• The Inside Line

Tyre talks spin on and on and on

Kate Walker August 25, 2013
Pirelli's future in Formula One is uncertain as rumours that Michelin will replace it in 2014 grows © Getty Images
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If you were a member of the Pirelli board, would you have any interest in supplying F1 tyres next year? Scratch that - if you represented any of the world's tyre manufacturers, would you touch Formula One with a bargepole? It's a question I've been asking myself with increasing frequency as the season has progressed.

Cast your mind back to mid-summer 2012, if you can. We were celebrating the historic achievement of seven different winners from the first seven races of the season, and Pirelli was riding high on a wave of praise.

Bored senseless by the ever-enduring Bridgestones, reliable rubber that contributed to several years of processional racing, fans and journalists couldn't get enough of Pirelli. The Italian manufacturer was celebrated for its bravery in producing rubber that was designed to thrill, teams and drivers were criticised for complaining that they still hadn't figured out the tyres, and we all thought ourselves to be on the threshold of a brave new world that would deliver nail-biting track action on 20 Sundays a year.

What a difference a year makes.

Pirelli are now the pantomime villains of Formula One, those terrible tyre types who have forced drivers to perform below the maximum. When they're not deliberately imperilling one and all with delaminations and punctures, that is.

While the widespread criticism of Pirelli has paved the way for other tyre manufacturers to replace them - with Michelin now rumoured to be interested in supplying F1 next year - it beggars the question 'why would anyone else want to?'.

Pirelli were asked to deliver high-deg rubber that would shake up the racing. They did. They were then asked to alter that rubber year on year, but were not given any opportunity to test that rubber on a current (or representative) car, thanks mainly to the teams' inability to agree on a suitable car. Then there was Tyre-gate.

Should Pirelli be replaced in 2014, the new tyre supplier will be subject to the same constraints that hampered their predecessor. Testing opportunities will exist in 2014, but those involving current machinery remain limited. The teams are no more likely to agree on a 'neutral' tyre test car next year than they have been in the past.

And as for the public pressure? That will never change. Drivers will continue to criticise if a race doesn't go their way, the media will continue to make click-friendly mountains out of motorsport molehills, and fans already sick to death of anything black, round, and rubbery are likely to lose patience with tyre talk before the 2014 season gets underway.

Be it Pirelli, Michelin, or anyone else you can think of, the role of 2014 tyre supplier to the Formula One World Championship is the very definition of a thankless task.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'.
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Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'.