In the Pirelli R&D department, Pirelli tires for cars, motorcycles, bicycles and, of course, those for motorsport are conceived, developed and seen to be released, or rather validated. A context in which the Milanese company has practically always operated in every specialty. The decade spent as a supplier of Formula 1, recently extended until 2024, has given a strong push to digitization for tire development, reducing time by 30%, increasing the speed with which the various parameters can be remodeled and the exchange of information. between Pirelli and the car manufacturers and, finally, by reducing the number of physical prototypes and the times of road tests, to the benefit of sustainability.
Encounter between virtual and real
In the large Pirelli R&D building in Bicocca, four underground floors house the test center, where for just over a year there has been an advanced driving simulator, which allows you to program a virtual model of any car for any driving situation and any type of road condition to test and develop tires. In the Bicocca indoor test center, engineers, specialists and technicians work both in the virtual and digital world and in the real one, or rather artisanal as the phases of manual gouging (or engraving) of the tread pattern traced by a laser. The human factor, therefore, is central but makes use of important supports to test what experience suggests to develop tires that are in step with the times in terms of safety, strength, efficiency and comfort.
But let’s go back to the simulator which, if we want, is the litmus test of what was developed in the processing and experimentation phases that generated the prototype to be analyzed indoors, since later the road and track tests will complete the validation but in time. significantly lower than in the past. Hence, not only benefiting sustainability but also costs. The simulator consists of a large panoramic 210 ° wrap-around display that surrounds a static car set to reproduce the behavior and sensations perceived by the driver in terms of handling and, in a good percentage, of comfort thanks to a calculation capacity that analyzes 1000 times per second tire and car data.
The challenge of electrification
The challenge in the automotive sector these days is electrification and, in this field, Pirelli has already developed tires approved for the heavier full-electric models: the Hl series. For Research and Development, in which Pirelli invests 260 million euros a year, which also includes its commitment to motorsport, it is a further step that is added to the existing ones. That is, those that range from tires for high-performance cars with specific specifications for each model to those most widely used in summer, winter and all season. Currently 30% of Pirelli homologations concern tires for electric cars, but in 2025 it will reach 60%. A lot of energy is therefore concentrated towards this sector where, in a good percentage, the experiences accumulated in racing are also exploited, in particular Formula 1, especially as regards the smoothness and the ability to recover energy in slowdowns. In short, the optimization of general efficiency. Other essential points that focus the attention of Pirelli R&D are the structural strength of the tires, also given the size of the masses of electric cars, which in indoor tests are stressed to the highest levels to ensure maximum safety and comfort. The latter in full-electric is often downsizing from rolling tires. In Bicocca a modern semi-anechoic chamber allows to evaluate how to structure the tire to reduce it with suitable technologies. A much more complex job than one might think because the integration of solutions intended for this purpose must be combined with grip, smoothness and all-round safety. Therefore, reducing the noise level by 3 dB, which in fact is the halving of the audible one, is a demanding operation. And also in this sense the latest refinement is given by road tests.