Pirelli’s vast Izmit factory mixes old-school industry, cuttingedge technology and a spot of old-fashioned baking to produce state-of-the-art Formula 1 tyres. F1 Racing flew over to Turkey to find out how a tyre is born
When the wind blows in the right direction, an aircraft descending into Sabiha Gökçen Airport presents an excellent view of the Istanbul Park racing circuit to those seated on the starboard side. To port, looking out over the Sea of Marmara, the city of Izmit is little more than a smudge on the horizon. It’s a place that might excite classical scholars, having served briey as the eastern capital of the Roman Empire, but few others would get a thrill. Except, that is, for hardcore Formula 1 fans. While Turkey no longer hosts a grand prix, it’s still in the game: Izmit is where Pirelli make F1 tyres.
For those accustomed to the clean-room vibe of modern F1, Pirelli’s factory delivers a dose of oldschool heavy metal. Vulcan’s workshop is a maze of pipework and conveyor belts, illuminated by grimy skylights. It smells like the world’s biggest bicycle shop, mixed with machine oil and a touch of brimstone.
The motorsport line is only slightly different to the adjacent road-tyre production hall: better lit, more space, a more chemical aroma… and rows of chequered ags hanging from the rafters. This facility opened in 2008, initially producing tyres for the World Rally Championship, then moving up through the gears to add Grand-Am, GP3, GP2 and, as of 2011, F1.
Today the plant is producing supersofts. One glides down a conveyor every few minutes, interspersed with enormous slicks destined for GTs and a batch of touring car rain tyres. For which series? The operator shrugs and grins – the universal gesture for ‘how should I know/why should I care?’ Pirelli supply hundreds of racing series from Izmit – only the barcodes reveal the nal destination.
What’s striking is how very similar the process is to baking a cake: there’s a recipe to follow and ingredients are measured, mixed, layered and then baked. An alarm sounds, they come out of the oven, decoration is added – and they’re done. However, the