As expected, ousted Sauber driver Pedro de la Rosa
has been confirmed as Nick Heidfeld's replacement at Pirelli, taking over official test and development duties as the Italian firm gears up for its return to F1 next season.
Although sources at Pirelli confirmed that de la Rosa would be called upon to give his opinion of the work done so far, motorsport director Paul Hembery officially revealed that the Spaniard would now spearhead the programme as the clock ticks down towards a scheduled first group test in Abu Dhabi immediately after the final race of 2010. de la Rosa was confirmed in his new role during a press conference held to mark 50 years of Pirelli's presence in Turkey, where all the company's F1, GP2 and GP3 tyres for next year will be produced.
With Heidfeld moving in the opposite direction to team up with Kamui Kobayashi
at Sauber for the final five races of the season, erstwhile Renault
F1 pilot Romain Grosjean
was called in to sample the development tyres at Monza last week. The Frenchman will continue to test for Pirelli alongside de la Rosa, but Hembery admitted that having access to someone with the Spaniard's experience was invaluable for the programme.
"Romain jumped in to do some durability testing and did an excellent job," he reported, having personally overseen the Monza test, "The objective of this test was to confirm the structural specification of the tyres we will use for the first time at the test in Abu Dhabi, and we now move on to working on our rain tyres and compound definition.
"Moving forwards, we will also be joined by Pedro, who has the benefit of having the most recent F1 experience and is a renowned tester. So far, everything has gone according to plan and we're pleased to report that we are only about a second per lap off the times of our predecessors, which is a great achievement."
Despite the optimism emanating from Pirelli, 39-year old de la Rosa admits that he expects a busy work schedule in order for the manufacturer to be ready for both its November debut at Yas Marina and, beyond that, for its race return at next season's Bahrain Grand Prix.
"I'm really pleased to be joining Pirelli, as tyre testing is something that I have always enjoyed," the former McLaren
test driver commented, "It is a very big challenge, especially in F1. The information you can get from telemetry and sensors is valuable, but nothing replaces the individual feeling of a driver with new tyres, so I hope I can be a real asset to Pirelli.
"There's not a lot of time left and a huge amount of work to do, but I'm very much looking forward to it and I am sure that our collaboration will be a success. A lot of useful work has been done already and now we have the opportunity of taking it forward."
Pirelli's next test is expected to take place in Spain early next month, with de la Rosa getting behind the wheel of the company's Toyota
TF109 for the first time.