Last year saw Pirelli return to Formula One as the sole-supplier for the series. The challenge was to supply the grid with tires in roughly nine months but these tires were to be different. These tires were antithetical to everything a tire manufacturer stands for. These tires were to degrade quickly and betray the very notion of a high quality, long-lasting tire that Pirelli usually makes.
This request came as a sort of knee-jerk reaction to an incident in 2010 when Bridgestone had provided a compound that was perhaps a bridge-to-far in construction and degraded quickly during one particular race. The effect was noticeable and the notion was then jumped on as a potential spice in the cauldron of F1 entertainment.
To Pirelli's credit, they not only accomplished their goal of creating a tire for the worlds most demanding form of motor sport, but they made them degrade quickly (relatively speaking) and this forced pit stops that otherwise would not have been needed. The cliff-edge performance of the Pirelli tires meant that the car would perform to a point and then radically drop off to a point of serious reductions in grip and pace.
In the beginning of the 2011 season, the teams were not sure how to react and the balls of rolled up rubber (marbles) on the circuit corners was immense for the first few races. A high number of pit stops followed as teams came to grips with the new tires. By the season's end, Pirelli had tweaked the compounds used during construction and the teams had learned how to tweak their chassis's for the optimum use of the tires.
Drivers also learned how to cope with the high-degradation tires and some of them excelled where others struggled. It was a year of mixed performances from teams to drivers and yet Pirelli stood firm in their belief that they added a real element of entertainment to F1 and did so at the request of the series. Pirelli's motor sport director Paul Hembery told Sky Sports:
"We were asked to bring something a bit different to the sport for 2011.
"We were given the challenge of creating tyres that degraded, tyres that had a high wear rate, so that we could force some pit-stops.
"We feel that at the end of the season we had delivered very much that."
Toward the end of the season, some pundits accused Pirelli of moving to a more conservative, reliable compound that ceased to be the additive the sport had asked for in high-degradation tires prompting more pit stops and more driver control. For their part, Pirelli dismissed that notion but they do believe they will need a more aggressive approach in 2012:
"We have to be a little bit more aggressive going into 2012"
In the end, Pirelli will have had a year of development under their belts and I have little doubt, given their maiden performance, that they will get it just right.