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FOM sends a message to teams... and Michelin

The slew of statements acknowledging, accepting and supporting the outcome of Pirelli's investigation into why Sebastian Vettel's right-rear tyre failed kept us on our toes on Thursday, with the FIA, FOM, teams and drivers all making their opinion felt across the spectrum.

For Pirelli, there was an overriding sense of vindication (trans: a little smug) as it largely absolved itself from responsibility having been rather publically shamed in the immediate aftermath. Strictly speaking, the fact cuts were discovered in the tyres - debris or not - still suggests the tyres are a big factor at fault here, but there was certainly a sense that Pirelli was keen to limit the damage generated by the ensuing headlines.

That said, obviously Pirelli will always do its utmost to paint itself in glory in its own findings, so it was the positively gushing response from FOM (or rather, from the mouth of Bernie Ecclestone) that was arguably more telling.

Whilst FOM's support of Pirelli in itself isn't surprising, the wording was almost refreshingly candid, particularly in a world of very sanitised PR speak.

Indeed, there is little reading between the lines needing to be done to conclude 'Bernie hearts Pirelli', but one particular comment is a rather more veiled...

"Pirelli has offered to provide to each car a single set of tyres to last for an entire Event. While we know that they would be very capable of it, a race with no pit stops would be less exciting."

This is arguably a direct message to Michelin, Pirelli's rival for the tyre tender beyond the 2016 season, the French firm having pledged to introduce tyres that will favour durability and quality over higher degradation for the purpose of spicing up the action.

Whilst FOM certainly isn't the only party involved in the decision making process over the tyre tender, teams have previously showed little interest in favouring Pirelli or Michelin, and have largely delegated the decision to the powers that be.

Whether this is still the consensus following recent events, if FOM has its way, Pirelli is here to stay for the time being (conditions over testing not withstanding) and it won't be accepting its complaints ...

The cost of freedom of speech

On a weekend largely dominated by words from or about Pirelli (McLaren, Red Bull and Renault are probably thankful for the distraction), Paul Hembery's declaration that he wants drivers to 'express their opinions in the right manner' was as ambiguous as it was telling.

In short, try not to go on an expletive laden tirade on live television...

On the one hand, you can see Hembery's point. As a control tyre supplier, Pirelli tyres are fundamental and (in theory) identical across the grid. You rarely hear of a driver gushing about the tyres without prompt, so the one-way critique of the tyres is generally only made public when something goes wrong.

Obviously, bad words make bad business and Pirelli - which arrived in F1 in an effort to improve his status as the world's fifth largest tyre company - openly admits that such 'publicity' has the power to harm public perception. Then again, you have to wonder what quality publicity Pirelli has to gain from adopting FOM's desire for tyres that degrade quickly... not something that would ever entice you to purchase tyres in the real world.

It's worth noting that Pirelli is more than just a tyre supplier in F1 though. It is a partner and a big partner at that, a relationship that arguably grants it the power to exert some pressure on even the higher powers to slap down some rules to ensure it gets its value for money.

Granted, from Pirelli's point of view, supplying tyres can be something of a thankless task, particularly when there is no competition, and not least when you are working to a high-wearing framework which is always likely to irk the very people you want to promote your brand.

This isn't new, however. As the supplier and sponsor for the World Superbike Championship, Pirelli has made it clear that riders and teams cannot be entirely honest about their feelings for the tyres. In a series where a 'duff' rear tyre has a massive impact - and essentially renders a bike impossible to ride -, it is frustrating then that riders are forced to almost entirely ignore the fact they just finished 15th in race two having won the first race at a canter. They know why, you know why, but no words can be uttered.

In a series not exactly teeming with sponsors desperate to pledge as much money as Pirelli seems willing to invest, perhaps a bit of discretion - or better 'communication' as it was coined - isn't unreasonable, but by making it clear to the public that drivers should keep some opinions to themselves, Pirelli may find it has already said too much itself.

Whether FOM will encourage drivers (particularly potty-mouth Vettel) to 'express themselves in the correct manner' when discussing the calendar, however, remains to be seen...

The sensible season

The silly season. One of my favourite 'annual' events in a motorsport calendar. A time when bold rumours - some correct, some well wide of the mark -, dodgy hear'say and those calculating 2+2 to get an answer of 874 make for some interesting interviews and open-ended debates in the paddock.

It occurs approximately around now as teams firm up contracts for the following year, but as pieces of the 2016 F1 puzzle fall into the place, the image emerging looks all rather familiar...

So far, Mercedes, Williams, Ferrari and Sauber have officially confirmed their drivers for 2016 with precisely no changes to its line-up, while Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Force India are poised to do exactly the same. Even McLaren - the one team suffering the Sauber-syndrome of having more drivers than seats - looks set to remain 'as you were'.

That leaves Lotus, which will almost certainly retain Romain Grosjean regardless of whether it remains as it is or becomes Renault, while there is a growing sense that it might just accept one more year Pastor Maldonado's cash flow to keep the wolves from the door in either guise. Even the incoming Haas looks set to favour experience for its debut year, with Esteban Gutierrez and Jean-Eric Vergne tipped to return after a year out.

Which leaves Manor... but that is hardly likely to strike up much enthusiasm unless the 'silliest' of the otherwise fairly ordinary rumours that it could become a Honda B team comes to fruition. Even then, from last year's Ferrari engine to this year's unreliable Honda engine doesn't scream a mid-field package exactly.

At a time when testing is limited and experience is becoming an increasingly attractive commodity, team principals accept it won't be looking to change its drivers for the sake of it, though Christian Horner's description of drivers being a 'fundamental component' is tellingly dehumanising in an era that has seen accusations of cars being too easy to drive, but hard to develop.

'Stability' has been in the buzzword in each of the 2016 driver announcements so far, but it is a word that rather worryingly can be used to describe the sport as a whole. Indeed, with Mercedes continuing to dominate, Lewis Hamilton on course to wrap up the title early, less pre-season testing permitted next winter, a later start to the season and few regulation changes, it's all becoming frustratingly predictable both on and off the track...

 

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