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

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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. 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.

  2. 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’.

  3. 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.

  4. 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?

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

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

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. wasiF1 said on 16th February 2010, 15:01

    I don’t want to see tyre war,but if Bridgestone leaves then Jean may contact with Michelin or Pirelli.

    • ElChiva said on 17th February 2010, 19:32

      bridgestone are leaving. Todd already tried to ring Michelin and Pirelly, He got only a voicemail messaging service, He left a message. A week later, still longing for a callback from either tyre manufacturer, Todd called Max and told him thanks for nothing.

  12. Pingguest said on 16th February 2010, 16:01

    Talking about costs, I think this issue has been made too big. People seem to forget that Formula 1 is expensive, has always been expensive and will always be expensive. A more important issue should be wherefore the money is spend.

    • rampante said on 16th February 2010, 16:19

      Well said Pingguest. Never been told that Chelsea or Mancester Utd can’t buy a player because some 4th division team can’t do the same. It is time to get rid of lame teams who add nothing to the sport. The 107% rule was one of the best in the last 20 years. If you don’t have the cash/talent/know how you can’t play with the big boys. This is F1 we will soon be at a point when it is no longer the top of motorsport. Before I get hammered for saying this and the anti Ferrari brigade jump on I will just remind you all that they do not have (by far) the biggest budget. Can we please have Mclaren/Ferrari/Renault etc get on with building and racing F1 cars.

      • MuzzleFlash said on 16th February 2010, 16:55

        Quite right, Toyota out-spent everyone some years but that didn’t correlate with out-performing everyone too.

      • It cannot have escaped your notice that even the likes of Mercedes have said that they will only stay in F1 if costs are got under control, and what they take part in is relevant to the majority of people who watch it.

        It’s easy for Ferrari to go on about ‘keeping up appearances’ with its guaranteed annual $200 mil Philip Morris sponsorship, but the other teams aren’t likely to want to match that by using money from their own pockets.

  13. Bhavesh said on 16th February 2010, 16:12

    I think everyone is missing the basic point that f1 trye technology is not relevant to any other form of motorsport or transportation. The fixed size of side wall to wheel diameter mean that what ever is developed in f1 is not relevant to the real world. Not even buses or trucks have side walls in as large a ratio as f1 cars.
    Without relevance to the real world the commercial justification is as a branding exercise that is best served with a trye war which as keith points out is not what f1 needs.
    If we want trye manufacturers to be interested in serving f1 make it relevant to the real world
    Low profile tryes and performance benefits from tryes that save fuel hence weight.

  14. In my view, we shuld have more than 1 tyre supplier.
    If 2 different teams can use different engines, different gear boxes, different fuels, different electronic brands then wy cant they use different tyres. Its good to have a variety.

    Its just like using a ferrari engine instead of renault or vice versa. Both engines have their own attributes. The better engine will win and the beaten one will try hard to make mends( its just an example coz i know there is an engine freeze in place).

    In the same way, whichever manufacturer produces good rubber will be hailed.
    F1 needs more than 1 tyre supplier. THe onus is on the tyre manufaturers to produce good rubber.

    I propose that the cost of 1 tyre be fixed(whether it is produced by Bridgstone or MIchelin), let FIA do that. And after watching their performance, let F1 teams decide whihc tyre to go for.Just like Force India switched from Ferrari to Merc in 2009.

  15. Dave M said on 16th February 2010, 16:57

    I reckon a company seeking to increase its exposure, like Kumho, will take over.

  16. why did michelin pull out of f1

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 16th February 2010, 17:26

      The FIA decided to only allow one tyre manufacturer in F1. They put out a tender for a company to supply tyres from 2008-2010. Michelin chose not to submit a tender and pulled out after 2006, so Bridgestone effectively became the single tyre supplier from 2007.

  17. Striay said on 16th February 2010, 18:09

    Bridgestone tests F1 tyres ahead of what could their their last season – TYPO :)

  18. theRoswellite said on 16th February 2010, 18:13

    Keith made his point very clearly, and just as clearly many people don’t seem to realize exactly what the result of any kind of a “tire war” would be.

    The tire translates all the other elements of car performance to the track, because of this any superiority of one make of tire over another, no matter how slight, becomes highly magnified.

    It is one thing to talk abstractly about the challenges of competition, but quite a different matter to watch race after race as one or two teams completely dominate the field, especially when the dominance is coming from something few fans even identify as being part of the car. (I don’t ever recall hearing fans loudly cheering the name of the winning tire after a race.)

    In 2009 Brawn completely dominated the first part of the season. Imagine a scenario where that continued for the entire season, and the key element providing the performance edge wasn’t even part of…”the car”.

