Pirelli has begun its first Formula One tyre development with German driver Nick Heidfeld, who is to be Pirelli's official test driver as the Italian firm prepares for its return to F1 for the first time in 20 years.
Heidfeld will use Toyota's Formula One car from last year, the TF109, to test the new rubber that all the teams will use from 2011 onwards.
The 33-year-old raced in Formula One right up to the end of last year, having spent 10 seasons in the sport during which he started over 150 races. Throughout his career he scored 219 points, including 12 podiums, and he is currently chairman of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association.
The Toyota TF109 was the last Formula One car produced by the Japanese manufacturer before it withdrew at the end of 2009 after scoring five podium finishes in its final season. As such the Toyota provides contemporary technology and performance with which to test the new Pirelli PZero Formula One tyres to the limit, but does not hand an advantage to any current team.
Heidfeld will drive the car in a series of test sessions on several different circuits from August onwards. The tyre development work will focus on finding the delicate compromise needed between performance, durability and spectacle next season.
The German has been from his role as reserve driver with Mercedes GP so that he can start immediately with the Pirelli program.
“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.”
Pirelli's development testing is getting underway less than two months since Pirelli concluded a three-year agreement with the FIA, world motorsport's governing body, as the sole tyre supplier to the Formula One World Championship. In addition to this, Pirelli will also supply GP2 and GP3.
Pirelli's 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.
Consequently, Heidfeld's role will be vital as Pirelli fine-tunes the specification of the four compounds, two of which will be used in each race next year, as per the current regulations. Heidfeld's consistency is a crucial asset in this task: the German holds the record for the highest number of consecutive race classifications (41) and he also managed to finish every race during the 2008 season.
“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,” said Pirelli's Motorsport Director Paul Hembery.
“Nick fits the bill in every respect and we're very pleased to have secured his services.
“As for the car, we have a policy of complete impartiality, so we did not want to favour any existing team. 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.”
Following Heidfeld's on-track work with the Toyota, all the current Formula One teams will get the chance to test the new tyres after the season-closing Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November.