F1 needs a tyre supplier for 2011 – and a new tyre war isn’t the answer

Comment

Bridgestone tests F1 tyres ahead of what could their their last season

Bridgestone tests F1 tyres ahead of what could their their last season

Bridgestone announced last year it will stop supplying F1 tyres at the end of 2010.

On the face of it, replacing them might not seem like the most pressing problem FIA president Jean Todt has to deal with.

But F1 teams will be pressing ahead with their 2011 car designs soon and for that they’ll need to know what tyres they’re going to be using. And finding a replacement for Bridgestone – or convincing them to stay – may not be easy.

Bridgestone

Bridgestone announced its withdrawal from the sport the day after the last race of 2009. It issued a press release which rather vaguely said it desired “further intensive development of innovative technologies and strategic products”.

Inevitably, one has to wonder whether Bridgestone might be talked back from this position and might just be angling for a cheaper deal for the next three-year contract.

With up to three new teams on the grid this year and two more races on the calendar, both of them ‘flyaways’, Bridgestone face an expensive 2010.

But the FIA have gone some way towards mitigating that by reducing the numbers of tyre available to teams. Last year each driver had 14 sets of dry tyres to use per Grand Prix weekend. That has been reduced to 11 (the allocation of wet and intermediate tyres remains unchanged at four and three respectively).

Had the tyre allocation remained the same in 2010, Bridgestone have to have supplied 5,187 sets of tyres throughout the season – 45% more than last year (excluding testing). The reduction in allocation means they only need to supply 4,446.

That’s still almost 1,000 more tyres than they provided in 2009. But if US F1 and Campos fail to materialise, and Stefan GP don’t win a place, Bridgestone will only need to bring 3,762 sets. That’s just 212 more than they did in 2009, and in return they gain exposure in Canada and South Korea.

Will that be enough to tempt them to stay?

Michelin

Michelin tyres beat Bridgestone's in 2006

Michelin tyres beat Bridgestone's in 2006

In the past few days rumours have gained pace that Bridgestone’s former F1 rival Michelin could return to the sport to take their place. The rumours seem credible because Michelin are one of few tyre manufacturers likely to have the data necessary to manufacture F1-standard rubber and the infrastructure to fly thousands of sets of tyres around the world.

Michelin left F1 in 2006 on a high after winning back-to-back world championships with Renault. But their time in the sport was beset by controversy.

In 2003 their tyres were abruptly ruled illegal late in the season, forcing a re-design which scuppered the championship chances of Michelin-shod front-runners Juan Pablo Montoya (Williams) and Kimi Raikkonen (McLaren).

They suffered a drubbing at the hands of Bridgestone in 2004 but bounced back in 2005 when new rules banned tyre changes during pit stops. The French company’s product won every race – bar the infamous debacle in Indianapolis.

We shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that the Indianapolis episode automatically rules Michelin ineligible to be F1’s sole tyre supplier. Different tyre suppliers have faced similar problems in the past including some at the same circuit. NASCAR’s race on the Indianapolis oval in 2008 was ruined by repeated Goodyear tyre failures.

NASCAR at least managed to have some sort of race thanks to co-operation between Goodyear and the championship organisers. A similar compromise was not found at Indianapolis in 2005 – not least because Ferrari’s team principal Jean Todt, eager to capitalise on the team’s only chance to win a race that year, wanted no concessions made to their rivals.

It now falls to Todt in his capacity as FIA president to broker a deal with his countrymen. Hopefully that Indianapolis episode is water under the bridge to all concerned.

Tyre war?

Some will ask, why have a single tyre supplier at all? Why not let teams arrange their own deals with tyre suppliers and allow them to develop newer and faster compounds.

In short, why not bring back the tyre war?

Tony Dodgins has argued for this in Autosport (link, subscription required) but I disagree. F1 cannot afford the consequences of a new tyre war.

Tyre technology is fixed at the moment – bring back the tyre war and lap times will be slashed by whole seconds per lap. The FIA will have to find new ways of keeping speeds under control. I think limiting the tyre specification is preferable to further constraints on car design and engine performance.

Bring back the tyre war and we’ll go back to the days of tyre manufacturers developing rubber specifically for whichever team can pay the most. No-one wants a return to the one-sided domination of a single team we saw in 2001, 2002 and 2004.

F1 car performance has become increasingly close in recent seasons, thanks in no small part to the end of the tyre war. Bring it back and the gap between the teams will increase once more.

As well as impairing the competition, resuming the tyre war will force costs up. Nothing racks up testing mileage like developing new tyres. Even with a single tyre supplier the FIA has seen fit to beef up restrictions on simulated tyre testing in the 2010 rules. Imagine the lengths they’ll go to if tyre technology is freed up again.

In an ideal world F1 could have free development in every area of car technology – engines, aerodynamics, tyres, the lot. But costs and speeds have to be kept in check because the sport cannot be allowed to spend itself into oblivion or compromise safety.