    Keith is right, in a tire war, the first casualty would be close racing that reflected driver and “car” performance.

    • Absolutely agree.

    • Rob R. said on 16th February 2010, 19:05

      “but quite a different matter to watch race after race as one or two teams completely dominate the field”

      uh, that sounds exactly like 2009 to me. Brawn vs. Red Bull.

      2008, McLaren vs. Ferrari.

      2007, same

      And we had a single tyre supplier during those seasons. So, I can’t see how a tyre war is any worse for the quality of the spectacle, than the overblown aero development (the attempts of which to curtail have failed). Aero is the real enemy, not concerns of mechanical grip.

    • ElChiva said on 17th February 2010, 19:51

      I drive a fast car and it doesn’t have a diffuser. I don’t identify a diffuser as an integral part of a car and i don’t think many F1 fans do. So if brawn dominated the first half of 2009 why not allow the possibility of let’s say Lotus dominating the second half of 2010 on michelins? At least i can buy a lotus street car and a set of michelin tyres if i gave a damn.

      • Rob R. said on 17th February 2010, 23:08

        Thank you for backing me up. And you raise a good point with the diffuser mention.

        The whole “diffuser” business was a total farce. I thought the whole point of the 2009 regulations was to reduce aero grip. But then early in 2009, the FIA, at a hearing allowed these double diffusers to stand and found them to be within the rules? What the hell was the point in that effort to change the regulations, if you’re going to allow lenient interpretations of them? These politicans running the sport are suffering from senile dementia.

        All the 2009 regulations have achieved, is to make the cars hideous (yes, they are still hideous, with those huge front wings.) And it didn’t stop one team cruising to the titles in 2009.

  19. There are people who enjoyed the tyre war?!? Which part of it – how it separated the field so we had in effect two championships? How no matter how good car you have the biggest performance differentiator was the tyres you had? How tyre manufacturers had favorite teams?

    Besides, understanding the science behind what makes an F1 tyre fast is such a scientific niche that the knowledge is limited to several dozen people. It brings no ”road revelance” as the knowledge gained through R&D of F1 tyres can’t be used in any other field.

    One tyre manufacturer is quite enough, they have exposure and branding on every race car, that should be enough for them.

  20. Icthyes said on 16th February 2010, 19:03

    A tyre war would be a good thing, if you want to see a battle of innovation. Myself, I want to see a battle between drivers first and teams second, whereas at the moment it’s already the reverse, and it would become even more so were there to be a tyre war.

    It’s ironic that the one thing that would stop all this individual meddling with the sport – a budget cap – is the one thing that the FIA championed and the one thing the teams opposed. I hated the idea too, in the form the FIA presented it, but a high cap that came down over many seasons, and then only increased with inflation, could only be a good idea.

    How this would work in relation to the tyre issue is that a single tyre manufacturer could supply its tyres to teams and its transportation costs be paid for out of teams’ budgets, or better yet out of the TV money so a new team doesn’t have to worry about finding the cash for having tyres (the budget cap would then be lowered in this case). All the supplier would have to pay for is its staff, operating costs, and research, things they can determine themselves if they feel things are getting too pricey.

    Coupled with restrictions in aero but freedom in mechanical grip, with engine suppliers having their own budget cap too, we could have a way to keep costs down and the level of racing up.

    • seven89x said on 16th February 2010, 19:44

      Absolutely agree.

    • three4three said on 16th February 2010, 20:47

      Good post. Not entirely clear for me regarding tyres tho, as currently Bridgestone foot all bills tyre related – from R&D, manufacture and distribution, as well as sponsoring teams for plastering their name on the cars – in exchange for the excellent brand exposure they get by association to F1. I take it what you meant in your third paragraph was in a hypothetical future under said budget cap, which btw is probably the way it’s going to be within a few years.
      I imagine most of the grid would prefer the status quo as regards tyres (especially as they’re getting a damn good deal of free tyres AND a little sponsorship $)and Bridgestone is broaching the idea that (even with the reduced allocation of tyres per gp weekend) costs are too high and the company alone should not be responsible for bearing all costs tyre-related.

    • ElChiva said on 17th February 2010, 20:07

      One thought about budget cap FIA style .

      Imagine any company operating on a 200mill budget suddenly being told by law as of next year you shall operate in under 50mill. Now imagine the consequences.

      No more product R&D. Same car as last year same position at the end of the championship.

      Massive staff layoffs. Payouts coming from next years (limited) budget.

      Ecclestone drafting the new concorde thingy bearing in mind that teams are legally bound to a 75% lower spending, therefore 75% less money prizes…

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