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Five in race for 2011 tyre contract – but two firm favourites

Pirelli, Avon Cooper and Michelin have seemingly been joined in the race to supply tyres to the F1 grid in 2011 by Kumho - but efforts to convince present incumbent Bridgestone to reverse its decision to quit remain the leading priority...
It seems there are as many as five names in the frame to supply the F1 field with tyres in 2011, but with equality, consistency and cost the key priorities, it appears that two of them are currently favoured rather more than the other three.

Michelin, Pirelli and Avon Cooper have all expressed their interest in replacing Bridgestone as the top flight's sole tyre manufacturer, with South Korean company Kumho – although having no prior experience in F1 – similarly understood to have submitted a formal letter of intent to both governing body the FIA and the sport's influential commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone.

The Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA) met in Barcelona ahead of Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix to discuss the hot and increasingly urgent topic, given that all of them are keen to accelerate progress on the design of their 2011 cars – which will likely vary depending upon who provides the tyres.

However, yet another possibility has now potentially emerged with news that Bridgestone might just be willing to rethink its vow to withdraw at the end of the present campaign, with the new boss of Bridgestone Europe having visited the Circuit de Catalunya at the weekend to speak to Ecclestone and the teams, who are all keen for the Japanese marque to stay.

Director of Bridgestone Motorsport Hiroshi Yasukawa has acknowledged that FOTA's written plea to Bridgestone Europe for the manufacturer to backtrack on its original decision 'is an honour', but how much sway it will have over green-friendly Bridgestone CEO and President Shoshi Arakawa remains to be seen.

Should Bridgestone be unwilling to reconsider, Michelin is the clear favourite amongst competitors and FIA President Jean Todt, having enjoyed success in F1 before – and as recently as 2006 – and benefitting from a strong global reputation for both performance and safety, which with distinctly limited testing now is a leading concern.

The French company is willing to supply tyres on 13-inch rims until 2013 – ahead of what looks set to be a transition to larger, lower-profile 18-inch rims – and has halved its financial demands from €3 million per team to €1.5 million per team in the face of more competitive bids from the likes of Pirelli, Avon and Kumho.

None of that trio, however, would have any reference data to go on, with Pirelli having not competed at the highest level since 1991, Avon Cooper far longer ago still and Kumho not at all, and FOTA chairman Martin Whitmarsh fears plumping for one of the ostensibly 'cheaper' options could ultimately transpire to be more expensive in the long run due to their lack of relevant F1 experience – and as such something of a false economy. A return to a tyre war between more than one supplier also appears to be unwelcome for similar reasons.

“The big teams would hire their own engineers to generate data about the tyres themselves,” McLaren-Mercedes team principal Whitmarsh explained, according to James Allen's internet blog. “The small teams could not afford it, and we would have a two-class society. I think Bridgestone have done a great job, and if we can persuade them to remain in the sport that would be very strong.

“There are a number of other prospects out there, but you have to remember that F1 is a very challenging environment and we have to be careful with newcomers that we don't take too many risks. People that know about F1 analyse the risk, and this means the engineers get good data to design the cars and it means we have safe tyres.

“If we can convince experienced operators to be in F1, that's good. We like competition in all forms, but we have to be mindful of controlling costs. The last time we had tyre competition in F1 it was very expensive, and many of the teams aren't fit for that level of competition at the moment.”

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