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. Bring back Goodyear

  2. Absolutely some of the most egregious opinions I’ve seen aired on this site.

  3. Good tire war years (as defined by a driver points battle and/or a team points battle using different tire manufacturers):
    (2001-2006)
    2006
    2003
    (1997-1998)
    1998
    (1989-1991)
    Pirelli tires were apparently just cheap tires cause only back markers and lesser midfield teams used them
    (prior-1986)
    1983
    1982 (probably would have been won by Pironi he wouldn’t have taken himself out)
    1981 (teams could use multiple tire suppliers)

    (I’m stopping at 1980 because I stopped caring)

    As shown in 1980 (a dominate engine), 1984 (a phenomenal McLaren), 2001 (a dominate Ferrari), 2009 (a non tire war year that Button should have had wrapped up on both fronts by Hungary if he would have not decided to sleep out the rest of the season), etc., it’s not just tires that can make a season a one horse race, it can also be a vastly superior car + a vastly superior driver.

    Also, most of time when one tire make dominates it is because only the back markers use the “bad” tire (ex. 1997)

    Frankly, as far as I can tell, within most F1 seasons over the past 3 decades, tires are very rarely ever the determining factor. Just because some people don’t enjoy multi-manufacturer races doesn’t mean that there isn’t a good reason to have one. Frankly, I’m used to team sports so I find it *really* easy to root for a team. If the teams contribution is just designing a wing or two and ride heights and doing the occasional tire change and refuel + transportation, I stop rooting for the team and loose interest.

  4. MoonWalker said on 17th February 2010, 6:46

    We have several engine suppliers and it seems to work fine. Nobody is shouting “engine war”. Last year Red Bull (Renault) competed with Brawn GP (Mercedes), and Ferrari wasn’t far behind.

    Why not introduce more tyre manufacturers on similar terms? It doesn’t mean that we have to unlock the tyre specification, now does it?

  5. MondoL said on 17th February 2010, 8:59

    Yesterday, in a radio programme, Joan Villadelprat said that Hankook was in a good position to take the deal.

  6. I am not sure what would be good for F1.

    Surely it does not make sence to have tyre suppliers spending enormous amounts and compromise safety to get the fastest tyres.
    Moreover, F1 is not about having the best tires and winning, I would like to see differing characteristics, that are showing different strenghts in drivers at different times.

    On the other hand, testing limits the development anybody can do. A solution would also be the homologation of tyres for each year.

    I just came up with an idea. What if there were several suppliers, but each developed and delivered only 1 type. I.E. Michelin softs, Bridgestone Mediums, Firestone supersofts, Goodyear hards, Nokian full wets, etc.
    This way each can convince teams (and fans) by building the best tyre in a given range, without an outright battle and parallel developments.
    Even better would be, to oblige them to use tyres that have to be based on production versions, like the petrol they use (Shell V-Power racing, etc.).
    Everybody would be able use tyres they like for their road cars as well!

    What do you think of this?

  7. It should be a straight business arrangement: One tire supplier, two kinds of compounds, each team gets to design their car around whichever compound they choose, and can run that tire all race long. Throughout the season.

    Michelin is the best candidate to supply as they have prior history and data base.

  8. ElChiva said on 17th February 2010, 20:28

    Let’s face it a dog of a road car won’t become a supercar based on the tyres I just bought. My old citroen zx will never outspeed my current nissan 350Z no matter what tyres they are using. So the argument of the tyre manufacturer winning a season for either team is dumb. Fast car are faster than slow cars no matter the shoes.

    • If two cars are 2 tenths of a second apart then the shoes do matter. And your citroen/nissan don’t run at 300 kmph. So, pointless argument. Peace!

  9. Ronman said on 18th February 2010, 14:10

    i liked the good year days, but I’m sure the South Korean brands would love to take a stab at this and make themselves known as worthy Tyre manufacturers…

  10. Chaz said on 2nd March 2010, 20:21

    It’s all very well to reduce the number of tyres teams can use over a gp weekend as long as the tyre quality improves to match the rule changes. I’m also not a fan and have not yet read a convincing argument to renew another tyre war…

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