The perception in the paddock during the British GP weekend, was that Pirelli should easily win their bid to become Formula One’s tyre supplier from 2017-2019.
The perception of a return to Michelin tyres appears to have been largely negative amongst all but those who believe a tyre war would benefit F1. Of course, Michelin’s preferred choice has been that there should be two suppliers of tyre to F1, with Michelin being one of them.
Yet in the past twelve months, Michelin have done a rather large U-Turn on this topic and are now part of the current bidding process to replace Pirelli as F1’s sole tyre supplier.
Ecclestone did little to help the French tyre manufacturer’s cause when he claimed that F1 racing with Michelin tyres would be boring.
“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.
“If we had a rock-hard tyre, we could just forget about that.”
Michelin may well now be prepared to be the sole supplier of tyres to Formula One, however, they have made their position clear and listed the specific non-negotiable conditions under which they would participate.
“We want 18-inch tyres, which we already use in Formula E, and soon in another series.
“If F1 wants to consider our proposals we are here, fully open, with a strong will to return.
“If, instead, the prospects are to keep things as they are now, then thanks but we aren’t interested”.
This take it or leave it attitude has created some anger amongst the senior F1 team personnel. Eric Boullier explained during the Friday FIA Press Conference in Silverstone: “I think it’s up to Formula One and the FIA as well to put the conditions of the tender, not up to the potential tyre manufacturer supplier to impose what they want”.
“We [the teams, the FIA, FOM], as far as I’m concerned, are running our own business and we know what we want to do with the sport – or I believe we are. It’s not up to the others to tell us what to do. So, I think if the tender has been properly addressed then they should have the right answers”.
Whether Michelin have refused to bend or not – only time will tell.
It appears Michelin have finally realised their ‘take it or leave it approach’ has not gone down well and so their motorsport director Pascal Couasnon, is now on a PR offensive.
“We love competition, love automotive racing at its best, and like many people are sure Formula 1 can be very exciting”, Couasnon told Ian Parkes..
“It’s not my role to criticise or to talk about what’s going on at the moment.
“We simply believe in giving an opportunity to the driver and the engineers of the cars to extract the maximum possibility from each component, and with the driver being a very noble component.
“To get there you need a very high performance tyre, phenomenal grip, and that’s what excites us.
“When you see what is going on today in sportscar racing, the great battle we had at Le Mans, where it was pretty much a sprint for 24 hours.
“It was interesting to listen to Nico Hulkenberg say ‘I was tired’, that the race was a fight for 24 hours, and he could go to the maximum all the time.
“That makes us happy, and the reason why we develop tyres, so if we could do that in Formula 1 it would be great”.
There has been a perception created that there is no tyre management occurring in WEC racing, which is not true. The conversations around the trade-off between changing for new tyres and or managing the old ones to save time in the pit lane is frequently a significant part of the viewer experience.
Couasnon continues. “Michelin has injected excitement into sportscar racing, so why should we not be able do it in Formula 1?”
Michelin has always insisted that any return by them to F1 coincide with an increase in wheel rim size from the current 13 inches to 18-19 inches. So the FIA now must decide whether to ditch the current 13 inch wheels to retain Michelin’s interest.
“We need more modern sizes with a smaller sidewall which would bring us closer to reality with high-performance or super high-performance cars,” explained Couasnon.
“That means, yes, a minimum of 18. If it’s 19, why not? On that we are flexible.
“Where we have a major issue, and it is a [deal] breaker, is if the sport decides to stay with 13 inch, with a big sidewall. We don’t really see an interest.”
Michelin believe their tyres can immediately and significantly up the pace of Formula One cars, and are negotiable on the new proposals to make the tyres fatter/wider..
“That’s a discussion we can have later,” Couasnon said. “It’s important to first understand what and not how.
“If the ‘what’ is a faster car, then we know how to go three, four or five seconds faster right away.
“Our proposal is we want the driver to be tired at the end of a race, so we want to give them good mechanical grip, to be closer to reality so our investment in terms of technology can be useful and transfer from track to street.
“If it means a wider tyre at the rear, why not.”
So there it is. Michelin’s last public effort to win over opinion – before the announcement of the next F1 tyre contract is made.
This effort at a charm offensive from the French tyre manufacturer though feels as though it has fallen short and the pros of faster cars may not necessarily outweigh the cons of reduced overtaking in the races.