Pirelli head of F1 and car racing Mario Isola spoke to MotorLAT’s Andrés López in an Instagram live session on Saturday, talking us through his career and how the Italian tyre manufacturer is preparing to get back on track after the first phase of the Covid-19 emergency.
Being a kart driver and motorsport enthusiast, Isola wrestled his way into automotive as a Pirelli test driver and eventually got involved in the racing department working in different championships before establishing in F1.
Speaking about the differences between road tyres and competition tyres, Isola said: “The stress level of a competition tyre is very different from the demands levels of a street car, or a Rally car, even in super cars it is not the same level of demand. The temperature and energy level in a tyre varies greatly depending on what you plan to use. For Pirelli there is no better testing ground than competitions, competing performance is always the goal and everything is focused on it”.
“When you are the only tyre supplier you have different technical challenges, you have to ensure that it is the same tyre for everyone, guaranteeing sports equity is very important, reliability is another key point. For example in F1, when we returned after 20 years of absence, we were asked for a tyre that had great degradation, it was clear that this was a completely new request for us because in the past we always worked on tires with little degradation, high consistency and with high levels of grip and so on. We had to do a lot of research and work on it, so it was a complete start challenge in F1”.
When it comes to designing tyres and homologating compounds, Pirelli must strike a compromise between a number of factors. Given the wide range of different track characteristics in the F1 calendar, tarmac roughness, the layout and weather conditions need to be taken into account.
MARIO ISOLA’S (BUSY) GRAND PRIX SCHEDULE
Travels and on-track action might have been brought to a halt due to Covid-19, but the season is set to start in almost six weeks’ time. Hence, it is time to brush up Pirelli’s race routine to prepare for a Grand Prix, from logistics to meetings and teamwork.
“I usually arrive on Wednesday afternoon, at the circuit on Thursday morning. Before myself I have other guys coming to the circuit on Sunday or Monday morning to set up the fitting area and the hospitality. This is the first step, then we usually fit the tyres and the rims on Wednesday and Thursday, on Thursday morning we have a meeting with the Pirelli engineers, called ‘Pre-event briefing’, where we discuss the expectations for the race weekend looking at the data collected throughout the previous years”.
“On Friday morning we are analyzing all the information that our engineers give us, because we have an engineer in each team who is sending us all the information in real time about the behavior of the tires, any comments from the engineers or the drivers. Between the sessions we check the tyres and on how they are using them. We also have a couple of on-track laboratories that analyse the tyres after their usage, at the end of the day we have a meeting to discuss the details of the day. We repeat everything Saturday and Sunday and at the end of the race we selected some tyres for general analysis, that would be in general terms my weekend, we make virtual meetings with the headquarters in Milan, so as you can see I am always busy”.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO RESUME F1 ACTION THROUGH COVID-19 TIMES?
“Everything is very difficult because with this situation we have different restrictions and protocols in each country. In some countries we have to fulfill a quarantine to enter, different protocols and procedures day by day the situation changes, for example in Italy they have already removed the quarantine for people who travel across Europe, so that is important for those of us who have to make work trips. Tyre-wise, we have a stock of tyres available for shipment immediately but we are analysing the best procedures to start our production in the most flexible way possible for all our personnel, even though at the moment everything is uncertain. Issues of flights, cargo flights, crossing borders, protocols and restrictions change every day. We have to pay attention not to make a single mistake”.
Events will take place without spectators and less people will be allowed in the paddock. How is Pirelli coping with such restrictive measures applied to the staff?
“We will send a little less staff. If we don’t have any press or promotional activities, maybe we can reduce the amount slightly. We don't know the exact number yet, normally there are 55 people, and we could probably reduce it to 50 or maybe 48. We have 20 tyre fitters and we have one engineer for each team. But we have to consider the workload for them because they have to prepare more than 1,800 tyres during the weekend”.
During the so-called ‘Phase 1’ in Italy, we have seen Mario Isola in a rather unusual context. The Italian was back on the frontline as a volunteer ambulance for 'Croce Viola' in Milan, his hometown, during the Covid-19 emergency.
“It was because when I finished high school, at 18, friends invited me to do it. - Isola recounts- At first I was scared but I went to do the training as a voluntary service and I started doing it. I realized how important it is to help when we face serious situations in life, it is important to be grateful to people and we do it out of passion. We are part of a great association, we are volunteers, in Italy we are part of an association called Anpas and only in Lombardy there are 112 associations so you can imagine how big this is, we are like a great family ”.