F1’s tyre wars

F1 statistics

Tyre manufacturers are vying to replace Bridgestone in 2011

Tyre manufacturers are vying to replace Bridgestone in 2011

The F1 world is waiting to discover what tyres the cars will be running on next year. An announcement is expected soon. As tipped here two weeks ago ago, Cooper has joined Michelin in expressing interest in supplying F1 tyres next year.

But while Michelin enjoyed championship success in both its previous F1 appearances, Cooper has not supplied tyres in F1 before. Its Avon brand has, but it never enjoyed an F1 race win.

Find out more about F1’s tyre wars below.

The tyre wars in numbers

The chart below shows which tyre manufacturers have won races in the world championship:

Tyre suppliers who won world championship races

Tyre suppliers who won world championship races (click to enlarge)

The Goodyear generation

Goodyear became F1's most successful tyre supplier in 1976

Goodyear became F1's most successful tyre supplier in 1976

Tyre technology in F1 really took off with the advent of slick tyres, first used at the Spanish Grand Prix in 1971.

The arrival of American tyre manufacturers Goodyear and Firestone squeezed out Dunlop, who had enjoyed several years as the dominant force. But soon after that Firestone were gone too.

By the mid-seventies a set of Goodyears was the thing to have, but that began to change when Michelin first entered the sport in 1977.

They supplied tyres to the new Renault team, which is best remembered for introducing 1.5-litre turbo engines. But with them came another innovation, courtesy of Michelin: the radial tyre.

By the early eighties Goodyear saw the writing on the wall and committed to producing radial tyres. Michelin enjoyed the peak of its success in 1984 with McLaren – and then abruptly quit the sport.

Pirelli bow out

Nelson Piquet scored the last win for Pirelli at Montreal in 1991

Nelson Piquet scored the last win for Pirelli at Montreal in 1991

That left just Goodyear and Pirelli to supply the entire grid. Well, almost: Toleman, having fallen out with both companies at various stages, couldn’t get a tyre deal until it bought a contract with Pirelli off a rival team.

Goodyear resumed their position of near-total dominance: the only race a Pirelli car won in 1985 was at a swelteringly hot Paul Ricard. Having done all their pre-season testing at Kyalami in South Africa their tyres were good in extremely hot conditions and useless everywhere else.

Pirelli gave up at the end of 1991, having beaten Goodyear just three times in 210 races since 1985. They are rumoured to be considering another F1 comeback, but there were similar rumours in 2006.

Bridgestone arrived to end Goodyear’s monopoly in 1997. At the end of the year the FIA banned slicks, imposing the use of grooved tyres to reduce cornering speeds. Uninteresting in pursuing what it saw as a technological dead-end, Goodyear left F1 at the end of 1998.

It brought to a close 45 years of uninterrupted participation in F1, in which it had won at least one race every year since 1965. Goodyear tyres have still won more than twice as many races as any other constructor, despite them now being absent from the sport for more than a decade. There is no indication as yet they might be interested in a return.

Bridgestone vs Michelin

Michelin tyres on Alonso's Renault after the 2006 Japanese Grand Prix

Michelin tyres on Alonso's Renault after the 2006 Japanese Grand Prix

After Goodyear’s departure Bridgestone didn’t remain the sole tyre supplier for long as Michelin returned in 2001. And they were quickly back to winning ways – a Michelin-shod Williams won the fourth round of the season at Imola.

Perhaps alarmed at Michelin’s immediate success, Bridgestone reacted by pursuing a uniquely close technical collaboration with Ferrari in 2002, despite also supplying several other teams that year. Bridgestone technicians went to work at Maranello and their Ferrari counterparts headed to Japan, all in the pursuit of a superior combination of tyre dynamics and suspension configuration.

The results were devastating. Ferrari’s F2002 was almost untouchable – Michael Schumacher finished every race on the podium in 2002.

When Michelin hit back in 2003 they had their first of two bruising clashes with the FIA. Late in 2003 a change in the tyre rules forced Michelin to change their tyre construction, handing the initiative to Bridgestone, who following the rules change won 18 of the next 21 races.

Another change to the tyre rules came in 2005, forcing teams to run the entire race without changing tyres, and this resulted in Michelin enjoying a near-perfect season.

