There are many tough jobs in Formula 1, from driving the car that competes in the race to being the head of communications of a team that isn’t winning or scoring points on a Sunday afternoon.
But arguably, one of the most challenging jobs in Formula 1 is being in charge of the sport’s tyres. The man who has to try and make an impossible job possible is Mario Isola, head of Pirelli’s F1 and car racing.
Isola began his odyssey with Pirelli in 1996 when he was hired to become a junior test driver, and after spells as the team’s head of rallying, the Milanese took the top job at the company’s motorsport department, becoming the head of F1 and car racing in 2016 after Paul Hembery left to become CEO of Pirelli Latin America.
Six years later, Isola is still a significant presence in the paddock as he tries to juggle his duties at Pirelli with his role as a volunteer paramedic in Milan that he does in his spare time and for 2022, Isola would have work cut out as a new era of Grand Prix cars would require bigger tyres meaning that his team would have to think of an entirely new form of tyre.
When MotorLAT caught up with Isola for an exclusive interview in the wake of a rain-soaked British Grand Prix qualifying, Isola spoke of his happiness at how the season had gone so far, believing the tyres have helped produce exciting races.
“I have to say we are quite happy with the current product; it was not easy to design a new 18-inch tyre because we were testing it on the mule cars as no current cars were available when we started the development. It was a big challenge not only because of the new size but also because of the characteristics required for the new 18-inch tyres with much less overheating and less degradation.
"Drivers want to push, so it’s a different approach, and we developed this tyre from scratch; the results so far are quite good; we had interesting races and fantastic Qualifying (sessions) and the drivers are very close when fighting for the position, not only at the top but also in the midfield there are many drivers able to push and there's a lot of action on the track.”
But Isola and his team aren’t resting on their laurels, and they’ve already begun work on next year’s tyres which they hope will be grippier than their predecessors. Isola also expects the new tyres to reduce the amount of understeer drivers get over a lap.
“Now, with experience from the first nine races, we have an idea on how to develop the tyres for 2023. This is part of a normal development process we have every year; we are not planning to make an evolution of this product; this product is good; we want to continue, but we have ideas on the fine-tuning of the product for next year.
“First of all the cars are quicker and quicker the performance is increasing, so we are planning also to design new tyres with a higher level of integrity to slightly modify the front tyre in order to reduce understeer which is a common balance issue that we have with the current cars and also to adjust a little bit the compounds in order to have better space from one level to the other.
"For example, to increase the grip of the C1 a little bit so we can have a C1 that is a bit closer to the C2 and the C3 a bit more central between the C2 and the C4, these are the main changes we are planning for next year.”
Next year will see a change to how Qualifying is structured, with teams now being given a compound of tyre they must run in each of the three parts of the session. Hards will be used for Q1 before Mediums are put on for Q2, with softs now only being used in Q3 with the teams also having the number of sets of tyres they can use during the weekend reduced.
Isola is openly a fan of this new format as it encourages teams to be creative with their strategies and helps them become sustainable.
“It was developed with the teams; the FIA it’s part of the sustainability programme where we are investigating for many reasons where we can improve and make our activity more sustainable. With this project, we basically reduce the number of tyres that we supply to the teams from 13 sets of slicks per car to 11, so it’s roughly a 15% reduction without affecting anything in terms of show or strategies and so on.
"We made an analysis of what’s happening now is that the teams start with 13 sets of slick tyres; they have to return two sets after FP1, two sets after FP2 and two sets after FP3, so first of all, we can try to reduce from six sets to five with the carryover they have enough tyres.
“The second point was that the tyres for Qualifying and the race are connected, so they have the same allocation, and at the moment, the teams are saving a lot of soft tyres for Qualifying, but these are not really useful for the race; that means if we have a better allocation for Qualifying and the race we can reduce this number and at the same time keeping all the strategies open so if you run Q1 with the hards, Q2 with the mediums and Q3 with the softs all the drivers are in the same situation you have six sets of tyres not seven, two new sets for each leg of the Qualifying and then on Sunday you have two sets of each compound that means you have any combination of strategy. That’s the reason why we are a fan of this new format.”