There has been quite a bit of movement in recent weeks regarding the acquisition of a new tyre supplier for next season.
Bridgestone have announced their intention to pull out and despite lengthy negotiations, revolving around them being paid to supply tyres and also receiving added value from other PR activities, it seems that they are inclined to stick to that position.
This got Cooper Avon and more recently Pirelli interested in looking again at F1. When I spoke to Pirelli before Christmas they said that it was unlikely that they would do it, but the proposed change to an 18″ rim from the current 13″, seems to have sparked their interest. This makes for a more relevant tyre for all the manufacturers, something more akin to what they use in other competitions and closer in resemblance to a road tyre. It is cheaper and more green.
Also if F1 were to commit to moving to the 18″ rims it would open the sport up to a greater number of potential suppliers and reduce the risk of being stuck or forced into poor commercial conditions, as has happened since the sport went to the single control tyre.
” There’s nothing yet, and it’s not a small task, but there is something worth evaluating, ” said the Pirelli president Marco Provera on Wednesday.
Since Michelin proposed the idea, for which it is looking for a payment of around £50 million, the arrival on the scene of Avon and Pirelli, potentially doing the job for less has changed the game. It weakens Michelin’s bargaining position slightly. Pirelli has long links to Bernie Ecclestone, who wants to put F1 in as strong position as possible.
It’s quite a step backwards for the sport to go from teams getting a free supply of tyres and the tyre supplier also spending a lot of money on its activation programme around the F1 involvement, to all the teams having to pay for their tyres. Bridgestone have been investing $100 million a year. A sport on F1’s level shouldn’t really have to do that, it should have tyre suppliers falling over themselves to have the F1 endorsement.
The sport itself, rather than the teams, could pay for the tyres, without which the cars won’t work, either in cash or part cash, with contra deals for trackside advertising, but somehow it is hard to imagine that happening.
However there are many positives from the potential switch to more road relevant tyres. For a start it is something new and presents fresh challenges. Speaking to some of the F1 engineers, their feeling is that ironically the low profile tyre will give a lot less grip than the current tyres, which will look like balloons in comparison. This would probably help with overtaking. The likelihood is that it will probably save some fuel, which is a useful environmental story. It is quite exciting for the designers as it will give some performance back via better suspension design.
Furthermore if the teams could increase the size of the brake discs they could save a lot
of cost longer term.
It is already quite late for making a decision on suppliers for 2011, but if the move to 18″ is to go ahead it needs to be made very soon, as the cars will have to be redesigned quite significantly. The suspension and particularly the aerodynamics change quite significantly. Pirelli have indicated that 2012 might be a more sensible date to bring the change in.
The next few weeks will be quite telling.