A return to the tyre war isn’t the answer. A new tyre supplier – or a new deal with the old one – is.

Bridgestone

Images (C) Bridgestone, Renault/LAT

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135 comments on F1 needs a tyre supplier for 2011 – and a new tyre war isn’t the answer

  1. michael said on 16th February 2010, 13:00

    If tyre companies want to compete against each other in F1, they should start their own teams. The idea that F1 should be used as a proxy for some kind of advertising/PR war between tyre manufacturers in ludicrous. It undermines a lot of the sporting element in F1, which must be a sport first and a business second if it is to prosper.

    In short, I agree with keith

    • ElChiva said on 17th February 2010, 19:06

      in every sport i can think of teams choose their kit supplier at will. Do you see FIFA rules state that only nike can supply football boots and shirts during the world cup? on the contrari FIA determines which tyre supplier, how many teams with the same engine, how many different ECUs in the grid…
      They say bring order and predictability, I say bring chaos and unpredictable racing.

  2. Daffid said on 16th February 2010, 13:12

    Keith! I think you’ve convinced me :) Even though I used to enjoy the tyre war, this is good sense. However, I think arguments against tyre wars shouldn’t focus on the dangers of increased testing, as it’s always possible to limit testing, and indeed possible to limit simulated testing too…. on which note, I’m going to PM you a thought for the season.

  3. Opposite Lock said on 16th February 2010, 13:20

    The last thing I want to see is a tyre war – identifying the best driver in the field is difficult enough without re-introducing this additional unwelcome variable.
    The current tyre regs give us compulsory tyre stops; this rule was introduced purely to pander to Bridgestone as they were concerned they wouldn’t be noticed when they became sole tyre supplier in 2006. Now that the FIA has done the right thing & banned refuelling, the next logical step in improving the racing is to remove this requirement & allow teams to the flexibility to do what they want with tyres, ie run an entire race on one set if they want to (as they used to).
    Worryingly, Mitchelin have said in relation to coming back to F1 that they would require a change in the tyre regs from 2011 to ‘show the performance they can bring, notably in terms of fuel saving & CO2 reduction’ whatever that means.
    So, if Mitchelin do come back it is likely to lead to yet another change in regs which does absolutely nothing for improving the racing & the enjoyment of the fans.
    What is required is a single tyre supplier without their demands colouring the racing. If this means the teams have to pay the supplier for their tyres so it makes economic sense for them, then so be it.

  4. The Limit said on 16th February 2010, 13:24

    I agree. I personally hated the tyre war back in the early 2000’s, it did nothing towards the quality of racing and if anything damaged it. The best thing that can happen is for the FIA and Bridgestone come to some kind of compromise, to keep costs down to a minimum inwhich all concerned can live with. Recent changes within the sport involving the teams have brought costs down compared with say five years ago, but this seems not to have included Bridgestone. I can perfectly understand why, as a company, they are aggrieved.

  5. seven89x said on 16th February 2010, 13:27

    Why do you guys care about costs?

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 16th February 2010, 14:06

      Because we care about the future of the sport.

      • gpfan said on 17th February 2010, 3:16

        I don’t. If the teams and suppliers are put to Max’s budget (vomit re:Max) all is fair. I miss the glory days of the turbo years in the 80’s. Most of you were too young, or did not follow, back then. I, on the other hand, worked Montreal.

        Tyres. Engines. Chassis.

        Go for it, son ….

  6. What if you had 3 or 4 tyre manufactures and divide the races up between them. For example, Bridgestone supply to Bahrain, Michelin supply to Australia, Pirelli supply to Malaysia and so on.

    This would mean that all the teams are even but the tyre manufactures cut thier costs dramaticly.

    • ElChiva said on 17th February 2010, 19:12

      Who will develop a state of the art F1 tyre in return for 10 hours of TV exposure? Not to mention that at the end of the year there would be no tyre manufacturer champion… back to the drawing board I guess.

  7. Pingguest said on 16th February 2010, 13:33

    A tyre war would be good for the racing, as it adds another variable to the car performances and allows teams to get more grip without creating more downforce.

    • All that it actually adds is an element of uncertainty. Despite building the best car a team could be completey crippled because they signed the wrong tyre contract. Chances are that the ones that can afford to pay would get the perceived better contract, thereby, once again, putting a wedge between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’.

  8. Single supplier with limited development allowed. Maybe we could allow teams/drivers change to whatever compound they like during the race? Or allow choice of any during the qualifying but must stick to only one compound in the race.

    If there had to be a supplier in F1 I would say ditch Bridgestone and bring back either Goodyear or Michelin.

  9. rampante said on 16th February 2010, 13:43

    If we look a little further back in the sport competition between tyre companies also made for good racing. The involvement of Pirelli,Goodyear,Dunlop all added to the sport and while the conflict between Michelin and Bridgestone was not good we have to look further than that period.
    The funds now do not and would not allow the same development that was there previously. Tyre manufacturers want to be in F1 because of good publicity, now they are only mentioned in a negative manner. I want to see individuality in this sport not 13 teams with 4 or 5 engines that are all restricted to 18000rpm. F1 has always been about winners and losers, teams going from mid field to winning and back in the space of 2 or 3 years. Can we please have the sport back that had thoroughbred cars that won and not old reliable cart horses that always get there in the end.

