All development on Pirelli’s 2021 World Rally Championship tyres has stopped – and nobody knows when work on the rubber bound for the world’s fastest rally cars will begin again.
The coronavirus pandemic has shut down all Pirelli’s development, production and administration, forcing it to look into starting next season by supplying Rally1 cars with a product evolved from the Rally2 cars contesting WRC 2 this season.
The Italian firm was announced as the sole supplier to the world championship in December, and its four-year deal means Pirelli will supply across the range of the series, from Junior WRC right to the factory Rally1 cars from 2021.
Pirelli announced development had started on its new 2021 product in January, but head of F1 and car racing Mario Isola told DirtFish all work has stopped since the coronavirus outbreak.
“It’s not the best situation so far,” he said. “We planned to start our development quite soon because the WRC starts early in the year with Monte Carlo in January.
“That’s why we need to speed up the process, but at the moment everything is locked down, so there’s very little we can do.
“We have a product. We already supply all WRC 2 cars, so there is a product available for four-wheel-drive cars, but we had very few opportunities to test our product on WRC-plus [Rally1] cars.
“You know how important testing is for rallying, because we have to test on so many different surfaces: gravel, snow, ice, Tarmac. At the moment we are reviewing our plans to be sure we are ready as soon as we have the green light from some governments to start our test.
“Also the offices and factories are closed, so we cannot produce prototype [tyres]. If we can start in July or August we need to plan for a compressed test session and supply the tyres from January.”
If the lockdown continues, Isola said Pirelli’s priority would be on durability, potentially to the detriment of performance.
He added: “If we have no ability to test, we always focus on durability and integrity anyway, but it will be hard to have no feedback on performance.
“What we can do – and will do anyway – is test the tyres with indoor facilities to test integrity. Hopefully as well as that we can have some data from the manufacturers. If I look at F1, we have a lot of work that is done in advance before going on track thanks to simulations.
“A rally car is different. Simulating the performance on gravel or different surfaces is difficult, but we can make some work around that. It could be a good starting point. But hopefully we can start earlier to test and validate our product.”
Pirelli has historically had a strong Rally Sweden tyre and Isola said the WRC winter round is less of a concern for him.
“Usually on ice tyres we start the development one year in advance in February or March when you have the conditions in Scandinavia,” he said.
“That’s why the development of this tyre is so extended in time – we are lucky because we have a very good product for Sweden.
“Our ice product is reliable and the performance is quite good. Hopefully we don’t have to modify our current [WRC 2] product too much.”
He added postponing the single-supply deal by one season was not something that had been discussed.
“We haven’t considered this option because we are confident we can do the job,” said Isola.
“Obviously, we are analysing different scenarios to see how we face different solutions, but we haven’t considered this. Obviously if this is going to the end of the year then I don’t know if it’s feasible to start in January, but it’s a bit early [to think about that].”
Pirelli last supplied all factory cars in 2010, the final year of its last three-year stint as the series’ single supplier.