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


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 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 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.


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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

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

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

  6. 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.

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

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

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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…

  11. Pingguest said on 16th February 2010, 19:17

    Some say that with the tyre ware, the tyres became the most important differentiator and hence a standardization was necessary. I disagree: instead of going further with the standardization of the sport, the FIA should had chosen for freeing-up the entire regulations, resulting in other parts becoming more important.

    • but then the focus of the competition switches from the drivers and the teams to the ”black magic” that nobody really understands. What is so great and exciting about tyres? They should be there to aid the battle between teams, not to be the focus of the battle.

      Just imagine – this season we could see 4 teams competing neck to neck for the top. Lets imagine theoretically that tyre wars are still active and that teams have different tyre suppliers. Lets say 2 teams are on one supplier and other 2 on the other one. 2 teams which would otherwise fight for the front would fight for scoring a few times in the season as one tyre supplier is faster and no matter how much the car is designed good it is no good because they lost in tyre gamble. And then of the 2 other teams one runs away with the championship due to ”special relationship” with tyre supplier.

  12. One season where you use as many tyres, gear boxes, engines and any aero you want without penalties would be fine!!

  13. theRoswellite said on 16th February 2010, 23:59

    A final reflection..

    I remember back in the days when Dunlap supplied all the tires for Grand Prix racing. You didn’t see any tire development as such, but that didn’t really impact the quality of the racing. The tires simply became a neutral entity, much more than is even the case today.

    And that was good in the sense that all the focus was on the design and development of the cars and most importantly the skill of the drivers.

    Oh, and a last comment: the other thing about having tires become such a huge determiner of car performance is the teams, as they are normally envisioned, don’t do the actual changing of the tire prophile, as it is an area outside their expertise.

    With the exception of a few chemical or mechanical engineers in our midst, I doubt anyone is that interested in the black magic of tire production.

  14. Tony Dodgins over at Autosport begs to differ that the sport may indeed need a tire war. Makes a good argument too. You do too though Keith. I think it would be good.

  15. Mike-e said on 17th February 2010, 1:19

    how about if they had a different tyre supplier for every race. So the tyre supplier buys the rights to a circuit, all cars must run this tyre brand at this circuit. that would make things interesting…..

    Michelin – French GP (if it comes back)
    Yokohama – Japanese gp
    Dunlop – GBR GP
    and so on… dont really know any spanish or malaysian tyre manufacturers, would save companys money flying them around. And if there are gp’s at places that dont have good standart tyre manufacturers, then the bigger ones could buy the rights…..

    what do you think?

    • Mike-e said on 17th February 2010, 1:25

      would also test the car against a range of un tested quantities, and see which is truly a good all round car.

      Would help with manufacturers road car sales too as you dont only run a car on one brand, everyone picks a different one and the car handles differently…. so if you proved that your cars are good like this on a circuit, maybe it would translate down the ranks to the road cars.

    • ElChiva said on 17th February 2010, 20:19

      i think that i don’t know of any brazilian, spanish, EUROPEAN, belgian, chinese or malaysian tyre manufactures but if you can find some in google you are welcome to try and convince them to manufacture an F1-quality tyre in exchange of 2 hours of tv exposure

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