Just before this weekend’s German Grand Prix, I managed to nab a few minutes with Pirelli’s top man in Formula One Paul Hembery.
Q: Paul, as Pirelli’s main man in F1, can you give us an outline as to what exactly your role entails?
I guess, as for many bosses, the main job is get the team together and working in harmony and delivering exceptional results. We have various teams within our motorsport department, the factory in Turkey, R and D and Commercial in Milan, and Race support and Engineering in Didcot. A very international team. I also act as spokesman for the company in F1, so I have a media role to perform on behalf of the team.
Q: Were you always involved with motorsport or did you have a different route into your current role?
I have been in Pirelli for 20 years, in various R and D roles and also for a time as CEO of Pirelli Asia Pacific (excl China). I have been head of motorsport for the last 11 years. So technical, commercial, marketing, industrial, a bit of everything. I have been fortunate to have been given all of these opportunities by Pirelli.
Q: Presumably over the course of a race weekend you’re pretty busy, but away from there and during the week, what keeps you busy?
Actually in many ways the race weekend is one of the quieter periods. As many F1 teams will tell you, when at the race, you can do nothing more, it is what happens before that counts. We are involved in 130 different motorsport championships around the world, we have a wonderful bespoke factory in Izmit Turkey, and a very intense R and D programme related to motorsport. So there is always something going on.
Q: Given the range in size of teams now in F1, do you find some harder to deal with than others (without naming names of course)?
Actually they are all excellent as you would expect from the pinnacle of motorsport. There is not one more difficult than another, they are all requesting the best product and support possible.
Q: Do Pirelli bring a lot of personnel to each F1 race?
It depends if we have Gp2 and Gp3 , but on average 45 people per event excluding our marketing and activation people who look after our VIP guests.
Q: You mention on your Twitter bio that you’re an expert suitcase packer – do you find life on the road difficult?
Well yes, I spend maybe 5 nights a month at my home, well holiday home really, in the UK, the rest of the time I am all over the world or in Milan, so hotels I know very well. I have 2 big Rimowa cases with me on a 3 week trip, mainly because I have to carry business suits, race wear, casual wear, gym kit, and in the worse case, the risk of going from 15 degrees C to 45 during that period. It takes about an hour to pack for a 3 week trip.
Q: And with all that travel of following the F1 circus around the globe, you must get some whopper mobile phone bills?
Well luckily my work phone has a great Blackberry contract and the costs are actually very low. Sadly my personal phone is not so lucky, and I do get some big hits. Still, costs have come down, a few years ago bills ran into many thousands a year. Today it is far from that
Q: getting back to F1 for a moment, given the recent environmental awareness with F1, what do Pirelli do with all of their used tyres once any further data is obtained from them?
All of the tyres return to our Didcot base, and then are scrapped and munched up and made into secondary products , often mixed with concrete for example and used in construction. So there is life after death so to speak.
Q: Is a new set of tyres expensive these days? And how many tyres does a team go through each season?
Well the price is not really calculated, the costs of F1 are high due to the 20 race championship and 4 weeks of testing. It is impossible to really put all of the development costs and logistics against the tyres as it would be a high unit price. The teams , depending on the weather of course, will have 100 sets for testing and at each event have 11 sets of slick, and 7 sets of wet tyres per car.