The only race they failed to win was in Indianapolis, where they discovered their tyres couldn’t run through the unique, fast, banked turn 13. While the FIA refused to accept a compromise solution that would have allowed the Michelin teams to participate, the race was contested by just the Bridgestone teams, which by now numbered just Ferrari plus Jordan and Minardi.

The FIA reversed the ‘no tyre change’ rule for 2006 but for the second year running the championships went to a Michelin-shod team and driver. But with the sport’s governing body preparing to introduce a single tyre supplier from 2008, Michelin left once more, and Bridgestone has been F1’s single tyre supplier from 2007.

A new tyre war?

Michelin’s two previous appearances in F1 show they aren’t interested in making up the numbers in any sense: not as a single supplier for the entire grid, and not as runner-up to someone else.

It’s true that Avon are the only manufacturer to have supplied tyres in F1 but never won a race – but I don’t think that’s an especially telling statistics. Their only two appearances came on a handful of occasions in the fifties, and as supplier to a few back-of-the-grid teams in the early eighties.

For F1, there are clear dangers in going back to a tyre war. It could push costs up to unacceptable levels, especially for the new teams.

And it would almost certainly increase the performance difference between the cars. As we saw with Bridgestone in the early 2000s, if one tyre manufacture finds an easier route to success by collaborating closely with one team at the expense of all the others, then we’re in for a very one-sided championship.

Tyres in F1

Images (C) Bridgestone/Ercole Colombo, Ford, Ford, Renault/LAT

Advert | Go Ad-free

58 comments on F1’s tyre wars

  1. Icthyes said on 22nd April 2010, 15:41

    A tyre war would be bad for F1.

    First, it would drive up costs.

    Second, with the inevitable tumbling of lap times the FIA will further neuter the cars to cut speeds.

    Third, it will take even more of the performance out of the drivers’ hands. In the old days, it would rain and the Michelin guys would fall away.

    Fourth, there’s the potential for bias and manufacturers favouring one team to get the maximum benefit, to the detriment of the other teams on that tyre.

    Fifth, any improvement to the racing (a better car being hampered by its tyres not being the best ones for that weekend) would be artificial and often pot luck.

    The only issue with tyres at the moment are the gimmick rules regarding qualifying and the two compounds, and the gap between compounds themselves, where pitting on lap 20 and going to the end won’t wear your tyres down enough to make you vulnerable to being passed at the end. The number of suppliers isn’t the problem.

  2. Why not have tyre Company A supply Driver A in each team, and tyre Company B supply Driver B in each team for odd numbered races.
    And vice versa for even numbered races.

  3. Spaceman Spiff said on 22nd April 2010, 18:18

    Currently, the FIA’s biggest political/media campaign appears to be “Make Roads Safe” while an on-going FIA campaign has been to emphasise the “road relavence” of F1 technology development.
    Given these two efforts, the FIA should make every effort to match their campaign goals with F1 rules and regulations.
    As far as I see it, tyres are perhaps the single most relavent piece of the car as far as road safety is concerned, so the FIA should put the pieces together and “make roads safe” by emphasising “road relavent” tyre development. This means updating the obviously old-fashoned F1 wheels & tyres to come in line with modern-day road car wheel & tyre design and application.

  4. Yes more tyre wars, i want to see them compete each other, so we get better compounds, and faster cornering.
    I know F1 wont be dropping their high down force spec, so i can say goodbye to more passing, than let us at least have more speculation on who builds a better compound.

  5. f1yankee said on 22nd April 2010, 19:52

    “Perhaps alarmed at Michelin’s immediate success, Bridgestone reacted by pursuing a uniquely close technical collaboration with Ferrari in 2002, despite also supplying several other teams that year. Bridgestone technicians went to work at Maranello and their Ferrari counterparts headed to Japan, all in the pursuit of a superior combination of tyre dynamics and suspension configuration.”

    pirelli and prodrive did the same thing in wrc, with the same results. michelin was the the most popular supplier then, too.

  6. wasiF1 said on 23rd April 2010, 7:55

    Michelin have the data of all the race track but some so I think they have an advantage, not sure who will join them.

  7. Chaz said on 24th April 2010, 11:41

    Interesting reading. I to do not favour a tyre war…

  8. They need to be really communist about this. Each manufacturer must give each of it’s teams the same tyre. However if it wants to design a tyre for a specific team then it must design specific tyres for all it’s teams.

Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments must abide by the comment policy. Comments may be moderated.
Want to post off-topic? Head to the forum.
See the FAQ for more information.