The Phoney (tyre) War

Is anyone else wishing we could stop talking about tyres and just focus on what, despite Sebastian Vettel’s ever-increasing lead in the championship, has been a pretty entertaining season of racing?  Unfortunately, it seems like that will not be the case for a little while yet.

Just since the end of the summer break, Pirelli has complained (again) about not having a contract in place with the FIA for 2014, Michelin has thrown its hat in the ring, and F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone has denied Michelin’s advances and confirmed that Pirelli will be  back next year.

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In Ecclestone’s mind (or at least according to his public comments), there is no tyre controversy.  Pirelli has a contract with Formula One Management (Ecclestone’s company which controls the sport’s commercial rights) and there is no need for a contract with the FIA (the governing body of F1) – the FIA, which must sanction each race for it to count as part of the World Championship, might take a different view, though.

The story coming from Pirelli is a bit different: according to ESPNF1.com, motorsport direction Paul Hembery has said his company is in “the most bizarre situation” in terms of its contract situation for next year.  Despite that, Pirelli is continuing with its plans for testing its 2014-spec tyres.  And really, what choice does it have?  Other than the lack of a contract with the FIA, it does seem as though everything is in place for them to continue as F1’s exclusive tyre supplier for next season.

So why has Michelin offered its services for 2014?  For those who don’t remember, Michelin was last involved in F1 from 2001 to 2006, when it competed with Bridgestone in F1’s last real tyre war.  Since it pulled out of the sport following Fernando Alonso’s second-straight championship in a Michelin-shod Renault, F1 has had a single tyre supplier for each season (first Bridgestone and now, of course, Pirelli).

michelinPhoto credit: .Robert. via Flickr

Perhaps Michelin, hearing all the criticism levelled against Pirelli, has decided to use the uncertainty for next year to take an extra shot at their rival by implying that they could do a better job in F1.  As has been pointed out many times, though, Pirelli has done exactly what was asked of them: provide tyres with a high rate of degradation to stimulate exciting racing.  The 2013 British GP was an embarrassment for the company, but they responded quickly and the tyres have been reliable since then.

And if we are going to talk about embarrassments to tyre companies, the 2005 United States GP cannot go unmentioned.  In that race, the Michelin teams refused to take part in the race after a number of high-speed tyre failures over the weekend and when Michelin could not guarantee that the tyres would hold up over a full race distance.  Consequently, only the six drivers with Bridgestone tyres took part in the race – a true debacle for a sport still trying to make a significant dent in the American market.

So, what is going to happen in 2014?  Pirelli will be supplying the tyres.  Michelin’s bluff is nothing more than that.  To think that Pirelli, if asked, could not provide tyres which last as long as anything Michelin could produce is ridiculous.  The problem is not with Pirelli, it is with those who run the sport trying to create exciting races with high-deg tyres, KERS, DRS, and constantly-changing pit stop regulations, while at the same time trying to limit speed.  If there is something wrong with F1, it is not Pirelli, and the company should not have to take the blame for others’ failures.

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