Production for bikes and motorbikes is the same, but while Pirelli can anticipate and predict users' wants and need in the motorbike sector, when it came to Velo they had to start from scratch, taking a blank canvas in an environment which they are testing for the first time in a number of years. "It's difficult returning to a market you left a while before in a sector like premium road racing - top-of-the-range stuff, really - which developed a lot while we weren't on the market. We had to start by understanding what is needed, and what our competitors can do. Our starting point, then, was to investigate not just consumers, but also our competitors, and trying to synthesise these two pieces of information so that we could get together with our marketing group and sketch an outline of how the product had to perform. We have this in common with other businesses; if you can identify what your product has to be able to do, that's half the job done. Translating this into a specific product is something Pirelli is great at, because they have always invested in innovation". Think of it as a sort of benchmark of wants where investigating operators on the same market, understanding the performance and skill level they have backing them up, and what and how your competitors are offering the market Pirelli is getting back to. "From a technical perspective, we start by identifying the levers best-placed to give us the results we want. Clearly, we're dealing with totally new levers, since we're talking about products that use materials which are less reinforced and that are different from the materials we're used to dealing with in the car and motorbike sector. You have to remember that one of the tyres we're working on weighs around 200 grams".
We're dealing with an ultra-light product made fully from textiles and, in particular, threads, which aren't even remotely similar to those used in the consumer sector. One of the new challenges Pirelli has faced was finding new suppliers: "We got to work thinking about which factors would allow us to boost our quality further. As always, we focused on being distinctive and being ahead of our competitors. While it's true that we're entering a new market now, we want to be a market leader from day one, we're in it to win it". It's a matter of skill and striving for perfection; it doesn't matter whether you're going into a market that has changed a lot over the years: if you're Pirelli, you want to hit the ground running, so you can become a top-of-the-range market leader.
"That's an outline of how we think when we're approaching the market, how to develop the product. We go through various steps in defining the product, its geometry, by which I mean the sections, the moulds, choosing the reinforcement material and, lastly, the compounds". They work in stages, one following on from the other: an initial study, then a follow-up. Using simulations is crucial when making the first steps: "We start by outlining a mould of the new product; we can start ordering the physical equipment and experimenting with materials". When doing this for Velo, Pirelli looked for a third-party producer and found one in France. This process starts with the instructions from P, and goes through a series of interwoven production processes. It's strange listening to Misani talk about this as though we were in a spy film: "Going to the production centre and starting work on the optimum process for translating prototypes into reliable products that are qualitatively up to scratch, going through all those steps is a big undertaking. We have to do all this and keep our knowledge on competence and working methods up-to-date. We have to do this without trying to change the reality we're faced with. To set ourselves apart we came up with a range of processes in the French factory, and took others forward elsewhere too. We know that when it comes to tyres it's the materials that make the difference, and in particular the tread compounds are the first thing we identified as being separate. We worked using an initial batch of tread materials Slatina developed for us, supplying the compound directly to our French suppliers so we could have something different and a competitive advantage that others aren't able to fully replicate". We put ourselves on display and hid ourselves at the same time, which allowed us to obtain the best possible product while concealing its underlying processes. It was like a race, where the favourite hides at the back of the group before sprinting forward when it's least expected. This is how Pirelli managed to create a tyre that meets consumer expectations in terms of performance.