Pirelli already had multiple Formula 1 world titles from the 1950s and grand prix wins as recently as 1991 to its name when it decided to join the championship as its sole tyre supplier for 2011. In the intervening period it had also achieved great success in world rallying, sportscars, touring cars and superbikes, in addition to serving a year as GP3's rubber partner in 2010. Stepping back up to the big league would surely be easy, even if in-season testing was banned...
However, the rate of development in F1 is ferocious - particularly since the early 1990s - and none of the above categories really bear any resemblance to grand prix racing either, thanks to being devoid of aerodynamics as its primary performance driver, or even of having open wheels.
Thus the company came into an aero-driven formula without ever having developed tyres for windtunnel testing. In fact, during Pirelli's 1980s and '90s campaigns, windtunnel 'wheels' were turned from aluminium or formed from carbon fibre, with about the only resemblance to the real thing being that both were round. Since then aero has progressed to such a degree that even having insufficient clearance between model and windtunnel wall can make the difference between winning and being off the podium - as Ferrari has recently demonstrated.
Nelson Piquet was Pirelli's last F1 race-winner before its return this year © LAT
When Pirelli was first announced as F1's sole tyre supplier in place of the departing Bridgestone, Toro Rosso technical director Giorgio Ascanelli congratulated Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery, and added: "Paul, the biggest task you've got now isn't making Formula 1 tyres, it's making windtunnel tyres."
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