'Terror tyres' hurt Pirelli image

2013-07-02 09:21

LONDON, England - "Take the F1 performance to your car" says a slogan on the website of Italian tyre-maker Pirelli.

The company supplies all 11 Formula 1 teams and suffered the downside of supporting high-profile sport after images of its shredded tyres were beamed to millions of TV viewers around the world.

"Terror tyres" was the headline on the back page of Britain's Daily Mail, while The Times said "Road to hell as tyre chaos almost halts GP".


Pirelli specialists were urgently trying to discover what caused the five tyre failures during the 2013 British GP at Silverstone: Was it something to do with their product or was the track to blame?

The sport's drivers raised the spectre of boycotting the 2013 German GP if changes were not made in favour of safety. Complex rules, internal politics and team rivalries have complicated Pirelli's efforts to produce a good racing tyre but those subtleties were lost on most viewers.

Sports marketing agency Octagon’s Joel Seymour-Hyde said: "A lot of these things are beyond their control. The bottom line is your product is a tyre. It goes around on a fast car and it failed spectacularly."

The British race
was the eighth of 19 on the 2013 F1 calendar and the first time tyre blowouts have been a major problem.

The Pirelli tyres had been the centre of controversy all season, with drivers complaining they had to cut their speed to prevent them wearing out after only a few laps.

One solution could be to go back to 2012's tyres, the Red Bull team suggested.

Pirelli share price slid when news also broke that Italian prosecutors were seeking to jail company chairman Marco Tronchetti Provera for two years in a case related to his time as head of Telecom Italia.

Pirelli, the world's fifth-biggest tyremaker, has been the sole supplier to F1 since 2011 under a contract that will expire at the end of 2013.


The 11 teams make a cash payment to Pirelli for the tyres and carry branding for the company. The teams complain that the value of the advertising they supply far outweighs the cost of the tyres.

Sponsors and suppliers use major sporting series and events like the Olympics to show their ability to deliver under the most exacting circumstances.

Simon Chadwick, professor of sports marketing at Coventry University in central England, said: "F1 is Pirelli's attempt to shout louder than anyone else, to get noticed."
Chadwick said that few viewers would have decided never to buy a Pirelli tyre on the basis of the British race. However, the risk was that the brand would develop negative associations - the exact opposite of what sponsors are trying to achieve.

Chadwick said: "You normally associate F1 tyres with safety and security. It's about reliability. Its brand to a greater or lesser extent will have been affected."

Pirelli must now decide whether to remain in the sport and repair its image or cut its losses and quit. It has already committed to contracts for trackside advertising for the 2014 season so a withdrawal would be a surprise.

The company declined to comment. Paul Hembery, its motorsport director, said that the company was urgently analysing the failures.

One by-product of the chaotic race, won by Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg, was that it put the sport back in the news on a weekend when it was competing with Wimbledon tennis and the British and Irish Lions rugby tour to Australia.