Pirelli officially joined the battle to become Formula 1's tire supplier next year, submitting its bids in the hope that it will beat Michelin and Cooper Avon.
Pirelli's racing manager Mario Isola speaks about the Italian company's plans for F1.
Q. What is the latest news in terms of your bid to become Formula 1's tire supplier for next year?
Mario Isola - Pirelli's racing manager: The latest situation is not so different from some days ago. We are interested in F1, which is a big challenge for us because since 1991 we have not been involved in F1. It is now a different scenario because we are talking about being a sole supplier, which is for sure a different situation to the past. So my boss is preparing an offer, and then we will see.
Q. Has there been any direct contact between yourselves and FOTA?
MI: We have had some contacts with everybody, to try to better understand the situation now - what they require and what they expect because there is a lot of chat about 18-inches, or 13-inches, and the system to supply the tires to the teams. We have tried to have a clear picture of the situation in order to prepare an offer that can satisfy all the different parties in this world. Then we will see.
We know that there are some other tire manufacturers that are interested in the same project, so I can imagine it will be a hard battle. But it is always hard in motorsport, not just in F1.
Q. There were some rumours that Pirelli was maybe going to make a presentation to the teams in Barcelona this weekend. Is that true?
MI: No. There is no plan to make any presentation. My boss is in Milan preparing the offer, so I have heard nothing about this presentation.
Q. The teams seem to be quite reluctant to jump straight away to 18-inch tires for next season, because of the costs that will entail - so there is talk of perhaps a transition period. Is that something Pirelli would be open to?
MI: It is an option. I know the teams would prefer to stay on 13-inch tires, at least in order to have a period top be able to develop the car to the 18-inch tire. It is a big change and I can imagine they would have to work a lot on the mechanical aspects of the car. The 18-inch tire is much more interesting for us because it is very close to a road tire, compared to the 13-inch tire which nobody uses at the moment.
The smallest cars have 14 or 15-inches, so it is quite a different tire from what we see usually. But it is also true that it will be a different tire, you cannot imagine that there will be an F1 tire that is close to a road tire. We will collect all the requirements from the teams in order to have a clear picture to start development, if we are successful and get a contract.
Q. Are you only interesting in being a standard tire supplier, or would you be open for a tire war situation?
MI: We prefer to be a sole supplier. The time is very short and so we prefer to be in the same situation that they are now.
Q. Commercially the teams are trying to get the cheapest deal possible, and Michelin has been under pressure to bring down its original offer. Do you think you are in the ballpark with what you are offering?
MI: This is a difficult question. I don't have an answer, because we are evaluating all the costs that we would have to face starting this new activity, and in the past all these top activities were supported by the tire manufacturers - so nobody was paying for tires. At the moment I have no answer and no idea of which is the offer we want to present to FOTA or whoever makes the decision.
Q. Considering the feedback that you have had from the teams you've spoken to, do you feel confident that they are taking your offer seriously?
MI: I think that Pirelli has a very big tradition in motorsport,. We have been involved in motorsport for more than 100 years. In all our story, we showed that we have the technical ability to build motorsport tires - also in the past with F1, with WRC recently as the sole supplier contract. In that case, it was not easy because there were some teams that had never used our tires, they started in an unknown situation so we showed that we were able to build and develop a tire that was consistent and reliable. I think the teams recognise that we have the ability to do it.
Q. Has the commercial situation for a tire supplier willing to enter F1 changed due to the worldwide financial climate? Bridgestone was obviously paying good money to be involved in F1, whereas I guess you are looking at it purely from a commercial perspective?
MI: In general I see that there is nobody who wants to pay a lot of money to be involved in a motor racing activity. The world is changing and we will see what the offers are from the three tire manufacturers who are interested. I can imagine that nobody will offer a lot of money - that is clear. The economical situation is much different from some years ago, and everyone is looking closely at the financial side.
Q. How valuable is F1 to Pirelli?
MI: F1 is the top motorsport activity you can do. It is the top engineering, development and everything. So the ability to do a motorsport tire for F1 means you are able to do everything in my opinion, because if you can produce a manufacturer good tires for these cars with the top engineers - the level of detail and quality is so high that it means if you can do this then you have big experience to do everything.
Q. Bridgestone has adopted a policy of having four compounds for each race, and bringing two. Would Pirelli carry on that concept if you won the contract?
MI: Basically we started to consider the actual situation with the four compounds for slick tires, and also one intermediate and one rain tire. This is something we can discuss with the teams, in order to understand if they are happy with the situation. Ideally I would like to reduce a little bit the choice, but it depends on the situation - because it seems that the system now is working. If we have to keep the same system we will keep the same system, but if there is something we can improve then we are open to discuss it with the teams, the FIA and FOTA.