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Pirelli's Strategy at COTA

Paul Hembery at the 2012 German Grand Prix (© Foto Ercole Colombo)

There have been two changes for the 2012 Formula 1 season which have made it one of the best in many years. Arguably, the most important feature which has given F1 eight different winners and many thrilling races so far this season is the change in tire performance.

Today we sat down with Pirelli Motorsport Director Paul Hembery to learn more about how tires would play a part in the outcome of this weekend’s race.

Earlier this year, molds of Circuit of The Americas were taken and laser scanned by Pirelli engineers.  Once translated into a 3D model, engineers combined energy simulations supplied by teams to produce a performance model to allow testing of tire compounds. Using this data, Pirelli chose the P Zero Silver hard and P Zero White medium compound tires for the USGP; this combination is the same as what was used at Monza and Spa this year.

However nothing beats real world experience, and with feedback from practice and qualifying sessions now in the hands of Pirelli, there have been unexpected obstacles to overcome. The surface of COTA, explained Hembery, is smoother than simulations showed. When compared to circuits like Monza and Spa, both fast and harsh on tires, COTA is less abrasive, making harder tires more difficult to wear-in and reach the target performance zone.

In addition to the texture of the track, the cool fall temperature is also affecting performance, making it more difficult to get heat into the hard and medium compound tires and give them more grip. Each of these factors, Hembery explained, means that Pirelli could have opted for softer tires, making their choice a bit “conservative” for the USGP.

To some extent, this means the hard and medium tires could last the entire race themselves even though both must be used for at least one lap. The grip fall-off, which has played a critical role in effecting the strategy and delivered many exciting races this year, will not be a factor tomorrow and should be very predictable now that both compounds have been tested on track.

The fan favorite feature of COTA, Turn 1, might put significant vertical load on the tires, but Hembery assured that the tire structure is significantly over-engineered, and there is no risk of failures from the high loads going up into Turn 1.

The 2012 season has been incredibly exciting and Pirelli has played a key part in delivering the on-track race action. Now that the season is winding down, the development of the 2013 tire is underway. Pirelli's approach to the significant challenge of delivering a tire that improves race action has proven to be wildly successful. For 2013, Hembery explained, expect more.  The tires will be more aggressive and the variations between compounds will ensure race action is even more dynamic.

Mario Andretti Takes First Lap at COTA Opening Ceremony

Media and invited guests assemble on Circuit of The Americas' starting grid

An electrifying day at Circuit of The Americas on Sunday as invited guests and media endured the Texas heat, albeit mid-October, to christen the circuit with a "First Lap" opening ceremony.

Official Formula 1 tire supplier Pirelli was on hand and did an excellent job of giving members of local media their first taste of a world class motorsports venue. Pirelli signage was evident on the track, branded baseball caps were given away to guests, four Pirelli Grid Girls shuffled around with F1 celebrities, and a large Pirelli branded hospitality tent, a staple at motorsports facilities, informally greeted guests when they stepped off the shuttle in the parking lot.

The Pirelli tent was our first stop. Inside, a Lotus F1 Team R30 sat on display for everyone to Facebook/Tweet/Instagram their photos. A small group of about 30 gathered inside the tent and were snapping photos non-stop. I stood behind four younger gentleman adorning black-embroidered Pirelli polos. As they watched two men battle it out on a racing simulator, I took a closer look and realized it was Jérôme d'Ambrosio taking on Patrick Dempsey.

Thankfully I contained my shreik of excitement and reached for my camera. As I tried to overtake the group (see what I did there?), one of them turned to me and said, "Okay, we know who McDreamy is, but who is the other one?" I informed them of Jérôme's position as Lotus F1 Team Third Driver and explained that he was the only current F1 driver in attendance that day. They asked why Dempsey was here, assumingly as an actor, and I shared that he is a professional racing driver and team owner, currently competing in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series and drove in the Petit Le Mans race in Atlanta over the weekend. They stood up straight and may have reached for their camera phones behind my back.

We wandered about the northern quarter of the Pit/Paddock and wove in and out of a few touring cars on display. We came across the Lotus F1 Team tent showcasing the black and gold cars du jour: a 2010 R30 and a 1978 Lotus 79. The Lotus F1 Team was welcoming and warm; most guests carefully walking around the parameter of the Lotus tent for the first half of the afternoon, afraid they were stepping into restricted, canopied space. However, as the day wore on and guests realized they could slip off their shoes and climb into the R30 (photo op!), the tent quickly became a favored hotspot. 

