By Alan Baldwin
BIRMINGHAM, England (Reuters) - Pirelli want triple champion Lewis Hamilton and other top Formula One drivers to find time in their crowded schedules for tire testing ahead of potentially major changes in 2017, motorsport director Paul Hembery said on Thursday.
The 2016 sporting regulations allow the sole tire supplier up to six carefully controlled two-day tests during the course of the season.
However, with an unprecedented 21 grands prix on the calendar as well as an August factory shutdown and two regular in-season team tests, the scheduling is not straightforward.
Formula One has promised faster, more powerful and louder cars for 2017 but the technical specifications have yet to be finalised amid talk of a general watering-down of initial proposals.
Tires are set to be wider, front and rear, and subject to faster cornering speeds and potentially far heavier loads.
Hembery told Reuters at the annual Autosport International show that, ideally, it would be top drivers rather than reserves -- often juniors who have never raced in Formula One -- who took part in the unglamorous tire tests.
"They clearly push things to another level, that’s why they are world champions. You want the quickest car and the most extreme conditions and the best drivers in the world. You would want their feedback," he said.
Pirelli have a two day pre-season test of the 2016 wet tires scheduled for Le Castellet in southern France later this month but Hamilton's Mercedes team are not taking part in it.
McLaren, who will attend with Ferrari and Red Bull, are sending Belgium's 2015 GP2 champion Stoffel Vandoorne.
"It’s probably less important for the wet test," said Hembery, when asked if he was disappointed that neither of McLaren's world champions Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button would be attending.
"We’re really thinking of 2017. That’s a big change and we really do want to have the best conditions to be able to deliver in 2017 what the teams and drivers and sport wants.
"Two or three top teams with the first race driver testing is what you’d really want."
Hembery said Pirelli wanted to test in June and July but no dates had been finalised yet and nor was there any decision on what specification cars might be used.
"Based on the last technical meeting, we believe we are going in a direction that’s going to be more realistic in terms of how we address the new tire for 2017," he said.
"We need to be circuit testing around June, that’s our requirement.
"The practicalities of it are not easy. We need some plans put in place very quickly."
Hembery dismissed recent reports suggesting Pirelli had told teams last month that their 2017 tyres would be unable to cope with the loads generated by increased aerodynamic downforce without significantly greater pressures -- which would reduce lap times again.
"I’m not really sure where some of that came from," he said. "Of course you can do it, but you’re not going to be able to do it with a product that you see today."
"If you did want to go and increase (loads) by 60 percent than it changes not only the structure of the tire but the compounding ranges that you use, which takes you into a new area of technology that’s never been seen before.
"That requires a very, very intensive testing program which is probably unrealistic in the time scales we’ve got."
Pirelli last year agreed a new three-year contract from 2017 with Formula One's commercial head Bernie Ecclestone but Hembery said they were still waiting for the governing FIA to finalize their paperwork.
"We don’t anticipate any worries. I guess if there’s no contract anyone could walk away, but we have a contract with Bernie and FOM (Formula One Management) so the rest of the agreements I’m sure will follow in due course."
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)