I had breakfast this morning with Ferrari’s Stefano Domenicali in his office at the track. Well, he invited me for breakfast, but to Italians that means coffee.
The conversation was wide ranging and covered Michael Schumacher’s defection to Mercedes, the new teams, the financial situation in F1 and the serious problem of who will supply tyres to F1 next season.
On Schumacher he said that that it felt “strange” to be racing against him and that he had not yet seen his former colleague at the track, but that he intended to today. “Racing against Ross and Michael is difficult; they are friends of mine,” he said. “I was disappointed (when Schumacher signed for Mercedes) but that’s life. It is strange to see him in grey. We mustn’t forget what we have done together. Now he has a new challenge and we have a new challenge and we must stay in front of him.”
The most pressing problem facing the sport at the moment is to find a new tyre supplier for next season. Many engineers have expressed annoyance that the situation has been allowed to develop to the point where we are in March and still don’t know what tyres the teams will use next year.
Unless Bridgestone can be talked around to continue, this means that the designers will be having to guess many things when laying out the design of next year’s cars. But worse than that, it is too late for a new company to come in and make tyres for next season. Michelin could do it, having been in the sport until relatively recently. But not many people are talking about them at the moment.
For Domenicali there is only one possibility and that is paying Bridgestone for tyres,
“For sure we are late,” he said. “The only possibility not to be late is to keep the same tyres as this year. That’s the pragmatic way. I don’t see the possibility of having the tyres with no payment and that is another problem for the teams. At this stage, I can’t see how it will evolve in a different way. ”
FIA president Jean Todt said today that he can imagine two suppliers battling in f1, but Domenicali said that having a tyre war in F1 “wouldn’t be possible” for next season.
The FIA and FOM both have a stake in this situation and Jean Todt and Bernie Ecclestone were observed in intense discussion with Bridgestone management today attempting to resolve the situation. Bridgestone want money to stay and will need to be provided with an elegant way of reversing their pull out announcement. But it seems that the discussions may also be about what else F1 can offer them, to boost the promotion they get and offset some of the financial side; things like involvement in the FIA Make Roads Safe Campaign.
Domenicali also expressed grave concern about the financial situation in F1, with so few new sponsors coming in over the winter and many smaller teams like Sauber, unsponsored,
“The financial situation is difficult, it’s a real problem,” he said. “There are no big brands that have invested in F1, we are one of the only teams who have good brands that work with us, because they feel loyal to our brand and see a future. It’s a big concern that we need to address. We need to address the show and the model as a business.”
The lack of sponsorship is something that has shocked many F1 insiders. Things may be looking rosy on the track, but behind the scenes there are some problems which need addressing fast.