F1 beware the advances of Michelin

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The debate rages in formula One about what a race really should be. Flat out driving from lights to flag, in an uber reliable racing machine – or a race where the driver has to manage his resources and consider strategy.

Many fans who are new to Formula One will not remember the racing during the Schumacher and Ferrari years of dominance, yet watching back some of those races brings the problem quickly into focus.

Even when one front running car was catching another, the differential in time gap used to fall incredibly slowly. Some of the commentary from that era is amusing to hear.

(Excited) “AND, Barichello closed a whole 1/10th of a second on Schumacher on that lap – he’s definitely closing – but will it be enough”. Eight seconds back and with five laps to go?

Back in the day, Formula One had two competing tyre manufacturers and the tyres were made to last for the entire race. In fact, some joked a Bridgestone tyre could in fact last a season.

The perennial tale of “Infiniti” building an F1 engine, has its identical twin story, “Michelin ready for F1”, or headlines to a similar effect. Once again this week, the French manufacturer has stated its readiness to pitch for the Formula One contract when Pirelli’s current deal concludes at the end of 2016.

Michelin left Formula One in 2006 following the decision of the FIA to move towards a single tyre supplier. The French tyre company was vocal over their opposition to this policy, but Max Mosley wrote in a public rebuke, “There are simple arguments for a single tire, and if [Michelin boss Édouard Michelin] is not aware of this, he shows an almost comical lack of knowledge of modern Formula One”.

The sport of F1 had in 2006 introduced tyre changes at the pit stops, something Michelin were also vehemently opposed to. A Michelin statement on the matter read as follows: “This event illustrates F1’s problems of incoherent decision-making and lack of transparency.”

So for years, the French tyre company has competed in other forms of motorsport and currently supplies the newly created Formula E series.

A return to the ‘tyre war’ eras will almost certainly be rejected by Formula One. It just wasn’t right to see Martin Brundle battling away in his Pirelli shod Brabham against the mighty Mclaren’s and their superior Good Year tyres.

So in 2013 – during Pirelli’s annus horribilis – the annual Michelin story revealed that they would in fact be happy to pitch for a sole supply contract for Formula One, but again attached conditions which ultimately saw Pirelli win a three year contract extension until 2016.

Speaking to Italy’s Autosprint this week, Michelin Motorsport director Pascal Couasnon was asked whether Michelin would pitch for the F1 tyre contract which will run from 2017. “Why not? We are fully open to a return, but on some precise conditions – Formula 1 must change its technical regulations.

“Tyres must become a technical object again, not just a tool to do a more-or-less spectacular show”.

Michelin wants to do away with tyres that degrade and whilst their proposals in full have not been revealed, the best they would likely offer is durable tyres and a single mandatory pit stop tyre change to a different compound.

Michelin also want to see 18 inch wheel rims introduced, for commercial reasons because they are closer to the solutions provided for road cars.

The strategy group could well agree to an increase in the wheel size today, because Pirelli now argue the current wheel rim size inhibits their ability to design more appropriate tyres for the new V6 Turbo Hybrid engine demands.

The Italian tyre company has suggested a compromise of 16.7 inch (425mm) F1 wheels, though the teams are reluctant because increasing rim size requires significant rethinks on suspension and gear box design. Further, the relationship between the chassis and its aerodynamics will be fundamentally altered.

If the FIA co-operate with Bernie and FOM, the teams may be forced to accept an increase in the wheel size in Formula One – whether they like it or not. And this would go some way to opening the door for Michelin to become the sport’s supplier.

For fans of bye gone times, we could be seeing a return to big fat rear tyres too, the wheel rim size quoted previously affects the height only. Paul Hembery tells F1.com, “We’ve been asked to look into making wider tyres”.  Pirelli’s commercial director adds, “That would be dramatic in terms of appearance and would mean that more grip comes from the tyres – so my understanding is that the Strategy Group are looking into less aero. What they are planning with the power trains, I don’t know”.

