F1 & CAR RACING, PIRELLI: “We have one engineer that is allocated on each team, but the tyre engineer is part of the Pirelli bubble - so we have to pay attention not to mix or have contacts between the engineer and the team members - the same for the fitters. We will organise the fitting area with a one-way system to avoid contacts between people that are delivering the tyres and collecting the fitted units.”

Isola is uniquely qualified to act, having been at the frontline of the virus outbreak in his hometown of Milan, with the Italian a volunteer ambulance driver and paramedic for more than 32 years.

Back in the pit lane, Pirelli’s challenge rolls-on, and it’s already working on 2022’s 18-inch tyres, which will be racier - the new direction underpinned by a document signed by the sport’s various factions.

SOUNDBITE (English) MARIO ISOLA, HEAD OF F1 & CAR RACING, PIRELLI: “For 18-inches, it is clear that we are going in the direction of tyres with lower degradation, with a tyre that is less prone to overheating because drivers want to push.”

And while Isola says making everyone happy is impossible, F1 continues to provide a fantastic, rugged environment for Pirelli to develop new tech and expertise for the wider business.

SOUNDBITE (English) MARIO ISOLA, HEAD OF F1 & CAR RACING, PIRELLI: “We started, as I said, with high-degradation tyres. In 2014, we had the introduction of the hybrid power unit. So we had to modify our product because of the additional torque that is typical of the hybrid power unit. In 2017, we had to change the width of the tyre with the wider tyres. In 2022 we will change the rim size.”

All the while, fulfilling its 2020 duties in incredibly tough circumstances.

SOUNDBITE (English) MARIO ISOLA, HEAD OF F1 & CAR RACING, PIRELLI: “We have in the next few months a calendar that is concentrated in probably five months where we are targeting to race on I don’t know, 12-15 different circuits, and we have to produce probably around 32-35 thousand tyres in a very short timeframe. But also to ship the race tyres to the locations.”

…locations like Austria, where Pirelli will help F1 finally blast-off in its 70th anniversary season next weekend.