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Pirelli succeeds in shaking up Formula One

Italian company contributes to less processional races

Pirelli succeeds in shaking up Formula One

(By Paul Virgo) Rome, April 16 - When Pirelli became Formula One's exclusive tyre supplier in 2011, the Italian company was given a clear brief to make the sport more exciting. Years of using Bridgestone's hard-wearing tyres had contributed to making too many races processional, with a driver, often the man on pole position, frequently holding the lead from early on until the chequered flag. Once the initial fury of the start and the first bend was over, many grands prix were devoid of drama, as in many cases, teams could complete the race with just one pitstop. Pirelli is now in the third year of the three-year deal it signed with F1 and there can be no doubt that it has changed this situation completely with its deliberately fast-wearing tyres. These force teams to make more pitstops, thus providing more opportunities for changes of position. And teams know that they have to think long and hard about their strategies now and have extremely well-drilled crews in the paddock rather than just working on giving their driver the fastest car possible. This produced eight different race winners in 2012. This year has seen three different drivers at the top of the podium in the three races so far this season, with the lead changing hands many times, after Pirelli changed its compounds with the aim of ensuring at least two stops per driver in every race. Giving some more variables to the racing does not seem to have affected the overall outcome at the end of the championship - the best combination of car, driver and team still wins. Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel claimed his debut title in 2010 before the Pirelli era and retained the crown in 2011 and last year. Nevertheless, there have been some claims that Pirelli have gone too far in the extent that they are mixing things up. Vettel and his Australian teammate Mark Webber have been among those to complain that drivers are having to pay too much attention to how much the tyres are wearing rather than going full throttle. Pirelli Motorsport Director Paul Hembery said the company would assess its tyre compounds after this weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix, as planned at the start of the season. But he also stressed that many teams had requested no changes to the tyres and that, on the whole, they were doing their job in delivering interesting contests after last weekend's Chinese Grand Prix, won by Fernando Alonso, "Alonso is the third different winner in as many races so far this season and we had five (current and former) world champions in the first five positions," said Hembery. "(In China) we again saw a great variety of different strategies with Vettel and (McLaren's Jenson) Button choosing to use the soft compounds at the end of the race. "This gave us an emotional finale, with the battle for third place between (Mercedes's) Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel being fought right up to the chequered flag". Pirelli was founded in 1872 in Milan by 24-year-old Gian Battista Pirelli, who brought the company into motorsport in 1897 when he decided to develop tyres for motorbike racing. Since then, Pirelli has grown to be the fifth-largest tyre maker in the world, employing around 40,000 people in more than 160 countries. The company wrapped up all the Formula One titles from 1950 to 1954, thanks to partnerships with Ferrari and Maserati and legendary drivers such as Giuseppe Farina and Alberto Ascari, in the days when tyre suppliers varied from team to team. It quit F1 in 1991, while continuing to supply tyres to several other motorsport series, before returning two years ago. Pirelli is currently in talks with the teams and the sport's governing body FIA to renew its contract to supply F1 tyres after the current deal runs out at the end of this year. Hembery said he hopes an agreement can be reached soon, as the tyre maker and the teams have to prepare for some major rule changes in 2014. "With the substantial technical changes coming for next year, Pirelli and also the teams themselves would need to know sooner rather than later whether we continue in Formula One next year," he told DPA. "We have always said that we would like to be in F1 at least for the medium term, as long as it makes sense for us from a financial point of view".

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