Michelin ponders possible F1 race tire bid
By Bruce Davis, Tire Business staff
CLERMONT-FERRAND, France — Group Michelin's motorsport director recently signaled his company's renewed interest in being Formula 1's race tire supplier but stopped short of saying the company would bid for the contract, the tender process for which is open for the 2017-19 seasons.
Pascal Couasnon, Michelin's motorsport director since 2011, addressed Michelin's possible interest in the F1 race tire supply situation in a Q&A supplied by Michelin in connection with an announcement that the World Series by Renault (WSR) racing series is switching to 18- and 17-inch race tires next year for its FR3.5 and FR2.0 championships.
Asked whether Michelin would return to Formula 1 if the sport opted to change the tire size spec to 18 inches from 13 inches, Mr. Couasnon is quoted as saying: “We would examine every aspect in detail before we come to a decision. Let's just say, vehicles on 18-inch tires would be a step in this direction....”
Michelin last supplied F1 with tires in 2007. Since then F1's governing body, Federation International de l'Automobile (FIA), has specified a single-supplier regulation, with Bridgestone Corp. filling that role from 2008-11 and Pirelli Tyre S.p.A. since then.
Bids for the 2017-19 season contract are due June 17.
Michelin bid for the F1 contract in 2010, although its bid carried a caveat that F1 abandon its single-supplier contract status.
In the Michelin Q&A, Mr. Couasnon was asked whether he thought the FIA would move away from the 13-inch tire/wheel spec.
His reply: “I think the idea has legs. The next decision on this subject will come before year-end with a possible launch in 2017.
“Given the fact that the new Formula E cars are already using 18-inch tires and the World Series by Renault…, which serves as preparation for the Formula 1, perhaps soon to follow, it seems me that this step would make sense.”
Mr. Couasnon went on to say changing the spec to an 18-inch rim diameter would “certainly require an extensive redesign of the chassis systems” since currently the larger sidewalls of the 13-inch tire contributes to vehicle damping.
He did not address the scenario that a larger tire/wheel assembly would add several pounds of unsprung weight, a possibility that Pirelli acknowledged last year after its first public test of a prototype 18-inch F1 tire.
His remarks were secondary to the company's announcement last week that the WSR 3.5- and 2-liter class cars will use 18- and 17-inch tires, respectively, moving away from the 13-inch spec in use since the series launched in 2005. Michelin's contract with the series was set to expire after the 2015 season.
The WSR cars are open-wheel, single-seat pure race cars, powered either by a 3.4-liter V8 or 2-liter in-line 4-cylinder Renault engines.
Jean-Pascal Dauce, motorsport director for Renault Sport Technologies, said converting the WSR tire specs now would make the series even more valuable as an F1 training ground should the FIA opt to change the F1 tire spec.
Nicolas Goubert, technical director, Michelin Motorsport, noted that the tire maker has been championing the principle of 18-inch tires in Formula 1 since 2010. This belief manifested itself in the choice of 18-inch tires for Formula E Championship for electric single-seaters, he added.
Do you have an opinion about this story? Do you have some thoughts you'd like to share with our readers? Tire Business would love to hear from you. Email your letter to Editor Don Detore at [email protected].