Sitting in a conference theater built inside an old cooling tower at the center of Pirelli's headquarters and technical center campus, you know the Italians are taking motor- and motosport very seriously when the first announcement is the appointment of Jean Alesi as a new brand ambassador.
Listening to the F1 star recount his experience with Pirelli from past racing seasons brought a sense of continuity to the introduction of the 2013 Formula One tires before us.
Instantly noticeable was the new orange lettering on the sidewall of the Hard compound, replacing the rather indistinct silver from last season, but that was only scraping the surface, so to speak.
New for 2013 are shorter lifespans for the tires. Now this might seem like a strange concept but the new Hard is roughly equivalent to last year's Medium. Yet Pirelli went to great lengths to explain how difficult it is to make a tire degrade at a pre-determined time, and just how easy it would be to build tires that would last an entire race. The problem is, nobody wants to watch a procession of slow cars on rigid tires unable to compete with one another. The F1 teams and organizers had been asking Pirelli to make its harder compounds less durable to prevent some of the one-stop races that dulled some of the spectacle later in the 2012 season. The teams quickly learn how to manage tire degradation but the result is less excitement for teams and spectators alike.
It was interesting to learn how Pirelli road tires had initially influenced Pirelli's F1 tires as the company looked for a baseline when it rejoined the international series. But now the knowledge learned and technology developed in F1 has been applied back into the road tires, creating a better product for everybody.
Among the changes for this year is an increase in rear traction in both the wet and dry tires. This has been achieved by increasing shoulder stiffness while reducing sidewall stiffness. The greater rigidity comes from extra internal plies, creating more of a radial tire than before.
The result is better traction and increased strength to cope with the higher cornering forces that result from it. The penalty is an extra 2kg per car, with each front tire being 200 grams heavier, 700g on the rear.
As a result of these changes, the teams were supplied the new tires back in September for wind tunnel test and sampled them after the Brazilian GP in order to consider revisions to their chassis and bodywork to meet the new demands of the tires.
The wind tunnel tires are built to scale but Pirelli must ensure they behave and deform exactly as the race tires, creating an extra level of complexity for the engineers.
The new compounds should see a difference of 0.6-0.8sec per lap between each compound, meaning a real advantage in using a softer compound during the races. They will also reach operating temperature sooner and reduce lap times by about 0.5sec per lap compared to the 2012. So it seems we can expect some fast qualifying times this year.
Approximately half the world's international and national racing series are run on Pirelli tires. This equates to 252 series in 32 countries using 720,000 tires in 2013. It covers everything from F1 down to GP2 and GP3, GT racing, the Blancpain series, Ferrari Challenge, Lamborghini Super Trofeo, Brazilian stock cars to national rally and one-make rally series.
All the series need dedicated tires in order to provide exciting racing, and every tire is developed by Pirelli's 1200 engineers around the world. They look at everything from the nano technology of compound polymers to dyno rigs that test endurance, to dirt tracks that explore off-road ability.
This R&D consumes 7%of the entire company's financial turnover, with a large chunk going to its motorcycle commitments.
2013 sees the tenth anniversary ofP Pirelli being awarded the sole contract to supply the World Superbike Championship (WSB). Yet this is just part of 1900 teams in 27 countries across circuit racing and dirt who benefit from Pirelli's involvement.
In the past ten years, WSB has received 61600 tires over 231 races, with 4400 used at every round, provided by 25 Pirelli staff. What's more, lap times have dropped by approximately 0.5sec each year over the period.
New for 2013 are 17" tires that will provide the same performance as the previous 16.5" thanks to three years of testing.
There will be ten tire options for the teams, from soft to rain tires. The new 17" size creates a smaller sidewall thanks to new material construction. This in turn creates a wider contact patch to give riders more feedback and grip. In short, the riders will remain fast and the tires should be more consistent, allowing for closer racing. And at the end of the day, as teams or spectators, that's exactly what we want.