However, Formula One fans should beware the Michelin elixir of tyres delivering start to finish flat out racing in Formula One. Whilst we may not agree with everything Mr. E has to say, there are times when F1’s grandee does actually talk sense.

Ecclestone is wary of Michelin’s advances. Autosport report, “All Michelin would do is make a rock-hard tyre that you could put on in January and take off in December because they don’t want to be in a position where they can be criticised.

“That would make absolutely 100 per cent sure, if there was a question mark about Mercedes winning, it would be removed.

“It would be all the things we don’t want, and goes against all the things Pirelli have had the courage to do from what we have asked, which has made for some bloody good racing,”

At the end of the day it is not Pirelli who say the drivers have to drive in a conservative fashion, it’s the team’s analysts who compute the theoretically quickest was to complete a Formula One race.

And there is another solution Paul Hembery of Pirelli has mooted. Were Pirelli to be allowed to a bigger range of compounds for the season, they could tailor them better to the characteristics of the circuits.

Entering the weekend, the teams would not know the exact characteristics of the tyre, and would have to solve the problem set them during FP1, 2 and 3. This would almost definitely see more FP1 running to satisfy the hunger of the teams’ data analysts.

As TJ13 predicted, the 2015 Pirelli hard tyre was inappropriate for Barcelona. Drivers complained most of the weekend of its lack of grip. Yet had Pirelli brought the soft and the medium instead of the medium and the hard tyres, they argue some teams would have four if not five stopped during the race.

Formula One and the French president of the FIA should think long and hard before opening the door to Michelin and their demands – because their alternative to how the tyres are designed for F1 at present, will most certainly bring back the processional events of yesteryear.

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22 responses to “F1 beware the advances of Michelin

  1. What’s wrong with 4 pit stops? If it means that they drove flat out between every stop I’d love it that way. I want a sprint race from start to finish. Anyone who saw the 6 hours of spa saw a sprint race Wich went on for 5 hours and 40 mins ( with Michelin tires.) If wec can do it why can’t f1 do it. After all f1 is about racing or isn’t it anymore?

    • I honestly think 4 stops is too complicated for some people to follow… remember when Alonso did 5 flat out stints to win in 2013, catching the others out? There was uproar after that about too many pit stops.. doesn’t help that it isn’t explained well on TV either…

      PS. Same goes for overtaking, there’ll be loads in the midfield, but as the TV only shows the top 6 (which is a procession like 10 years ago) then people are in uproar over the lack of overtaking (that they have seen)..

      • Its a procession this year because of the FIA new FIA aero regulations.

        This whole subject of aero and tyres should be the concern of an F1 sub-committee where input from all is provided – and proper solutions can then be found.

        Lack of testing for Pirelli is still the biggest issue.

        • I’ve listened to Brundle on this subject, and he’s raced a quite a few different formula, and he reckons cars with somesort of ground effect are destabilised a lot less. Maybe they should ask drivers who have lots of experience, what makes it easier to follow another car. Perhaps we could then have the best of both worlds, decent tyres and the ability to follow closely.

          The other thing that is rarely mentioned is, team purposely design their cars disrupt the airflow as much as possible for another car following. So it’s not just a case of dirty air, it’s a case of excessive dirty air. This is why its pointless asking engineers, they want their car to be difficult to follow.

          Also i don’t have a problem with a tyre war, every other part of the car is constant development and variable, why not the tyres? The costs can still be controlled, Pirelli have managed with limiting testing, so why change it.

    • I am really impressed with WEC this year and totally agree. The next sprint race will be in June and it will last 24 hours. 😉

  2. “Michelin also want to see 18 inch wheel rims introduced”

    I have two problems with this. First, this would imply (yet again) astronomical costs for teams, a clean slate, and a lot of wasted resources. Not something you want after the 2014 rule changes.

