Pirelli have started their first Formula One tyre development test, with former Mercedes GP reserve driver Nick Heidfeld at the wheel of a 2009 Toyota TF109. Heidfeld is to be Pirelli's official test driver as the Italian firm prepares to return to Formula One racing in 2011 as the sport’s sole supplier following an absence of 20 years.
Heidfeld, who has started over 150 Grands Prix in an F1 career spanning more than ten seasons, will drive the car in a series of tests on several different circuits from August onwards, starting today (Tuesday) with a two-day session at Mugello in Italy.
"We're delighted to welcome Nick into the Pirelli family, and we're confident that he'll do a great job for us,” commented Pirelli's motorsport director Paul Hembery. “The role of test driver is a crucial one, so we were looking for a driver who had plenty of recent Formula One experience, the speed to push our new tyres as hard as possible, and the consistency to provide reliable simulations, as well as the analytical skills to relay information accurately to our engineers. Nick fits the bill in every respect and we're very pleased to have secured his services and obviously thankful to Mercedes GP Petronas for agreeing to release Nick from his contract.”
The Toyota TF109 was the last F1 machine produced by the Japanese manufacturer before they withdrew from the sport at the end of 2009 after scoring five podium finishes in their final season. As such the TF109 provides contemporary technology and performance with which Pirelli can test their new PZero Formula One tyres to the limit, without handing an advantage to any current team.
“As for the car, we have a policy of complete impartiality, so we did not want to favour any existing team,” continued Hembery. “The Toyota was the perfect solution, as it is a contemporary racing machine with proven speed and reliability but without links to any of the manufacturers currently competing in Formula One. I'm confident that we have an extremely good package that will give us every opportunity to maximise the potential of our tyres prior to the start of next season."
Pirelli's development testing is getting underway less than two months after they concluded a three-year agreement with the FIA, world motorsport's governing body, to become the sole tyre supplier to the FIA Formula One World Championship, following Bridgestone’s decision to withdraw at the end of 2010.
According to Pirelli, development work will focus on finding the delicate compromise needed between performance, durability and spectacle next season. The new tyres will be carefully designed to cater not only for the needs of the teams, ensuring a stable and consistent product, but also for the wishes of the fans to see exciting and close racing.
“Through the experience I have built up over the years, I'm confident that I will be able to provide Pirelli with some important feedback regarding the development of next year's tyres,” said Heidfeld. “I've got a lot to give but I haven't been driving so much this year, so it is good to get started! Together, I'm sure that we can create a dynamic range of tyres that will make Formula One an even more exciting sport in the future."
Following Heidfeld's on-track work with the Toyota, all the current Formula One teams will get the chance to test the new tyres at the Yas Marina Circuit after the season-closing Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November.