By Adam Cooper, Crain News Service
DETROIT (Aug. 28, 2013) — Formula One Group CEO Bernie Ecclestone insists that Pirelli Tyre S.p.A. will remain F1's sole race tire supplier in 2014, despite Group Michelin's apparently having thrown its hat into the ring.
The French tire maker has now confirmed to the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) that it is interested in the role, leaving both the teams and Pirelli in limbo as they prepare for 2014.
Some top teams are known to be interested in at least discussing a change, despite the short lead time Michelin has before the start of testing for next season in late January.
Mr. Ecclestone has always been close to Pirelli, and has a lucrative commercial deal with the Italian tire manufacturer for trackside advertising and so on. Meanwhile, FIA President Jean Todt is known to be sympathetic to Michelin.
One senior team figure told Autoweek magazine, a sister publication of Tire Business, that it would require a bold decision by Mr. Todt to open the door for Michelin at this late stage — and given that an FIA election is coming up, such a controversial move seemed unlikely.
When asked by Autoweek about Michelin's chances, Mr. Ecclestone said simply that "FOM and Pirelli have a contract."
Asked why there was not yet a contract between the Federation International de l'Automobile (FIA) and Pirelli — the one that Pirelli Motorsports boss Paul Hembery said he is awaiting — Mr. Ecclestone dismissed its relevance.
"We don't need one, I don't think," he told Autoweek. "They are nothing to do with commercial. The FIA's position is that they are regulators, they regulate all the regulations that have been agreed."
He was keen to downplay any role for Mr. Todt in the process of selecting the F1 tire supplier.
"Jean is the president of the FIA. If it's a matter of a vote in the World Council, he has one vote. As it's not a matter for the World Council, it doesn't make a lot of difference."
Mr. Ecclestone also denied there was any interest from the teams in joining forces with Michelin.
"None of the teams who have spoken to me have said that. All the teams who have spoken to me say they are very happy with Pirelli, and the problems they've had, they're happy that they've dealt with them."
Although the regulations currently ensure that F1 has a sole supplier, there does seem some logic in a move towards competition in the future, given that both tire companies appear to be willing to pump money into the sport. Michelin has always preferred competition.
Intriguingly, Mr. Ecclestone said he does not support the idea of Michelin competing with Pirelli, "because they will want to pick the teams that they think will win, and they'll pay them a lot more money to take them as opposed to somebody else. We have a deal with Pirelli, anyway."
Exactly how the tire saga will play out in the coming weeks remains to be seen, but the bottom line is that time is running out for all concerned.
This report appeared on the website of Autoweek magazine, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.