The FIA has officially opened up the tender process for tyre manufacturers to become the official F1 tyre supplier for the 2017, 2018 and 2019 season - meaning we could see a new tyre manufacturer in 2017, potentially along with different wheel sizes and even multiple tyre manufacturers. RaceDepartment asked about the possible outcomes for the next generation of tyre supplier(s) in the Formula One team principals press conference.
Pirelli's 6 year contract for Formula One tyre supply comes to an end at the close of 2016, after joining the sport in 2011. Because of this, the FIA has announced Tyre manufactures will have until June 17th to submit an application for the rights to become the sole supplier to Formula One. This comes after the strategy group voted in favour of wider rear tyres in Formula One, extending the width of the tyres by 45mm from 375mm to 420mm, which would give the cars greater performance from rear end grip and also making them more visually striking.
The famed tyre maker Michelin has expressed an interest in rejoining Formula One after what would be a 10 year absence in the sport, but has also stipulated conditions to make tyre technology more relevant. Those conditions being 18 inch wheels and longer lasting, more durable compounds. The latter is of paramount importance to some drivers who feel they aren't able to drive on the limit of the current Pirelli tyres for fear of sending them off what is now known as “the cliff”.
The FIA has said to the prospective tyre suppliers, "whilst the wheel diameter is currently set at 13 inch, this should not preclude an increase in diameter if the tyre manufacturer feels there may be advantages to the competitors by doing so.”
Therefore this doesn't rule out Michelin’s wishes, provided they're able to convince the FIA why 18 inch wheels are more relevant and beneficial for Formula One.
In the team principal's press conference at the Monaco Grand Prix, RaceDepartment asked Paul Hembery, would you welcome a tyre war with rival tyre manufacturers or even multiple tyre manufacturers, or would you prefer to offer teams four compounds a race?
Hembery responded, “Well, we don’t write the rules for Formula One. We’re involved in over 250 championships of which about 90 are open competition, so it depends what the sport wants and then you’ve got to understand the rules [and] what the cost implications would be, so you can’t really have an answer until you know the parameters. At the moment the tender will be for a single supplier so 2017, I might be here or I might be sat on a boat having some champagne and watching it. Probably better to be sat on the boat actually. Yeah, it’s a phase that you go through with various championships so there would be a phase of where the FIA will evaluate the technical competences of people who want to supply and then there’s an aspect that is the important bit, which is the commercial aspect with the promoter. So there’s a timetable set out and we will obviously know before the end of the year.”
Later Team bosses Franz Tost (Scuderia Toro Rosso), Robert Fernley (Sahara Force India), Toto Wolff (Mercedes AMG Petronas) and Christian Horner (Red Bull Racing Renault) were asked about a possible tyre war, “Is that something that would appeal to you, to have a choice of tyre manufacturer? Fernando Alonso spoke very strongly in favour of it, bearing in mind he recalls the Michelin-Bridgestone days of the early 2000s”
Franz Tost - “I just hope that no tyre war will come, that means no other tyre manufacturer, because this means that two teams will get the good tyres and the rest will just get this crap, because like it was before, when Michelin was in, it was Renault therefore Alonso has good memories and Bridgestone with Ferrari, therefore Michael was so successful, one of the reasons, yeah? If this comes back, it’s the same story: the two tyre manufacturers, two teams which get good tyres; three tyre manufacturers three teams and the rest just get what the others don’t like. That means the complete competition would drive in a completely different direction. Then we would have, after now the power unit Formula One, we would have the tyre Formula One. Once the power units are stabilised, we open the next problem.”
Christian Horner - “I think Franz summed it up splendidly, that one make tyre is equality for all of the teams. I think that in the times of tyre wars then of course effort does have to go behind your leading charge and it will drive costs up immeasurably as you have to develop your car around a specific tyre so I think it’s been one of the successes in having a sole tyre and I think that that’s one of the reasons for example that Red Bull has been able to achieve the success that it’s been able to achieve as an independent team, which we perhaps would never have been able to enjoy in the event that there was open competition with tyre manufacturers aligned to automotive manufacturers, which is of course is where their core income comes from.”
Toto Wolff - “We (Franz and I) are both Austrians therefore we use the same words.”
Robert Fernley - “Yeah, I think putting on the positive side of what Formula One has done well and I think the single tyre choice is one of the things that it has done very well and we shouldn’t change.”
It seems teams are opposed to a tyre war as the general consensus is only two teams (if there were only two manufacturers) would benefit from multiple tyre suppliers and that the rest of the teams would struggle to extract optimum performance from the tyres.
What if it was an open field for tyre manufacturers, just like is the case with brakes, suspension and to an extent gearboxes and power units. Then we could see several manufacturers, such as Avon, Michelin, Pirelli, Yokohama, Dunlop, Firestone, Continental and this could maybe even convince Bridgestone to reconsider a return to Formula One. That would mean 8 potential tyre manufacturers, more than there are power unit suppliers in Formula One. In 1982 there were 4 tyre manufactures in Formula One, then in 1983 the number dropped to three and in 1985 dropped to two, although comparing different eras in Formula One is never really recommended in 1958 six different tyre manufacturers took part in the whole world championship. The Strategy Group recently voted in favour of changes that you could say were a nod to the more memorable days in Formula One. Why not further extract the technical brilliances of by gone eras?
Please give RaceDepartment your views and opinions on this matter! Teams can use varying engine manufacturers, so why not tyres? Would it add to the show and spectacle or make the Formula One more complicated?