Motor

How secret was Pirelli test in Spain?

Paul Hembery
Paul Hembery of Pirelli says Mercedes F1 tests in Barcelona were no secret.
SPEED Adam Cooper
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In Friday’s Pirelli teleconference, company motor sport boss Paul Hembery did his best to dismiss suggestions that the Barcelona Mercedes test was a "secret," notwithstanding the fact neither the other competitors nor the FIA were informed about it.

The story only emerged after a third-party supplier, someone seemingly not bound by the conspiracy of silence woven by Pirelli and Mercedes, mentioned it to the governing body.

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Pirelli might blame the media for emphasizing it, but the level of secrecy involved is an issue that the FIA will be looking at as it examines the Ferrari and Mercedes tests, and considers whether the contracted tire company has fulfilled its obligation to maintain sporting equity.

“Some people have described the test as secret,” Hembery said on Friday. “Well, I don’t think we would have won any James Bond prizes, because we booked the circuit in our name, two days after an F1 race.

“We turned up in our trucks, dressed as Pirelli people, with a brightly colored Mercedes car, at a circuit like Barcelona, where when you hear an F1 car, fans turn up and take photos. We’d be very bad spies from that point of view.”

So how relaxed was Pirelli about fans “turning up,” either at the Mercedes test or the Ferrari session that preceded it?

There’s no better man to ask than Pius Gasso, a former racing driver who lives virtually next door to the Barcelona track and who takes a keen interest in what’s going on.

Apparently nicknamed the "all-seeing eye" by friends on the Spanish motor racing scene, he knows the people who work at the circuit, he knows how to get in and he knows how to get spy photos that 007 would be proud of.

It was Pius who grabbed a few shots of the Ferrari test, which emerged on the web but attracted very little comment. Old F1 cars are often in action for filming and so on, and it didn’t seem to be of interest for the simple reason that no one expected Pirelli to be running full-on F1 tire tests, secret or otherwise.

The Mercedes test was a different story. Despite his best efforts, in the end Pius could get only a snatch of audio of an F1 car going round, along with some fuzzy snaps from a hillside some two kilometers away.

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Although he put a picture on Twitter, again there was no red flag, since nobody believed that proper F1 tire testing could possibly be going on, with the exception perhaps of Ferrari.

So what was security like at the two sessions?

“At the Ferrari test, I could take pictures from the gate on the corner of New Holland [the final corner],” Pius tells me. “But because of the security cameras, four security men were quickly sent to me, and they told me it was a private test and I had to leave the area. They told me, ‘Please, Pirelli does not want photos, this is a GP2 test, and the truth is it’s nobody famous.’ I had the picture, so I left!

“At the Mercedes test, the door was fully closed at New Holland, covered with a red canvas that made it impossible to see who it was. There were people from ISS, a company dedicated to the monitoring and control of the circuit, who did not let me stay over 10 minutes in the street by the gate. I recorded the audio and decided to climb a mountain to make those pictures.”

Hembery says that his company wants to protect “proprietary information for Pirelli,” even from the attention of teams.

And yet he also says that there was little to be gained from inviting observers from other teams to the Mercedes session — as it did with previous Renault/Lotus testing — because they wouldn’t know what tires were being used. In other words, Pirelli believes that rival F1 engineers, invited to attend a test and watch from the pitlane, would learn nothing useful about the tires.

Therefore, one wonders quite what anybody standing outside the gate — or sitting in the grandstand — could have learned about Pirelli’s R&D by watching a Mercedes droning round.

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So why the excessive security measures? Why stop members of the public from observing from outside the venue, never mind wandering around the spectator areas, enjoying the chance to see the car that was on pole a few days before?

One might conclude that this was little to do with Pirelli protecting its IP and rather more with not letting the outside world know which car/driver combination was going round, or indeed what was going on in the garage between runs.

Crucially, what invited observers from other teams would be able to do at such a test of course is:

a) Verify that everything was being run to the data protection standards promised with the Lotus testing, and . . .

b) Confirm that Mercedes was not testing different parts and setups, and thus this was a genuine tire test.

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