Cracking the barcode with Pirelli
16 May 2012
Pirelli brings around 1800 tyres to each grand prix, but the destiny of these tyres is mapped out long before they arrive at the circuit. The tyres for each race are made in a specific production run before the grand prix.
They are manufactured at Pirelli's state of the art motorsport facility in Izmit, just outside the Turkish capital of Istanbul. During the production process, each tyre is allocated a barcode provided by the FIA (the sport's governing body). This barcode is the tyre's 'passport', which is embedded firmly into the structure during the vulcanisation process and cannot be swapped. The code contains all the details of each tyre, making it traceable throughout the race weekend with Pirelli's RTS (Racing Tyre System) software, which can read and update all the data.
For European grand's prix, the tyres are then transported to Pirelli's logistics and distribution hub at Didcot in the United Kingdom. Once they arrive there, an FIA official receives a list of bar codes, which relate to the tyres that will be taken to the next grand prix. The FIA then allocates bar codes – and therefore tyres – to each individual teams at random. Pirelli itself is not involved in this process at all, meaning that the Italian firm cannot influence which tyres are allocated to which teams – although a rigorous quality control process in Izmit ensures that all the tyres leaving the factory are identical.
Once at the circuit, the tyres are then allocated to the teams in strict compliance with the list that has been previously prepared by the FIA. The bar codes allow both the FIA and Pirelli to ensure that the right teams, according to the regulations, are using the correct tyres.
Each team is allocated a Pirelli engineer, who works exclusively with that team for all of the year, but the database that every engineer works off allows the engineer to see only information relating specifically to his or her team over the weekend, so that individual strategies are not compromised. Development data is overseen by Pirelli's senior engineers, who monitor all the information in order to assist the research team in charge of shaping the next generation of tyres.
As Pirelli's motorsport director Paul Hembery points out: “Even if we wanted to – which we certainly don't – there is no way that we could influence which tyres are being allocated to which teams, as this is a job taken care of entirely by the FIA once the tyres have left the Izmit factory. It is just another way that impartiality can be ensured among all the teams, which is a huge priority for us as exclusive tyre supplier. The way that our team engineers work also respects this confidentiality, which is always of paramount importance.”
Countdown to a grand prix
Before the grand prix:
*Pirelli, with the approval from the FIA, selects the tyres for the race – a softer compound plus a harder compound.
*Production of the tyre allocation begins at the Izmit factory in Turkey. We supply approximately 1800 F1 tyres for each race; about 700 more if the race is a GP2 round as well as 600 for GP3.
Two weeks before the grand prix:
*For European events the tyres for the race are transported by road from Izmit to Didcot: a journey of approximately 3100 kilometres that takes three days.
*The tyres arrive at the Didcot facility and have their bar codes scanned into Pirelli's system. The FIA (the governing body of world motorsport) is then notified of the bar codes.
*At random, the FIA allocates certain barcodes to each team. The allocated tyres are then sorted out by team in Didcot and loaded into seven trucks for transportation to the grand prix (four trucks for F1, three trucks for GP2 and GP3).
One week before the grand prix:
*The trucks set off from Didcot for the race, normally arriving on the Monday before the race takes place. The 18 fitters set up the fitting area and the barcodes are confirmed again with the FIA.
Five days before the grand prix:
*The fitters start fitting tyres onto the rims. It takes an experienced fitter 2.5 minutes to fit one tyre from start to finish: for all the tyres of the weekend they need two days. The teams own the wheels: they are brought to Pirelli at the circuit for the tyres to be fitted onto them.
During the grand prix weekend:
*The sporting regulations determine that one set of the harder dry tyre must be returned after the first practice session, with one set of the softer and one set of the harder compound to be returned before the start of the third practice session. A further set of softer and one of the harder compound must be returned before the start of qualifying. This means that each driver has six sets of the dry compounds (three of each specification) available for qualifying and the race.
*Tyres that are returned get taken off their rims, as they won't be used anymore, with the rims being returned to the teams.
After the grand prix:
*All remaining tyres, both used and unused, are taken off their rims and then transported back to Didcot. When they arrive, the tyres are taken to a specialised plant where they are shredded and then burned at very high temperature in order to produce fuel for cement factories. The material produced in this process can also be used for road surfaces and other industrial applications.
Feature courtesy of Pirelli