Paul Hembery got it. There was no marketing flannel, no nonsense. Pirelli’s former motorsport director delivered his lines straight and true.
Victory on a control tire, according to him, was something of a misnomer.
“With a control tire, you win once,” he said. “You win the tender. The rest of the time, you want to be delivering tires that are consistent. Reliability and consistency are the keys.”
Having overseen Pirelli’s move into such a position in both the WRC and Formula 1, Hembery knew precisely what he was talking about. Yes, stage records and fastest laps were nice, but they really weren’t compatible with a control tire environment.
Under such conditions, it’s Pirelli’s job to make sure the tire fades into the background – certainly in news terms.
How it produces covers comfortable with hauling 550-odd horsepower across razor-sharp rocks is definitely part of the WRC narrative, but staying out of the headlines is never a bad thing.
What Pirelli did last season was impressive. To develop product in the middle of a pandemic and without being able to run them on the actual car they were designed for is a bit like pinning the tail of a donkey blindfolded and with both arms tied behind your back.
Pirelli always knew there would be development and evolution. Just over a year in and the teams are feeling real positivity towards the five-year WRC supply deal.
“We’re in the position where we can fight for the rallies with driving,” said Toyota technical director Tom Fowler. “Certainly on gravel, the tires are working well now and I think there’s only the soft and super-soft P Zeros which should be on Pirelli’s radar for durability improvements.
“We have a tire which is on a good level to make a proper rally and that’s all we want. Reliability and consistency are the keys here, the ultimate performance of the tire aren’t so much of a concern. Providing the tire is roughly in the right window then it’s going to be the same for all the teams.”
There were inevitable comparisons with the Michelin tires which ran before Pirelli took control at the top of 2021. By the time the French firm departed, punctures even on the roughest of rough rallies were almost unheard of. That was great, but it was a double-edged sword.
“Ultimately, something had to give,” said Fowler. “While those tires became indestructible we then started to see failures with the wheels.
“I think we’re in a good place with Pirelli now.”
And Pirelli’s in a good place with the WRC again. Yes, there’s the puncture that cost Sébastien Ogier a Monte Carlo win in January, but that compound of P Zero is next on rally program manager Terenzio Testoni’s list.
Having celebrated its ‘win’ at the end of 2020, Testoni and his troops have very much settled into the rhythm of rallying at its highest level.