News and views on motorsports

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Michelin To Leave?

First, a note to my friends who are getting married in the future. I know you've probably consulted the feng shui master or the vedic guru on your most auspicious marriage date but spare a thought for your petrolhead friends. In addition to the advice of sages, please consult the official FIA Formula 1 world championship calendar for suitable wedding days. Oh well, needless to say I missed today's grand prix. Guess I'll have to catch the repeat tomorrow night.

Much has been said about the need for cost control in a sport that is in danger of running away with ever escalating budgets. Tyres and more specifically the need for tyre testing has been identified as a major line item in any team's budget. Some say this figure approaches 70 million dollars in the case of the big teams.

In addition to this, the current one tyre regulations dictating a single tyre throughout qualifying and the race has resulted in a safety hazard. Witness, Kimi Raikkonen's Nurburgring incident and today's race in Monza where both Kimi and Juan Pablo Montoya experienced major tyre problems. Raikkonen chose to pit but Juan Pablo decided to take a Kimi like gamble and continue on. Most racing drivers would have taken that decision and why not? They're there to win and sometimes you need to take risks.

Then there was Indianapolis where tyres again were the issue and Michelin declared their products unsafe to run throughout the entire race. So, the problem is two fold. Cost and safety. And so, the powers and some of the teams including Renault I believe, think that the way forward is a single control tyre. And it seems to me a lot of fans seem to think the same way.

However, I do sympathize with Michelin, who during the weekend issued a statement condemning the proposed control tyre proposals. I must say I sympathize with them and I think they are absolutely correct.

A company enters Formula 1 to prove their worth. It is competition that drives them to excel. A company that supplies everyone with the same component, in this case tyres, have nothing really to prove. There is little need for innovation and improvement. It is competition against a rival that drives the need and promotes technological advancement. Now, in the case of racing, I think very few technologies are actually directly applicable to road users but this is inconsequential. The fact is, engineers are given a challenge and they develop greater understanding and skills that are applicable when developing road car technology.

One thing I admired about Honda's involvement in Formula 1 during the 1980s was that it was less of a marketing effort than a chance given to their brightest engineers to experience competitive pressures and to meet extreme challenges and beat them. And so it is I believe with Michelin. Whether Michelin bids for exclusive supplier status in 2008 is also of no consequence. As fellow blogger Jay Steele states, they have nothing to prove and they are already the world's leading tyre supplier. What they are looking for is competition.

And of course, they're looking for bragging rights. When Goodyear were the sole supplier, I don't think they got much marketing mileage out of that. But when you beat a rival thats a different story. Ask Bridgestone how proud they must have been to remove Goodyear from the top spot in a straight fight. It must have been immensely satisfying and something concrete for the marketing boys to use.

And this applies to components other than tyres. Max Mosley had proposed a single brake manufacturer for all teams but thankfully this has been dropped. I cannot imagine Brembo being the sole brake supplier. Their competition with AP Racing and Carbon Industrie is immense and it ought to remain so. Again, it gives the engineers the experience of innovation. Competition after all should improve the breed. In this case, it improves the engineers.

From a fan point of view, there was absolutely nothing wrong in the years before Bridgestone made their Formula 1 debut. Goodyear stopped making single lap "qualifying special" tyres but the quality of racing did not deteriorate. Yes, tyres were eliminated as a major factor and focus went on other things.

However, as the Michelin statement points out, some manufacturers go to the extent of favouring certain teams when designing their products. No secret who they're referring to. When Bridgestone won their first world championship it was with McLaren. However, when Ferrari were forced to use the Japanese rubber in 1999, Bridgestone started to favour Maranello. To such an extent that all the other major teams switched to Michelin within a couple of years of the marques return.

There are good reasons why Bridgestone does such things. Marketing mileage with such a well known name as Ferrari must be one of them. And hence, I think, they cannot be trusted to favour all teams equally. Inevitably I think, Ferrari will still be the favoured one.

Luca di Montezemolo wishes to see tyres eliminated as a factor in the sport. Of couse, he would. Especially when his cars are finishing a lap down in front of the tifosi. Of couse, he and Ferrari fans would think that races are now boring. Their asses are being whipped but good. We didn't see Luca complain about last year when clearly the Bridgestones were the rubber to have. The problem with Ferrari is that they simply cannot accept that in sport there will be ups and downs. If Ferrari lose, then to them, its time to change the rules. Of course the rules will be changed. Ferrari wants it so.

I say let Ferrari eat shit. Its their insistence of favourable terms that forced teams to switch en masse to Michelin. Now they're suffering and all the better for it.

As for competition per se, imagine a scenario where there was only a single engine manufacturer. After all, why not? Engines are also a huge line item in the budget. Now, would that be any fun at all? Sure, it would probably put more emphasis on the drivers and their skills but it just wouldn't be Formula 1 any more. In fact, I'm all for Goodyear to rejoin the fray and make life more interesting for the two incumbents.

Why should Formula 1 be dumbed down? Its about man AND machine after all. The competition should be multi faceted and multi-dimensional. I think that adds to the interest and the attraction.

As for costs, I think thats a bullshit argument. If sponsor A gives you 100 million dollars a season then you're definitely going to find a way to spend that money. If not on the tyres then you're going to spend it on aero. Do you really believe the new proposals for constant downforce is going to work? No its not because the moment you specify a downforce limit, the designers are going to come up with ways to reduce drag for that amount of downforce. I think they call it reducing the drag to lift ratio or something. Or worse yet, to find a way around those regulations. These designers are geniuses, they'll find a way round anything that stupid FIA lawyer dreams up.

As for the safety aspect, this can be addressed quite simply by changing the regulations. Even Luca agrees on this one. The regulations are just plain silly and artificial. Not to mention a hazard for everyone. That bloody lawyer at the head of the FIA has got to be removed. He's great at politics but just plain incompetent on running the sport.

All in all, I'm against the proposed 2008 tyre regulations. Mainly because I think that the probable supplier will be Bridgestone and those bastards and their Italian masters cannot be trusted. Secondly, I've always believed that Formula 1 should also be the ultimate technological expression. Not through electronic gizmos but innovation in good old fashioned mechanical engineering. That includes the freedom to innovate on brakes, aero, mechanical engine components, transmissions and of course tyres.

Sadly the way things are going right now Formula 1 is headed for a bleak future. We've already seen it with Formula 3000 evolving into this dreadful monocultured formula called GP2. Where once there were multiple chassis and engines now they're all Dallara-Renaults. Is the racing any more exciting? I doubt it.

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