    Second, it will be the end of F1 cars as overgrown karts. It will make for some monstrous-looking and it seems commercially appealing cars…

  3. I don’t remember the last race which was won by someone who went as fats as possible, as opposed to as fast as possible given a delta time and pit window.

    But I still think Pirelli has done a reasonable job this season.

    • The wheel size problem is a typical F1 scenario. Only every sports or exotic car in the world comes with larger wheel rims that F1’s standard 13 inches. And there are race series which very successfully adopt the 18 inch rims. Yet “the old ways must be preserved because they are the old way. That they have grown out of touch with reality matters little”.

      Than they use costs as an excuse for mediocrity and anachronism.

  4. Great piece, I would like to add one thing to the table, the Indy gp was the downfall of the tyre wars, MrE swore he would not be embarrassed again by a failure of a supplier. IMHO Michelin got pushed from F1 due to pulling out of the race,I can still remember the boo’s from the stands and bottles launched onto the track while bridgestone refused to manufacture a product that could only last a few laps(brand suicide) and as we have seen with pirelli they were correct as most consumers don’t realise just how complicated it is to produce a product that wears to order,in their minds ‘my road tyre won’t last more than a few miles,just look at their racing rubber’
    So will michelin return?…not if MrE is still here..the guy has a bloody long memory and holds a grudge like a mastiff.

      • They could of raced that year, had the temporary chicane been put in place, can’t help but think there was some other motive. It wouldn’t be the first time this had been done for safety reasons. A few seasons previous it had been done, i remember cause Damon misjudged one and ruined his race.

        That whole fiasco still p*ssed me off.

      • Too true, and its a loss to any race series. The tyre is one of the most important parts of a car, we have four contact patches no bigger than an A4 piece of paper putting over 1000bhp onto the tarmac.i can still remember my first look at a qualify compound after it arrived back from a run,it was like chewing gum on the surface,it would last no more than 5km before the compound vanished but boy could they stick😇 we even had the idea of using a spray(used in the release of a road tyre from a mould) to re energise the surface during a run but this was soon quashed by +#)&(name removed to protect their sanity) i for one wish we had this diversity back,i would love to see Dunlop,Firestone,cooper and the likes throw their brain power into the mix

  5. I really don’t have a problem with rock-hard tyres. Having a tyre that allows the car to slide through corners will open up a large amount of opportunities for drivers to better race each other lap after lap – closing up through technical corners or pushing harder through faster corners – either way, the harder tyres are the less likely they are to be damaged or overheated by drivers pushing hard on them. By taking away the “delicacy” of the tyres we can let the drivers assert their talent and personalities more. Really the combination of too-soft tyres and turbulent aerodynamics are killing the sport. And the biggest problem is how much money and infrastructure have been built up around these two factors over the last few decades – making it all but impossible to go back.

  6. I have mixed feelings about that. While I can understand the arguments at the end of the article, I don’t like the current situation with the Pirelli tyres any better.

    As soon as a driver finds himself closely behind another car for any amount of time (which can be a little as a few laps), his tyres will be gone for the whole stint and the only way of overtaking is through a) DRS or b) the pitstop strategy.

    On DRS: it has certainly increased the number of overtakes, no doubt about that, but the only thing it has REALLY done is to make it possible for faster cars to have an easier time getting by a slower opponent. That’s what I feel the majority of these overtakes truly are, because in the current Formula 1 it is already a challenge and disadvantage to drive within DRS range. If you’re that close, then you’re inevitably in the advantageous situation of sitting in the faster car.

    There have been many situations where not even DRS was enough of an advantage to let the faster car pass, because the technology relies heavily on track characteristics and the way the FIA judges the length of DRS zones is not at all comparable between tracks. In some places overtaking is just too easy, in others it doesn’t seem to help any at all.

