The french tire giant stated before the Le Mans weekend that the chances of them going for F1 tires were 50/50, but maybe seeing what great show their tires provided in LM, they are now officially challenging Pirelli for the rights to supply F1 with rubber from 2017 onward.
Interestingly, it’s a bit of a political bid as well. Pirelli has been the whipping boy of modern F1: when tires were soft enough to have 6 different winning manufacturers back in 2012, people complained about it ruining the fastest open wheel series on the planet and sabotaging the sport’s ideals. Usually, such criticism is followed by dogmatic praising of Michelin and the “great, exciting races” of the early 2000s with tires lasting forever. And yet, if Pirelli finds itself in the same spot, providing a compound that in Sotchi for example had Nico Rosberg drive 51 laps on it and pass 21 cars while doing so, it’s raining facebook and online media outlet rants about the boring, boring event and the predictability of F1 in general.
That’s quite a bit unfair and worrying for Pirelli’s PR department. The man who brought Pirelli into F1 was Bernie Ecclestone, under the condition that the new tire manufacturer would build a tire that would degrade properly. And boy did they deliver. Meanwhile on the other side of the F1 power spectrum, lame duck FIA president Jean Todt is known to not like the dispensable Italian product. Now that Michelin wants in, there’s an alternative, a french alternative that also happens be involved in WRC and WEC. Do you remember the last time a french automotive industry player worked together with Frenchman Todt? The result was the 2014 engine rulebook, largely influenced and pushed through by Renault.
For us, the more or less loyal fans, the outcome is defining. While Pirelli would like to switch to the 17 or 18 inch rim format, they are willing to delay it or just accept the lack of support from the teams and stay with the current dimensions. Michelin on the other hand tied their 2017 bid together with 18 inch rims for marketing reasons, the same size they are producing for Formula E. And those changes require construction of basically a completely new suspension under the premise that the massive tire walls that account for a lot of the damping on an F1 car are gone. Something similar is going on ahead of MotoGP’s switch to Michelin for 2016.
So how could it end? I feel that just announcing the french manufacturer coming back to F1 would feed the people crying for F1 as it was in the past. The brand is just that connected to tires lasting forever. Pirelli meanwhile could step up in WRC and in fact already announced ambitions to supply tires to the works teams from 2017. Looks like a convenient switch from the pinnacle of open wheel racing to the very best production car based competition.