Just as Pirelli seemed all-set to sign on the dotted line to become the sole tyre-supplier in F1 from 2011 onwards, it appears Michelin has tabled an eleventh-hour bid to scupper its Italian rival and seal the deal for itself – as teams hope to be able to test the new tyres later this summer.
It was speculated towards the end of last month that it was all-but agreed that Pirelli would return to the highest level next year for the first time since 1991 – in addition to providing tyres for the feeder GP2 Series alongside its current commitments to GP3 and the World Rally Championship – but when no announcement was forthcoming over the weekend of the Turkish Grand Prix, people began to wonder if there had been a change of heart.
Pirelli is understood to be the favoured supplier by both F1 commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone and the majority of the sport's teams, but Ferrari is conversely championing the more expensive Michelin offer, given the French marque's far more recent experience of the top flight having departed the fray only four years ago – and FIA President Jean Todt is believed to similarly be more inclined towards the latter, hence the ongoing situation of stalemate.
Michelin motorsport chief Nick Sharrock travelled to Istanbul to meet with Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive Ecclestone and the Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA), but the 90-minute reunion again proved inconclusive.
“There was no intention to change anything,” Sharrock is quoted as having said by Tire Review
. “The objective was simply to make sure that the teams had fully understood the details of our offer. That is as it has always been – in-line with what the company sees as the future of competition, and within the values of open competition that the company wants to respect, which is being able to demonstrate the technical capability of our product and also that there is a respect for the environment.
“We have made a proposal, which we believe is reasonable – and is not exaggerated. We have proposed that we try to bring the sport in-line to demonstrate the technical capability of our product, but also moving towards things that are more in-phase with what the automotive industry today is doing. Our basic product today is 18-inch. It is up to the teams to decide which way they want to go. I am sure the teams listened, they asked questions and we have tried to clarify as much as possible any doubts that they had.”
With designs for 2011 cars progressing apace, competitors are understandably eager to know which way the decision will go, and Mercedes Grand Prix team principal Ross Brawn admitted that he hopes once a contract has been signed, it will be possible for teams to test the new tyres this summer to evaluate them and see how they compare to FOTA's requests in terms of compounds and constructions.
“There's got to be some testing with the new tyre-supplier, whoever it is,” the Englishman insisted. “I think late summer/early winter there will be some tests organised with the new supplier. We must try and accommodate that within the teams we have – we can't afford to go out and start rebuilding test teams again. All of our cars are being designed around the current tyres because we have no other information.”