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.