Bridgestone will have other things on its mind in Shanghai this weekend, but will no doubt pay some attention to the demands being made by former Formula One rival Michelin as the sport searches for a new tyre supplier next season.
Having already announced its exit from the top flight at the end of 2011, Bridgestone has thrown F1 something of a curve ball, with no obvious replacement coming forward to simply step into the breach. Asian brands Kumho and Hankook were both linked to a possible interest, only to fade from the picture, while more established companies like Goodyear, Michelin and Dunlop have all made their intentions clear, either for or against returning.
The French brand, which withdrew from the sport in 2006, a year on from the USGP farce of 2005, has now intimated that it would be interested in coming back - but on certain conditions. Having left Bridgestone with no opposition - and ostensibly nothing to gain from its position - in F1, Michelin is demanding not only a change in wheel size, but also a tyre war with at least one other manufacturer. It has been reported that the French company is seeking a move to the 18-inch rims used by its sportscar customers and, ironically, that may help to attract the competition it craves, with both Yokohama and Dunlop rumoured to be considering the move a positive incentive.
“We are interested in it, but it must be right - who knows what will happen," a Michelin spokesman was quoted by Autocar
, "Certain things have to be done, we must have competition - we do not want to be the only supplier."
Bridgestone, meanwhile, is gearing up for what it claims will be one of its biggest tests of the year, as it heads for the Chinese Grand Prix
The company's hard and soft compound tyres will be put through their paces this weekend, with two long straights and 16 corners of varying types adding heavy braking, extreme lateral loads and high demands on traction. Turns two and seven are likely to induce tyre graining, whilst the high lateral G-force generated through the sequence of turns 7-8 will place strong demands on the construction and heat durability.
“Shanghai International Circuit is severe on tyres," director of motorsport tyre development Hirohide Hamashima confirmed, "There are very high lateral forces and we expect to see graining on the front left tyres, especially caused by the increasing radius turn two and the banked turn 13. We could also see graining on the rear tyres here too.
"We are a step harder in our allocation for this year compared to 2009 because of the heavier cars and the severity of this track. The circuit layout means that a medium downforce set-up will be used, as there are two long straights, but a large percentage of the track is also very twisty and technical. For the teams and drivers, finding the
correct set-up to make the best use of their tyres will be a big challenge.
"Last year, the challenge was the weather, and we saw our wet tyres used for most of the race. It was not the first time we have had wet conditions in China, so the sky will be a strong consideration for this weekend.”