The 12 Formula 1 teams under the banner of FOTA are due to meet this morning (Sunday) in the paddock in Barcelona to discuss a number of subjects of which tyre supply for 2011 is the most burning issue.
The teams have said that they want a decision this week.
All teams are now deep into the design phase for the 2011 cars and they want to know what tyres they will be running on, particularly if they are to be different from the current ones.
At present there are three principle avenues open, including Pirelli, Michelin and Avon. However this weekend the new boss of Bridgestone Europe has been in the F1 paddock and has been meeting with Bernie Ecclestone and team representatives.
While it is unlikely that the chairman of Bridgestone in Japan, who is keen on green initiatives, will reverse his decision to quit F1, under discussion is the possibility of Bridgestone continuing to supply the tyres on a paid basis, perhaps to Ecclestone who would then offer the tyres as a branding opportunity to another tyre company.
This might offset some of the cost for the teams, many of whom are concerned about having to find tyre costs they hadn’t budgeted for.
The advantage for Ecclestone of the rebranded Bridgestone approach is twofold; the sport would be able to control speeds by specifying tyres and it would give him another lever of control over the teams.
Michelin remains the favoured option of FIA president Jean Todt, as it is a strong brand, which is what he feels F1 should have . Many of the teams like the idea of Michelin too; they were in F1 as recently as 2006, they provide wind tunnel sized models of their tyres, which is a huge advantage to teams and they are prepared to supply tyres on 13 inch rims for the next two seasons, with a view to phasing in their preferred low profile tyres on 18 inch rims in 2013 when the rules are due to change again.
Michelin were originally looking for €3million per team, but have dropped that price in half, albeit with less tyres being supplied.
Pirelli has also tabled a bid, but there is some anxiety about their ability to produce F1 tyres with no reference data. Pirelli was last in F1 in the 1990s and in those days the tyres were fairly inconsistent. Avon is the other possibility.
As well as the commercial terms, safety is a central issue here.
With anything new the teams will want to do extensive testing, but testing has been banned to save costs and teams are reluctant to go back to a heavy winter test schedule simply to accommodate a new tyre.
McLaren boss and FOTA president Martin Whitmarsh met with Bridgestone bosses on Saturday afternoon and said, “Bridgestone have done a great job in F1 and if we can persuade them to stay in the sport that would be very strong.
“There are a number of other prospects out there but you have got to remember that F1 is a very challenging environment and we have to be careful with newcomers that we don’t take too many risks. People that know about F1 analyse the risk and this means the engineers get good data to design the cars and it means we have safe tyres.”