Michelin comments on F1 proposal for control tire
On the eve of the Italian Grand Prix, Groupe Michelin responded to Federation Internationale De L'Automobile (FIA) proposals for a single tire supplier for Formula One racing in 2008.
(Michelin says its opposition to this "evolution in the regulations" has been the subject of numerous discussions at Michelin.)
Pierre Dupasquier, Michelin's competition director, answered the following questions related to the proposals.
Q.: Why does the FIA want to introduce control tires in Formula 1?
Dupasquier: There are three official reasons, and I say "official" reasons: to bring down costs, to improve safety by curbing performance and to ensure that no team would lose out by being on the "wrong" tires.
Q.: In what way would a control tire cut costs?
Dupasquier: A given single type of tire, with no development work on it, would reduce the distance covered by teams to assist with tyre development. If Formula 1 cars had a limited number of tire types for the year -- for example, a dry weather tire and a wet weather tire -- the tire of each type would be exactly the same and produced in large quantities at the start of the season in a single batch. Also, the number of tires allocated to each team would be established for each circuit.
Q.: Are you saying there would be no development or testing?
Dupasquier: That's why I said "official" reasons earlier, since this proposal to work with a single tire manufacturer in reality conceals a fundamental issue: the reduction of the role of the tire to that of a banal component with no other added value than permitting Formula 1 cars to be mobile. As the world's leading tire manufacturer, that is something we cannot accept.
In day-to-day life, road car and truck manufacturers are forever coming to us with a view to developing new tires that optimise the running, comfort, road holding and energy efficiency of their vehicles, while in Formula 1, a technological showcase if ever there was one, you're talking about tires becoming something banal. That would make no sense at all for our customers and for the image of the tire. When you are the leading tire manufacturer, you have a responsibility vis-à-vis your profession, or in any case a responsibility as we see it at Michelin.
Q.: Are you saying that savings would not be possible in the case of competing tire manufacturers?
Dupasquier: We have already seen a significant reduction in the number of tires per car with the current regulations: three sets of each type of dry weather tire, two types per race weekend and one set of tires to cover qualifying and the race.
A reduction in the distances covered in testing is currently being looked at.
Q.: Has Michelin made any proposals concerning the reduction of testing?
Dupasquier: At the 2004 Brazilian Grand Prix, we made a written proposal to Mr. (Bernie) Ecclestone, who had approached us concerning this matter: "Michelin declares that it is in a position to develop F1 tires without necessitating any specific testing for their development. It is possible to fit our test tires to the car each time our partners take to the track to run gearboxes or to validate aerodynamics."
However, I would like to stress that Michelin is in favour of testing in very specific circumstances. We believe that, for safety reasons, tire companies should be allowed to test at new circuits or tracks where the surface or the layout has been changed.
Q.: If Michelin's proposals were applied in a situation where more than one tire manufacturer was still involved, what sort of savings could be achieved?
Dupasquier: We have two proposals for bringing down costs: fewer tire types and restrictions concerning the distances covered in testing. At 800 dollars per kilometre covered in testing, that soon adds up to an appreciable saving. You could reasonably reduce the distance covered annually by each team by 20,000 km. Multiply that by 10 teams, that comes to 200,000 km; a saving to F1 of 160 million dollars!
This is something we have already put into application with another tire manufacturer in world rallying (WRC).
Q.: The second objective is to improve race and driver safety...
Dupasquier: If a driver brakes too late, if he enters a corner too quickly or if he touches the rear wheel of the preceding car, the car will go off whether it is running on a control tire or not.
Indeed, championships with control tires already exist, notably in the United States. For example, NASCAR, Indy Car and Champcar. But this is no guarantee of safety. This year, at Pocomo in NASCAR, seven tires exploded during practice and the race.
Q.: The third argument concerns fairness between the teams. In the case of a single tire manufacturer, what guarantee would there be that all teams are treated equally?
Dupasquier: Good question. If the organizer wants, there are means that have already been used in the past, such as allocating tires at random and managing tires with a view to eliminating the temptation of treating them in such a way that their performance could effectively be improved.
In the single make championships with which we are involved, we have often asked competitors to come to our trucks to choose their tires themselves.
Q.: Could tire development be more suited to one car than another?
Dupasquier: Yes, that could happen and I'll explain why. Optimizing the performance of a Formula One car is dependent on a complex balance between its tires, its aerodynamics and its traction. It is independent of the driver, the engine's power per se and race incidents and tactics.
If I wanted to favour a given team, I would develop tires for that team by optimizing this balance. Then I would reproduce this tire for everyone. Even if the tires were allocated at random, the team being favoured would profit from this development whatever happened. A tire developed to match the balance of that team's car would have little chance of being the optimal solution for the other cars. I wasn’t involved at the time, but this is what I have been led to believe happened following explanations from the teams who came knocking at our door in 1999 and 2000 to run on Michelin to run on Michelin tires and who say they want to continue with Michelin today.
To be honest, I think the presence of a single tire manufacturer would do nothing at all to improve the interest of the racing.
Q.: What are the disadvantages of having a single tire manufacturer in F1?
Dupasquier: As we see it, the major inconvenience is twofold:
* You reduce the technological showcase that is F1 to the level of a single-make formula.
* You would lose the interest of making new discoveries and innovating in a competitive environment.
Q.: Is there a relationship between F1, and indeed (motorsports) in general, and day-to-day tire technology?
Dupasquier: Without a doubt, yes. This takes different forms according to the type of competition:
* Top-range motorbikes benefit directly from the technology developed in MotoGP. The Michelin Pilot Power, for example, is a direct descendant (of) MotoGP race tires we use.
* In rallying, the same tires cover a broad variety of surface types, and this provides a good basis for research relating to certain high performance tires.
* In F1, the link is obviously not so direct, but the understanding of the role and functioning of tires by engineers who supply F1 with the best tire of the moment is a school that covers all areas and provides indispensable experience that helps them in their next job. There is frequent, fruitful exchange between the research teams.
Q.: If the FIA imposed control tires, what would Michelin do?
Dupasquier: That's a question you need to ask Michelin management. All I know is that the principle of control tires in no way corresponds with the vision of Michelin's directors, and that goes for all the types of motorsport in which Michelin is involved.
Naturally, if it was a question of giving a helping hand to F1, we would certainly assume our responsibilities.
I repeat, therefore, that unless you produced a "wood-solid" tire once and for all for everyone -- which is fundamentally contrary to our vision of the tire but which is something control tires lead to -- the true spirit of racing means having two tire manufacturers, or even more.
It would be possible to achieve significant cost savings by modifying the regulations without compromising driver safety or the interest of the racing.