Pirelli’s development programme on next years tyres has moved into another phase, with the testing role passing from Romain Grosjean to Pedro de la Rosa, recently ousted by the Sauber team in favour of Pirelli’s original tester Nick Heidfeld.
The first three tests were carried out by Heidfeld, with Grosjean taking over for the recent fourth test. But current F1 drivers will be relieved that the role has now been given to De la Rosa, who has a wealth of experience as a development driver with McLaren, a role he relinquished only this year to take up the race opportunity with Sauber.
Heidfeld spoke about the tests today briefly, on his return to competitive action with Sauber, explaining that he had worked on constructions and compounds. But he was not giving away any insights into how the tyres behave. Something many people would love to get a read on.
Having consulted with several engineers, it seems that Heidfeld’s knowledge will be useful to Sauber’s design engineers at this stage, as the tyre construction in particular is not likely to change significantly between now and the Abu Dhabi test in November at which all the teams and drivers will get their hands on the new rubber for the first time.
Heidfeld made it clear that he has come back to Sauber only for the remaining five races and that 2011 is still completely open.
Meanwhile one man who has a significant interest in the way the Pirelli’s are developing is Michael Schumacher, who worked alongside Heidfeld at Mercedes for half of this season. He spoke this evening about the subject. His difficulties this season have revolved to a large extent around the way that the Bridgestone front tyres perform on the Mercedes, which is not compatible with his style of driving, so some insight into the characteristics of next year’s tyres would be of great benefit to him.
“It’s a question of whether the tyres we have in Abu Dhabi will be the same ones we start the season with and continue the season with, ” said Schumacher. “Yes you’ll get a quick read because you know what the car has been with the Bridgestone tyres and then you’ll know what it is with the Pirelli tyres.
I asked him whether he had pumped Heidfeld for information. The Schumacher of old had legendary attention to detail and was always trying to squeeze out any piece of information that would give him a competitive advantage. Surely, given his current difficulties he would have got the information from Heidfeld?
“Not at all, ” he replied. “I haven’t had one word with him about his Pirelli test. I’m pretty sure what he would tell me wouldn’t be very conclusive. First he wouldn’t want to tell me anything and second he did it in a car that is very different, so what’s the point? I’d rather wait until I make my first experience.”
Schumacher has to approach next year as an opportunity. Next year is a level playing field for him relative the other drivers, all of whom will be coming to terms with the characteristics of the Pirellis from scratch. Remember that it took Alonso and Raikkonen the best part of half a season to master the switch from Michelin to Bridgestone in 2007.
Schumacher also took the opportunity to dismiss the rumours, put about by Eddie Jordan on the BBC, that he is planning to quit at the end of the season. Asked if he wished to deny it he said simply, “Indeed. You can’t get rid of me!”