Are Michelin and tyre wars the answer?

Posted on April 1, 2010

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Autosport is reporting Michelin are on the brink of a return to Formula One – and the possibility of letting in any tyre supplier which wants to make a bid, heralding a new tyre war era.

As I’ve blogged a number of times, the current Bridgestone tyre is far too good in my view. Even the hardest driver in the hardest car can go an awfully long way on most of the tyres in the current range. Jenson Button’s performance in Australia was a prime example of this, when he ran 50 laps. But the last time I can remember a set of tyres actually wearing out was Lewis Hamilton in 2007’s Chinese Grand Prix. It may have happened more recently but I don’t think anyone can say it’s not incredibly rare.

Clearly, this has some benefits – predictability and safety mostly. I certainly don’t want to be seeing high-speed tyre blow outs but there is little evidence the teams are having to take the tyres anywhere near the margin. What would improve the racing is if cars were in a position where they had little choice but to stop or face being terribly off the pace – more than the two second a lap or so which seems the maximum penalty at the moment.

Bridgestone are, apparently, unwilling to explore this option. This is fair enough but it’s not to say another tyre supplier wouldn’t be prepared to work at it, be that Michelin or someone else. For my money, this is the best reason to stop trying to convince Bridgestone to stay for 2011 and explore a relationship with someone else.

But the FIA do, I think, need to pick a single supplier. Tyre wars add an additional competitive element. My memory of the last time there were two suppliers is hazy, beyond the debacle of the US Grand Prix in 2005. But there was almost always a better tyre each season, albeit not necessarily always the same company. Moreover, each manufacturer would be, understandably, competing to be the quickest, most consistent and most hard-wearing tyre.

I want to see a race to race difference in the cars, not season by season combat – for me, that means one manufacturer willing to bring much more marginal tyres to races than Bridgestone do.

For what it’s worth at this point, I’d bet conservatively on Ferrari to finally get the dominant weekend they’ve been threatening in Malaysia. Anything could happen in the rain though as we saw last year.

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Posted in: Formula One, News