Michelin’s interest in returning to F1 is genuine, sources close to the FIA have confirmed to this writer.
While it’s long been assumed that Pirelli will remain as sole supplier in 2014, and has made commercial arrangements with both teams and Bernie Ecclestone, the bottom line is that it has not yet signed a deal with the FIA.
Nor has the FIA yet issued an official tender for the supply contract, which it would normally be expected to do.
It’s believed that Michelin’s formal interest would trigger a tender, and that the FIA will go through the motions of asking all possible suppliers if they are interested before considering the offers from those who are.
It goes without saying that recent events have weakened Pirelli’s position with the FIA, and upset teams as well – some of whom may be keen to see a change. They are also still frustrated about having to pay for the annual supply.
It remains to be seen whether Michelin could really be ready in time for 2014 – and it’s highly unlikely that Pirelli would agree to do an interim deal for 2015 and then walk away.
The other key issue is that Bernie Ecclestone is close to Pirelli and is more than happy with the lucrative ongoing commercial deal that he has with the Italian company. Meanwhile it’s no secret that Jean Todt is close to Michelin.
There are some other key questions, not least the fact that Michelin always said it preferred competition and ultimately wants to go to low profile tyres, as used in other forms of top level sport. The FIA’s informal position on that is that current F1 tyres are unique and there is no point in switching just for the sake of it, when there are technical compromises involved. Wheels would also be heavier and potentially more lethal in accidents.
One possible outcome could of course be a return to tyre competition by 2015 or beyond, but the rules would have to be changed to alllow it. The upside is that two companies would be pumping money into the sport, but the complication would be controlling speeds and keeping a lid on testing costs.
Meanwhile Pirelli is pushing for a change of rear tyre sizes for 2014 as it continues to learn more from the teams about the new car/engine packages, in terms of the expected downforce levels and the loads put through the tyres.
In essence Pirelli wants a bigger contact patch, which could be achieved by a combination of diameter and width increases. The former however would involve significant design changes for the teams, and even at this stage it would delay their 2014 projects. An increased width – the figure 20mm has been discussed – is a little more realistic.
The problem is that the technical regulations have been defined already and the FIA is reluctant to agree to a change.