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Could Michelin return?

NEWS STORY
27/08/2013

Mat Coch writes:

There is increased speculation that Michelin could return to Formula One next season after Bernie Ecclestone confirmed the French firm was interested in supplying the sport for next year.

Formula One does not currently have its tyre supply for 2014 confirmed, although Pirelli is known to have commercial contracts in place with all but one team. It's a point Ecclestone too has acknowledged, making any change in supplier difficult.

Michelin is said to have told teams over the Monaco Grand Prix weekend that it was not interested in supplying Formula One next season. In July it was suggested by some outlets that Michelin would announce its interest during the first week of August, though that date has come and gone.

It has also been reported that should Michelin enter F1 it would want to move away from the current 13-inch wheels to 18-inch wheels for 2016, and does not want to produce the type of fast-wearing rubber Formula One has had for the last three seasons. Ironically it was the teams themselves that gave Pirelli its initial design brief for fast-wearing tyres in an effort to spice up the racing.

Pirelli Motorsport Director Paul Hembery has made his position on the current situation clear, believing it would be farcical to begin a tender process now. "If you wanted to do that then it should have been done in September of last year," Hembery said at the weekend. "Everybody will look ridiculous in that scenario."

Pirelli is in a strong position as any change in tyre supply must come via a tender process. Although not guaranteed to win such a tender Pirelli would have good reason to challenge the FIA if it was not selected following the International Tribunal earlier in the season.

Following the Spanish Grand Prix Mercedes performed unauthorised tyre testing for Pirelli. It resulted in both appearing before an FIA International Tribunal which ruled that while the test was not in keeping with the rules (and banned Mercedes from the subsequent Young Driver Test at Silverstone) it was in the best interests of Formula One and done with no malice or ill-intent. Pirelli cannot therefore be excluded from any tender process or deemed unfit for supply, thereby closing one door on the FIA's alleged desire to switch to Michelin.

However that does not escape the fact that Pirelli has been constantly in the headlines this year, overwhelmingly receiving negative press. Much of that however has been for reasons out of its control with the teams themselves complicit in many of the failures seen so far in 2013. At Silverstone a spate of failures highlighted the practice of teams running tyres on the opposite side of the car to what they were intended. It also came to light that teams were under-inflating the tyres.

Other punctures have been the result of debris, most recently when a piece of tungsten from Kimi Raikkonen's Lotus was run over by both Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel during second practice in Belgium.

Had teams followed Pirelli's advice it is likely we would not have seen the same concern surrounding tyres. Perhaps Paul Hembery and his team is nave to expect Formula One teams to follow advice and recommendations rather than looking for greater performance, but the line has to be drawn somewhere and ultimately it is Pirelli which has suffered for the teams' unwillingness to listen.

There are now regulations in place to ensure they do, and changes to the tyres have not seen a repeat of the Silverstone fiasco where a number of tyres failed.

There remains a general feeling within the paddock that the tyres are too susceptible to 'debris' on the circuit, with Mark Webber wanting a better explanation. "We need answers, and 'debris' is not the answer," Webber argued on Friday.

For Michelin to win a tender process over Pirelli it would have to very clearly demonstrate that it is the best possible supplier for Formula One. The French company must prove it can produce tyres to an incredibly tight deadline and provide an attractive financial package to teams who currently pay Pirelli in the region of 2.6million a year.

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1. Posted by Skidmarks, 11/09/2013 20:03

"@Paul C
I can see and even sympathise with your view, but remember in the "real world of F1" Pirelli are making tyres to work the way that they have been asked to make them. If any other supplier was allowed to make better tyres without the restrictions that Pirelli have to work to, then they would either withdraw completely, get into a tyre war, which was the reason for the U.S. debacle, or build better tyres. the last option is obviously the best, but not what their contract stipulates.

Can you imagine the situation if your suggestion was followed and an underclass team won a G.P? do you think the teams or their sponsors would say that it was good for the sport?

Unfortunately, F1 is a big money business and while a company like Pirelli can (it seems) manage to put up with the bad publicity of failed tyres that they didn't particularly want, being beaten by a competitor not hamstrung by these rules would cause them to have no option but to run away. This would leave a Marussia/Caterham G.P. field which would make THAT U.S. race look pretty good!

While I agree with the sentiment, I cannot see this as the way forward."

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2. Posted by Paul C, 11/09/2013 18:53

"Both Michelin and Goodyear were tripped up in 2005 by the new Indy track surface. No one bothered to test the new surface and it was far more abrasive than the previous one. NASCAR just mandated numerous yellow flag periods to allow for tire changes.
Can you imagine how the made to fail Pirellis would fare in the same situation? Let the two underclass teams (Caterham and Marussia) work with Michelin to make a better, SAFER F1 tire. "

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