Adam Cooper's Trackforward
Michelin has pulled out of F1, but this may give us a fairer picture of who is performing
When the FIA first confirmed its intention to have a single Formula One tyre supplier from 2008, it clearly became a question of which of the two companies would get the job — or even wanted it. Tyre makers have always used competition to justify their involvement in motorsport: explaining to the board that there is no one to beat is not always easy
But executives do understand budgets, and without question supplying the whole field massively reduces development costs. If you can guarantee race and championship wins at much lower outlay, then the bosses will sit up and take note, even if the competition element has gone. That is the approach Bridgestone has taken, but from the start Michelin indicated that competition was why it went racing.
Even before last year's US GP débâcle the French company's relationship with the FIA was a little strained. Indy gave the FIA the perfect excuse to launch an offensive — and a battle of press releases that has raged ever since. Boss Edouard Michelin gave himself no escape route by personally attacking the single-tyre policy and the Hiles likely method of deciding who would be invited to stay on. For him the return to race tyre changes for 2006 was the last straw — he ordered a pull-out at the earliest opportunity, after the compulsory year's notice, but a full season before the single-tyre rule is due. Perhaps the fact that the company won both titles last year, and has nothing to prove, made the decision easier.
It's a shame to lose in such messy circumstances a company that has the sport running through its veins, but there is a bigger picture. Bridgestone — perhaps with some input from the FIA – will in effect determine how fast F1 cars will be. The engine manufacturers have just spent hundreds of millions of dollars on V8s to raise lap times by what appears to be about two seconds, when Bridgestone will be able to do that and more overnight in 2007— while reducing costs for itself and everyone else.
The lack of competition will certainly reduce intrigue and remove a significant element of chance from race strategy. But under monopoly conditions there was some good racing in 1999 and 2000, after Goodyear left and before Michelin arrived. And compared with then we have more strong, well-financed teams that have a chance consistently to fight at the front.
Henceforth F1 will once again be a competition between drivers and teams, and we will have a much clearer picture of who is getting the job done. The teams themselves will have a better idea of where they have to improve, and the armchair viewer will also find it much easier to understand what's going on. Will Bibendum's loss from 2007 onwards be F1’s gain?
What goes around...
Touring cars at Brands
International touring car racing returns to Brands Hatch for the first time in 26 years this season thanks to rounds of the FIA World Touring Car Championship and the German-based DTM. The WTCC is first up, on May 21, with the DTM finally confirmed for 2006 after Audi matched Mercedes' 10-car commitment following on July 2. Brands was last on the international tin-top calendar in 1980, the third year running that it had hosted a round of the European Touring Car series. Get set for BMWs. SEATs. Chevys and, er, Ladas in May, and those Mercs and Audis in July.