Analysis: Have tyre controversies opened the door for Michelin?

Michelin could have a surprise late opportunity to win the F1 tyre tender from 2017, despite Bernie Ecclestone making his preference for Pirelli clear at Monza last weekend.

In the wake of the blowouts at Spa, and the minimum pressure saga at Monza, it is understood the FIA is considering a reappraisal of Pirelli's suitability.

If the Italian company does lose the FIA backing on technical or safety grounds, then in theory Ecclestone would not be able to choose Pirelli, and the bid would be won by the then only candidate Michelin.

Tender system

In essence the way the tendering system works is that the FIA determines whether the applicants are suitable candidates, and that information is passed to Formula One Management. Ecclestone makes the final call, in response to commercial considerations.

It's long been apparent that Bernie and the FIA have different views about who should get the deal, with FIA president Jean Todt leaning towards the French company, and Ecclestone supporting Pirelli.

Sources suggest that the FIA has become increasingly frustrated with Pirelli.

The Spa controversy put a negative spotlight on the relationship, and tensions between the tyre maker and the FIA were further ramped up in Monza, where there was some confusion over the measurement of minimum starting pressure.

Pirelli supported the last-minute checks made by the FIA on the top four cars on the grid, only to later admit that its own measurements are usually made at a much earlier stage, when the tyre blankets are still connected.

Pirelli thus had to agree that it could not contest the low figures found on the two Mercedes cars, as the team had complied with its usual procedures.

FOM backing

Meanwhile, in the light of the Spa controversy, FOM put out a statement indicating its support for Pirelli and underlining the fact that the current supplier has been requested by the sport to make tyres that degrade.

Asked by if this support was a clear sign that Pirelli will get the tender Ecclestone said: "Sure, we're not going to let them go, they're doing a good job. I said to them a long time ago I don't want a tyre that's going to last the whole race.

"They do the very best they can with what they've been asked to do. They can make a tyre that you
can put on in January and take off in December."

Complicated choice

The tender process has been complicated by the fact that is it not a straight fight between the two rivals, because Michelin has specified that it will only enter if F1 switches to a low profile format.

Teams are resistant to the idea because that will mean a total redesign of their brake and suspension systems.

However, others point out that such a challenge could easily be added to the large package of rule changes coming for 2017, including wider tyres, which would in any case force the teams to adapt.

In addition teams have doubts about the potential pace of low profile tyres, at a time when there is a move to make the cars faster. However, Michelin apparently claim this is not the case.

Degrading tyres

The other contentious aspect is that Michelin is believed to want to create robust tyres that don't degrade, with a prime good for 75 per cent of the race, and the option for 50 per cent, and one pitstop as the default choice.

It remains to be seen how such a policy would work given that it is now generally accepted that degradation is good for the show.

"We want tyres that are going to make the driver very tired when he's done racing. We are not against pit stops or a good show," Michelin's Pascal Couasnon told in June.

"I would argue that Le Mans over the last several years has been an incredible show, with great technology tyres. So it's possible to have a show, and we can have pit stops with a tyre that allows you to drive 100 per cent of the time.

"You could say for example you have two specs, and with Spec A for example you have 'x' laps maximum, and you use them the way you want. Or within 'x' number of races you've got that many laps."

The decision is now in the hands of the FIA and Ecclestone.

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Series Formula 1
Article type Analysis
Tags michelin, pirelli