Pirelli Shifting Entire Product Development Process Thanks to Formula One's New Car

Pirelli P Zero race Formula 2
Formula 1 racing uses a variety of tire compounds, each with their own color designation. Pirelli & C. S.p.A.

A big change is coming to Formula 1 for the 2022 season with the introduction of the next-generation race car. Pirelli, the exclusive tire provider to the sport, is seizing the moment, shifting its supply, development and manufacturing processes to better synergize its race tires operations with more traditional road-going rubber.

As part of this revamp, Pirelli will increase the size of its F1 racing tires from 13 inches to 18 inches. It's the first time that the size of the tires will change in more than two decades.

In an interview a day before the United States Grand Prix, Pirelli head of F1 and car racing Mario Isola told Newsweek that the push for 18-inch tires folds into the company's technological goals, the changes coming to Formula 1 cars next season and the desire to improve the sport.

"Clearly, we use Formula 1 as an open laboratory for developing technology," he said.

Increasing the similarities of the tires on both sides of the business can inform improvements in either direction, he explained. Having similarly sized race tires that run under consistently extreme conditions can contribute to positive changes in road tires.

The company's P Zero line on the consumer side is emblematic of results found on the race track. The Corsa System tire is homologated with the likes of Aston Martin, McLaren and Lamborghini, built with racing tread compounds to provide high levels of grip and elevated cornering stability.

The M+S tire is built to respond to driver's actions, a necessity for high-speed road or track driving.

For next year, the new F1 tires are a part of the sport's desire to change the dynamics of a race. The new tires and overall design of the car are intended to reduce the amount of aerodynamic turbulence drivers experience when following another car.

Formula 1 Drive to Survive netflix
Still from 'Formula 1: Drive to Survive.' Netflix

Answering questions at a roundtable of journalists at the Circuit of the Americas, Pirelli senior vice president of research, development and cyber Piero Misani said that the amount of data collected from simulated testing of real-world conditions leads to faster development cycles for tires.

Virtualization of testing, combined with the mass of data that is collected from each race and each simulation, gives researchers clearer pictures of the correlation of different factors. The added benefit of machine learning tools that can process that data contributes to those faster cycles.

"With virtualization, the good thing is that...you have a clear understanding of what the relationship is between the change you make and the effect you get," he said.

This type of testing also cuts down on "compromises" in tire development. He argues that the days where one element is sacrificed for another is gone. There's no need to curtail mileage improvements for better rolling resistance, wet grip for mileage, vice versa and everywhere in between.

"With these tools, you can develop to such a level of detail that these compromises are gone," Misani said. "Once, you thought about how to develop a compound to have a longer mileage. Today, you work first on the tread pattern characteristics. Through small details in the track pattern characteristics, you can create a totally different mileage result."

Next year, the company will provide five compounds of the 18-inch tires.

Isola says that Formula 1 wants to make racing, and specifically position battles, more competitive next season.

"They want to encourage close racing," Isola explained. "Not overtaking, but close racing. They want to keep the possibility to have different strategies during the race weekend."

Pirelli P Zero tires
Pirelli P Zero tires are available for the road and track. Pirelli & C. S.p.A.

The overall goal is to maintain the balancing act that keeps Formula 1 a unique sport.

"Formula 1 is a sport, it is technology and it is a show," Isola said. "Sometimes when you have to put these three elements together it's not easy."

Not being mindful of that balance means that you could put on a good show but that might not include the best technological innovations, he added, or you could have technologies embedded into cars that don't fit into the spirit of racing.

Though the new F1 cars haven't been built yet, Isola said that teams were already sharing promising results from initial tests of the new tires.

"The feedback was that they feel the new tires are a lot more consistent," Isola said. "They didn't feel overheating and the level of grip was good."

He added that more definitive testing will be done early next year when the 2022 cars are built. After race weekends, Pirelli will usually stay behind to test the 18-inch tires on the track with data processed from that weekend.

That initial testing will inform which compounds that the company will select for each race the following year.

"Next year will be a big learning process because of the difference in product," he explained. "It will be difficult, but we will try to predict the possible strategies (the teams) will use next year in each race."

Misani says that the company's involvement in the sport, and the outcomes, have a positive effect on the outside world.

"We strongly believe, and we are totally sure, that racing at this level pushes innovation," he asserted. "What we can experiment in the world of racing is immediately transferred into the daily world. It's the most advanced platform for product innovation."