    On pit-stop strategy: the “undercut” is by far the favorite strategy to get a driver to jump a place or maybe even two. It’s only understandable, but it leads to action and overtaking off the track. In today’s world of Formula 1, if an under-cut works or not has little to do with the driver but with the team and its strategists and how well one group of them was able to out-fox the other.

    Of course it is nice to see something happening, it certainly helps to escape the boredom sometimes. But is that really how I want races to be decided? No.

    In the end I’m left with this: the current racing strategy is to only do the bare minimum and to conserve tyres, engine and all the other hardware as much as possible. That’s required, because any fight on the track can throw the whole pre-planned race strategy out of the window. Today we have to celebrate the rare few times when a driver does something different or takes a risk, because most everything else is in truth only dry strategy. To combat this we have an artificial overtaking help and some pit strategy.

    Then there’s Michelin. I would rather see a driver trying to overtake and failing for all 15 of the laps in his stint, than to see him back off after one or two half-hearted tries and be resigned to the fact that he’d never get by with wasted tyres anyway. Maybe Michelin’s way isn’t the solution, but I hardly think they’re going to make the sport worse than it is.

    • I think I can sum up where F1 has gone wrong in a sentence or two.

      Are the drivers racing for victory, or racing to see who can conserve their equipment the best? (Save tyres, save fuel, save brakes, save gearbox, save engine)….are they racing or saving…???

      I can understand road relevant technology for the manufacturers, but we have to decide if F1 is a sport or a new technologies lab for the manufacturers. By way of comparison is Le Mans or DTM (or rally or Dakar or every other motorsport) a sport or a lab experiment??

      I can understand ‘being seen to be green’ but again, 20 cars saving x litres of fuel every time they ‘race’ in the loosest sense of the term is a spit in the bucket to the non green elements of however many cargo planes shipping huge amounts of cargo around the world for the races, + x quantity of personnel, + x quantity of fuel burnt to light up Singapore, Abui Dhabi et al.

      Judge, any opinions on the above?

        • Perhaps in considering you might factor in the same skewed vision that lead to that other racing series; they recently had a pretend at Monaco…..:-)

  7. Interesting article, and I’ve very glad you’ve brought forward the past, the tire wars, Michelin and Bridgestone’s recent F1 history, to provide the bigger prospective to us.

    Just a couple of thoughts that I’ve not seen others share:
    1) Pirelli’s mandate is coming from the teams and FOM, and that mandate is to average 2 to 3 stops per driver per race. What they did at Barcelona with the Medium and Hard was to average 2.3 stops per classified driver for that race, (18 drivers classified, of which six 3-stopped, and twelve 2-stopped). Point being that Pirelli hit their marks on their tire choice for Barcelona.

    For the season to date, they’re averaging 2.2 stops per classified driver, despite their big miss in Melbourne which only had a 1.3 stops average.

    2) Since it’s not Pirelli that chose the target of 2 to 3 stops average, then we should be telling FOM and the teams that we want more (or fewer) stops per race, if we want that to change.

    3) The only reason F1 have asked the tire manufacturer to specify tires that degrade after roughly 1/3 race distance (100km) is because the current aero regs leave the cars too vulnerable to aero wash to follow each other closely to enough to execute a pass.

    So if the aero wash problem is reduced, or eliminated, then F1 won’t need to require the tire supplier to create tires that degrade. That would also make it more enticing for other tire manufacturers to bid to supply F1. F1 could get rid of DRS, also.

  8. I personally think Pirelli have done a very good job at designing tyres to a very specific brief. I’d live to see Pirelli bring circuit taylored compounds to each event, just called prime and option and both slightly different at each race to suit the exact demands placed by each individual track.
    I have always liked the idea of a control tyre in motor racing and especially in F1, that way you can really see the differences in car characteristics and performance.
    Would also love bigger tyres, the more grip that can be generated away from increasing aero is good in my book as it will allow for drivers to follow each other more closely without the penalty of ‘dirty air’, just need a bit of ground effect to be implemented and we could be on for some really close and competitive grand prix.

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