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Pirelli outlines future tech

Tyre talk: Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery and his team talk to media at the 2015 Australian Grand Prix.

Advanced recycling, virtual road tests and F1 tech coming for Pirelli road tyres

20 Mar 2015

FORMULA 1 tyre supplier Pirelli is exploring innovative race-derived technology that will filter down to road car products, including reusable materials, virtual modeling and even a tyre testing simulator.

As the sole supplier for tyres for the Formula One World Championship, the Italian manufacturer is sharing cutting-edge development and recycling technologies with its road and commercial departments.

Of the many emerging innovations, Pirelli says significant ground is being made in virtual modeling, which allows a tyre to be tested even before any prototypes have been manufactured.

The top secret and highly sophisticated software allows Pirelli designers to virtually fit a new tyre to any vehicle and to analyse how it will perform without a single wheel turning.

Some of the computer simulation advancements have even been commandeered by computer software giant Microsoft to create more realistic driving simulator games, and Pirelli says the technology is so accurate that it could lead to virtual tyre test drives for customers.

Speaking to the media at the Australian Grand Prix last week, Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery said it was not allowing full access to the most secret technology, but the partnership would be mutually beneficial.

“The realism of their games in seated platforms with a steering wheel and the level of the game is not so distant from the reality,” he said.

“We were interested because we felt that it could help us commercially maybe to create an opportunity for people to try different tyres.

“At the moment you can’t try a tyre, and you are in the hands of the salesperson who will say ‘that's the best tyre.’ “If one day we can get people to try our tyres on a simulator, you can imagine that we can transform what we do in selling. We are few years away, but that one day will be what we'll do.

Mr Hembrey suggested the technology may be available to test at a Pirelli retail and fitting centre or even at home on a games console like the Xbox, and would empower customers to make more informed decisions when replacing tyres.

“It's something we need to do because it's like when I go and buy a washing machine,” he said. “I see 20 white washing machines and how can I tell? Am I going to take in my underwear and wash it 10 times in different machines and try to evaluate?” While pioneering virtual technologies for new tyres, the Italian tyre-maker is also breaching new ground for when its products reach the end of their service life.

Used tyres put huge pressure on disposal facilities and while recycling processes are becoming more efficient, Pirelli says the “ultimate goal” of reusing the same materials to produce new tyres will be a reality.

The manufacturer currently recycles used F1 tyres at its United Kingdom headquarters in a process that produces cement products, but advances in the recycling technology will one day enable the company to turn the materials into new tyres, said Mr Hembery.

“A big move in that area will be to reclaim ingredients and that's what we're working on – actually take back the ingredients from the tyre and reuse them for future tyres. That's the area of big research at the moment, and it's making strides forward.

“It's the ultimate goal. Some of it is working, but it will take a little bit more work to get it to a level we can use extensively. It's a very different process. We might need ten years to get to the ultimate situation but that has to be what you aim for.” While developing the new technologies, Pirelli continues to work with car-manufacturers, applying its race development to road cars including the highest performance machines.

“The boss of our simulation team, Dario Marrafuschi, has actually moved over to our road car business and is currently working with Ferrari, McLaren and Lamborghini in particular on virtual models for their future road cars, because he is using the experience gained from the Formula 1 program,” said Mr Hembery.

“We work very closely with the F1 teams involved in their road car businesses to work at the very highest levels.

“When they approach road car development they are starting to follow the F1 approach so they create a virtual vehicle model and create virtual tyre models so we don't actually go on the track early in the development phase, we run through simulators before we physically build tyres.

“That's a technology that is derived directly from F1 that is having an impact on us as a tyre maker but also the car makers.” The ultra high-performance Ferrari LaFerrari and McLaren P1 both exclusively wear Pirelli rubber, but for lesser vehicles Pirelli produces the P Zero Trofeo R in their motorsport factory for the highest road legal performance.

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