All of the cars lined up on the grid as drivers were interviewed for the ceremonial day. The majority of media surrounded America's last Formula 1 World Champion, Mario Andretti, as he stood at the nose of his 1978 John Player Special Lotus 79 Cosworth. Although he was scheduled to run the R30, the Lotus F1 Team fired up the Lotus 79 for Mario after the "Ribbon Cutting" ceremony, as the former had engine problems. In this video, Mario describes what it is like to get behind the wheel on a new track before we watch him take off from the starting grid.

Mario Andretti Completes The First Laps of COTA from The Austin Grand Prix on Vimeo.

After the flying laps, Mario piloted his Lotus back to the team's staging area. He had a few minutes to chat and I wanted to hear his opinion of the circuit from a driver's perspective.

Mario Andretti at the COTA First Lap Ceremony from The Austin Grand Prix on Vimeo.

It was such an honor to speak with Mario after this momentous occasion. In tomorrow's post, we'll share interviews with the opening ceremony's Host, Bob Varsha of SPEED, and Jérôme d'Ambrosio of Lotus F1 Team. F1 drivers in the New Delhi paddock this weekend will gain valuable insight from their colleague's perspective.

// Click HERE to view a gallery of our images from the First Lap Opening Ceremony.


Pirelli Chooses Tires for USGP


The 2012 F1 USGP will see the Hard (left) and Medium (right) tires by Pirelli

The exclusive tire supplier of Formula 1, Pirelli, just announced the finalized list of tire selections for the last three events of the year. For the USGP in Austin, teams will use both the Medium and Hard compound tires during the race. With so much yet unknown about the performance of Circuit of The Americas, this release from Pirelli gives added clarity to the future USGP in just under 6 weeks.

Race Preview: Japanese GP

Michael Schumacher takes the Mercedes GP car out for Friday Practice at Suzuka (©

// Japan

It's the Japanese Grand Prix this weekend, but before we dive into the race preview, let's spare a minute to talk about the latest shakeup in driver movements. As an F1 fan, you may know by now that Hamilton has made the final decision to depart McLaren and join the arms (or is it arrows?) of Mercedes for a three-year contract beginning in 2013. Hamilton has been groomed by McLaren for the last 13 years, one imagines that a decision like this is made with mixed emotions. In the case of Schumacher, to be essentially kicked out of Mercedes, just seems unfortunate for a 7-time WDC.

While McLaren uses Mercedes engines, McLaren has a noticeably faster car than Mercedes and has won more races this season than the factory team. Is this a wise decision from Hamilton and his management team? Can Hamilton shine at Mercedes? More importantly for this weekend's race, will the dynamic of the team change and therefore the performance of Hamilton suffer as a result in Suzuka?

The Championship title is still an open race at the moment, even with Alonso consistently leading with championship points, the 2nd and 3rd drivers on the leaderboard continue to shift between the top drivers. In terms of the track, it so happens that this year is the 50th anniversary of the famous Suzuka circuit. This classic figure-8 format has a great history of races, most notably the controversial drama between Ayrton Senna and Alan Prost in 1989 and 1990, which lead to Prost taking championship title in 1989 and Senna taking championship title in 1990.

With an abundance of low, medium and high speed turns, the track is quite demanding on the tyres for the duration of the this 53-lap race. Pirelli will be supplying this weekend's rubber with Hard and Soft tyres to help the cars conquer the terrains of this circuit. If the teams manage their tyres well, it may even be possible to do get away with one stop!

Even though Schumacher has won six times at this track and will retire and the end of the season, he hasn't really be able to break through this year except for one podium appearance. The fight may well be between Alonso and Vettel, who both have won twice at the track already. Button, Hamilton, Raikkonen all have won previously here as well, and will be brining the fight to Vettel and Alsonso to do their part to change up the championship scoreboard.

Have you made your predictions for this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix? Will you be enjoying the race with sushi and sake?

As we await qualifying to begin later tonight, enjoy this Japanese GP Race Guide video, featuring Jenson Button of Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, presented by Hilton HHonors.