    • seven89x said on 16th February 2010, 14:09

      Well said.

      • It wasn’t too long ago that almost the entire field had Cosworth power, but my recollection was that they still called it F1.

        • They’d still call it F1 if they ran Lego tires or cars! That’s not the point here.

          • The point is whether or not there needs to be more than one tyre manufacturer in F1.

            I can’t have been the only person during 2005 who found Luca di Montezemolo’s comments about that season being a ‘tyre championship’ extremely tiresome. Please, not again!

            And lets imagine that two tyre manufacturers enter F1 next season. Perhaps Michelin and Kumho for example. No prizes for guessing which tyre manufacturer and teams are going to gravitate towards one another. Or perhaps names from a hat would be more appropriate?

  10. Great article Keith! I’ve been wondering what will happen with the tyres for a while now, thank you for addressing this issue. A very interesting debate going on here, but I think I still agree with the article and to those of you against the tyre war. The tyres may be the biggest factor that effects performance, and I don’t want to see wins based on who can pay more.

  11. If there is no competition, why would any manufacturer want to do F1? How can they differentiate themselves? Where is the urge to improve, to invent?
    Please no all-drivers-in-the-same-car in F1. We have Formula Renault, Formula Ford, A1GP and IRL for that.
    And who knows the world champions of these leagues?

    Exactly my point.

    • A tire war is only a bad thing for people who like single make series, frankly I don’t. At LeMans there are 5 different manufacturers of tires and I’m sure that equates to at least 10 different specifications (and probably significantly more than that) considering that there are 4 different classes. I know the LeMans, et al budgets aren’t overly inflated/bloated like F1. They might be large, but not stupendously large. How can the ACO regs allow for largely free tire specs and still keep costs under control? It most likely comes down to limitations on testing and a lack of want to spend $100k/set of tires or some equally ridiculous cost. If you limit out how much testing teams can do and add require certain types of tire testing specfications (minimum durometer tests, limited numbers of tires, etc.), you should be able to apply a cap to the amount of development and cost that is incurred in ways that are related to the tires.

  12. So do the teams have to pay for the tires they receive? I thought that Bridgestone earns a lot of money for supplying tires for f1.

    • ElChiva said on 17th February 2010, 19:22

      Nope, they pay to supply the tyres that is why every car in the grid has a little bridgestone sticker on it. That is why they are leaving the sport.

  13. I would like to see Pirelli returns in 2011. But i think F1 will decide by Michelin tyres.

  14. MuzzleFlash said on 16th February 2010, 14:01

    Wow what a headache, agree completely that a tyre war would be bad, lap times would certainly be slashed and as a result the FIA would come down hard on all other areas of development.

    That being said, the only only real area of development left to teams is aerodynamics, and time and again we’ve seen the powers-that-be drag their heels in reducing downforce. They take 50% off the teams and within 12 months they’re lapping faster than before. Perhaps scarily increasing speeds brought on by tyre R&D would force their hand to deal with it conclusively.

    F1 needs a revamp, not necessarily anything drastic, but a few tweaks, and then be left alone. Instead of meandering tweaking every winter.

    • Pingguest said on 16th February 2010, 14:39

      Would more mechanical grip and reduced downforce be a bad thing?

      • MuzzleFlash said on 16th February 2010, 14:45

        Nope, that’s the direction the sport needs to go if they want more overtaking, hence why I think they should at least experiment with bringing back active suspension and perhaps even ground effect.

        Though a Formula One car is probably the most difficult thing to attempt to lessen the turbulent wake of.

  15. I’ve always advocated a tyre war, but not the kind we saw in the early 2000s between Michelin and Bridgestone. Tyre suppliers should be restricted like engines, so they can only supply two or three teams. That way tyre suppliers can work closely with their partners to develop tyres to suit just a few cars, rather than the ridiculous “one-size-fits-all” garbage we have at the moment, where teams are forced to spend a significant part of the race on tyres that are often deliberately chosen to be unsuitable for the track. The only difficulty would be finding five or six tyre suppliers willing to commit to F1 at the same time.

    On the cost issue, the best way to resolve that is to restrict testing further. What’s the current limit – 15,000km? I would cut that back to 6,000km, which is about equivalent to the distance actually raced in your average F1 season. That way teams and their tyre suppliers have a limited amount of mileage to do all their development – it becomes about economy rather than spending your way to victory (as Ferrari and Bridgestone managed in the early 2000s). This would also deal with the complaints of those who suggest that a tyre war would add an uncontrolled variable in performance – it would be down to the teams, together with their tyre supplier, to build the most competitive package possible. So the responsibility for putting together the best car would still lie solely with the teams – as it should.

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