Over the course of a grand prix week­end, Pirelli’s rac­ing man­ager Mario Isola over­sees the Ital­ian tyre com­pany’s F1 op­er­a­tions. But when he’s back home in Mi­lan, he moon­lights as a vol­un­teer am­bu­lance driver…

F1 Racing (UK) - - CONTENTS -

Mario Isola on his life in tyres – and his side­line in life­sav­ing

Like many cul­tured Euro­peans of a cer­tain age, Mario Isola, 48, ex­udes ur­bane charm: think grey cash­mere sweater and neat coif­fure. The man re­spon­si­ble for Pirelli’s F1 op­er­a­tions in­vites us into the sanc­tu­ary of the tyre sup­plier’s mo­torhome and or­ders an espresso, keen to ex­plain his work not only in For­mula 1, but also on the streets of his home city. He’s been with Pirelli for 22 years – his whole work­ing life – which has taken him from de­sign­ing tyres for road cars to a role in the FIA World Rally Cham­pi­onship. Then, at the be­gin­ning of last sea­son, he took over from Paul Hem­bery and now han­dles Pirelli’s day-to-day track­side op­er­a­tions in F1.

Isola’s pas­sion for rac­ing be­gan when he was just 11 years old. He spot­ted an ad­vert in the back of a mag­a­zine for a cheap kart, and bad­gered his fa­ther to buy it for him. He demon­strated a de­cent turn of speed, so his fa­ther up­graded his kart and be­gan to act as his me­chanic. Rac­ing in north­ern Italy, Isola came up against fu­ture F1 driver Max Papis and sportscar racer Chris­tian Pesca­tori. “When I was at a tyre test in the US some years ago,” Isola re­calls, “Papis came up to me and said: ‘Your face is not new to me, where did we meet?’ I re­minded him we raced to­gether when we were 15 and he re­mem­bered. Now we stay in touch to this day.”

Af­ter ten years of kart­ing (“I was not quick enough to be a cham­pion”) Isola hung up his hel­met and com­pleted his com­pul­sory year’s na­tional ser­vice, be­fore study­ing me­chan­i­cal engi­neer­ing in Mi­lan. Once qual­i­fied, he ap­plied for a job de­sign­ing Pirelli’s tyres – but was of­fered an­other role al­to­gether. “They wanted me to be a test driver for their road tyres,” says Isola. “I thought it was a joke, but ap­par­ently one of their testers had just re­signed. I went to their test track so they could see my skills be­hind the wheel. But they said noth­ing at the time. I didn’t think I was very good. Two weeks later they gave me the job.”

Isola hap­pily knuck­led down to rag­ging cars around a test track to eval­u­ate pro­to­type tyres for their com­fort and speed. He pro­gressed from test­ing Pirelli’s prod­ucts to de­sign­ing them, work­ing on a range of snow tyres for road cars. But his pas­sion for mo­tor­sport still burned, and he even­tu­ally steered him­self into the rac­ing depart­ment. His first line of work was de­sign­ing tyres for the FIA GT Cham­pi­onship, which brought him into con­tact with one of the engi­neer­ing leg­ends of the sport: Gior­gio As­canelli, formerly Ayr­ton Senna’s en­gi­neer at Mclaren, later, from 2007 to 2012, tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor at Toro Rosso. But in the early 2000s, As­canelli was over­see­ing Maserati’s MC12 sportscar project, which ran on Pirelli rub­ber de­signed by Isola.“i learned a lot in those years work­ing with Gior­gio,” Isola main­tains. “He was tough some­times, but had a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence and we won the cham­pi­onship to­gether.”

At the end of their as­so­ci­a­tion with sportscars, Pirelli switched to ral­ly­ing, be­com­ing sole tyre sup­plier to the

FIA World Rally Cham­pi­onship from 2008-10. They then de­vel­oped tyres for the GP3 se­ries as a pre­cur­sor to be­com­ing sole sup­plier for GP2 and F1 from 2011, fol­low­ing the de­par­ture of Bridge­stone. So now, Isola’s day job en­com­passes all as­pects of Pirelli’s F1 op­er­a­tion – but that doesn’t mean he puts his feet up once he re­turns home from a grand prix. In­stead he works night shifts as a vol­un­teer am­bu­lance driver. It’s a job he’s been do­ing for nearly three decades.

“Over the years I’ve be­come pas­sion­ate about the work,” he says. “The more time I spent driv­ing the am­bu­lance, the more I re­alised it’s a job that needs spe­cific train­ing. You have four medics, plus the in­jured per­son and fam­ily mem­bers, so you are re­spon­si­ble for the safety of up to seven peo­ple and you need to be very fluid with your driv­ing, oth­er­wise you can cause ad­di­tional dam­age to the pa­tient. You have to re­spect the traf­fic laws – if you kill some­one be­cause you don’t re­spect the traf­fic lights, you are re­spon­si­ble – but ob­vi­ously in an emer­gency you still have to be quick. An am­bu­lance is heavy, there is equip­ment on board, so you need to un­der­stand the weight and how to brake and cor­ner in the best pos­si­ble way.”

With all this in mind, Isola de­signed a course to train am­bu­lance driv­ers that is now used by 100 in­struc­tors across the Lom­bardy re­gion of Italy, and up to 5,000 driv­ers have come through the pro­gramme. “Peo­ple with a nor­mal day job are obliged to vol­un­teer to drive one night shift a week,” he ex­plains. “And at week­ends 90 per cent of the am­bu­lance ser­vice are vol­un­teers. We start at 7pm and fin­ish at five in the morn­ing. There’s enough time after­wards to go home, take a shower and go to work.”

So the next time you’re in Mi­lan and see a flash­ing blue light whizzing past, take a mo­ment to think of the vol­un­teers who help out with this cru­cial ser­vice, even when they have hec­tic day jobs – such as run­ning Pirelli’s F1 tyre op­er­a­tion.

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