Pirelli has admitted that it might have to pre-determine what tyres are available to F1 teams for the early rounds of the 2017 world championship owing to the logistics of developing, producing and shipping enough rubber for the 'flyaway' races.
The Italian company is having to produce an entirely new range of tyres for 2017, with the switch to larger dimensions and a change in construction to promote better racing, and motorsport racing manager Mario Isola is concerned by the lack of time between the end of its planned development programme and the likely start of the new season.
While keen that the three-compound choice introduced for each race in 2016 be retained, Isola is adamant that the 14-week deadline given to teams to make the decisions regarding respective quantities for each driver is prohibitive for races in such far-flung venues as Melbourne and Shanghai. European rounds only have an eight-week lead time and Isola insists that, even squeezing the process as much as possible would still require more weeks than will likely be available.
Pirelli's plan is to finish development of the 2017 tyres by the end of November and, provided a final validation using three different cars immediately after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix goes off without a hitch, production will start in early December. The sticking point, however, will surround winter testing which, in 2016, only ended two weeks before the drivers were on track in anger for the Australian Grand Prix.
“The plan is to keep the same regulations but, of course, we are discussing with the teams how we can implement this at the beginning of the year because they will have a complete new product, complete new compounds, and it is difficult to select the compounds 14 weeks in advance for the first races,” he explained, aware that the early 2016 choices were made prior to winter testing and with little knowledge of the revised compounds available this season.
“This is something we have to discuss,” Isola continued, “In my opinion, the regulation is working so there is no reason to change it, but we need to find a solution for at least the first three or four races. We can reduce [the 14-week lead time] but not enough. We don't know the calendar at the moment but, if you consider the calendar we have this year, from winter testing to the first race, we had two weeks. In two weeks, even if you use air freight, you don't have time to produce and air freight the tyres, so it is not enough. We can
shorten the time at the beginning of the season by using air freighting but, if you need to go to Australia, we need at least 3-4 weeks.”
Although determined to give the teams three compounds to choose from, Isola suggests that the solution may be to implement fixed allocations, so that the drivers will all have similar numbers of each compound available within their allotted 13 sets. It is a proposal, however, that he expects to face opposition, particularly from teams who may feel they can steal a march on the opposition through early-season tyre choice.
"We can produce the tyres in advance - if [the FIA] decides to have a fixed allocation at the beginning of the year, then we can start producing,” Isola confirmed, “It's a solution that makes sense … but to make everyone happy is impossible and to get unanimous agreement is also [difficult]… It is a decision to be managed by the FIA, not just Pirelli, [but] we are involved in the discussion because we need to check if the proposal is feasible. If you tell us that, by tomorrow, we have to supply 2000 additional tyres, it is impossible, so we need to find a solution that is feasible and I am sure we will have discussions with the FIA and the teams in the future - and we will find a solution."