F1’s tyre wars

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Tyre manufacturers are vying to replace Bridgestone in 2011
Tyre manufacturers are vying to replace Bridgestone in 2011

The F1 world is waiting to discover what tyres the cars will be running on next year. An announcement is expected soon. As tipped here two weeks ago ago, Cooper has joined Michelin in expressing interest in supplying F1 tyres next year.

But while Michelin enjoyed championship success in both its previous F1 appearances, Cooper has not supplied tyres in F1 before. Its Avon brand has, but it never enjoyed an F1 race win.

Find out more about F1’s tyre wars below.

The tyre wars in numbers

The chart below shows which tyre manufacturers have won races in the world championship:

Tyre suppliers who won world championship races
Tyre suppliers who won world championship races (click to enlarge)

The Goodyear generation

Goodyear became F1's most successful tyre supplier in 1976
Goodyear became F1's most successful tyre supplier in 1976

Tyre technology in F1 really took off with the advent of slick tyres, first used at the Spanish Grand Prix in 1971.

The arrival of American tyre manufacturers Goodyear and Firestone squeezed out Dunlop, who had enjoyed several years as the dominant force. But soon after that Firestone were gone too.

By the mid-seventies a set of Goodyears was the thing to have, but that began to change when Michelin first entered the sport in 1977.

They supplied tyres to the new Renault team, which is best remembered for introducing 1.5-litre turbo engines. But with them came another innovation, courtesy of Michelin: the radial tyre.

By the early eighties Goodyear saw the writing on the wall and committed to producing radial tyres. Michelin enjoyed the peak of its success in 1984 with McLaren – and then abruptly quit the sport.

Pirelli bow out

Nelson Piquet scored the last win for Pirelli at Montreal in 1991
Nelson Piquet scored the last win for Pirelli at Montreal in 1991

That left just Goodyear and Pirelli to supply the entire grid. Well, almost: Toleman, having fallen out with both companies at various stages, couldn’t get a tyre deal until it bought a contract with Pirelli off a rival team.

Goodyear resumed their position of near-total dominance: the only race a Pirelli car won in 1985 was at a swelteringly hot Paul Ricard. Having done all their pre-season testing at Kyalami in South Africa their tyres were good in extremely hot conditions and useless everywhere else.

Pirelli gave up at the end of 1991, having beaten Goodyear just three times in 210 races since 1985. They are rumoured to be considering another F1 comeback, but there were similar rumours in 2006.

Bridgestone arrived to end Goodyear’s monopoly in 1997. At the end of the year the FIA banned slicks, imposing the use of grooved tyres to reduce cornering speeds. Uninteresting in pursuing what it saw as a technological dead-end, Goodyear left F1 at the end of 1998.

It brought to a close 45 years of uninterrupted participation in F1, in which it had won at least one race every year since 1965. Goodyear tyres have still won more than twice as many races as any other constructor, despite them now being absent from the sport for more than a decade. There is no indication as yet they might be interested in a return.

Bridgestone vs Michelin

Michelin tyres on Alonso's Renault after the 2006 Japanese Grand Prix
Michelin tyres on Alonso's Renault after the 2006 Japanese Grand Prix

After Goodyear’s departure Bridgestone didn’t remain the sole tyre supplier for long as Michelin returned in 2001. And they were quickly back to winning ways – a Michelin-shod Williams won the fourth round of the season at Imola.

Perhaps alarmed at Michelin’s immediate success, Bridgestone reacted by pursuing a uniquely close technical collaboration with Ferrari in 2002, despite also supplying several other teams that year. Bridgestone technicians went to work at Maranello and their Ferrari counterparts headed to Japan, all in the pursuit of a superior combination of tyre dynamics and suspension configuration.

The results were devastating. Ferrari’s F2002 was almost untouchable – Michael Schumacher finished every race on the podium in 2002.

When Michelin hit back in 2003 they had their first of two bruising clashes with the FIA. Late in 2003 a change in the tyre rules forced Michelin to change their tyre construction, handing the initiative to Bridgestone, who following the rules change won 18 of the next 21 races.

Another change to the tyre rules came in 2005, forcing teams to run the entire race without changing tyres, and this resulted in Michelin enjoying a near-perfect season.

The only race they failed to win was in Indianapolis, where they discovered their tyres couldn’t run through the unique, fast, banked turn 13. While the FIA refused to accept a compromise solution that would have allowed the Michelin teams to participate, the race was contested by just the Bridgestone teams, which by now numbered just Ferrari plus Jordan and Minardi.

The FIA reversed the ‘no tyre change’ rule for 2006 but for the second year running the championships went to a Michelin-shod team and driver. But with the sport’s governing body preparing to introduce a single tyre supplier from 2008, Michelin left once more, and Bridgestone has been F1’s single tyre supplier from 2007.

A new tyre war?

Michelin’s two previous appearances in F1 show they aren’t interested in making up the numbers in any sense: not as a single supplier for the entire grid, and not as runner-up to someone else.

It’s true that Avon are the only manufacturer to have supplied tyres in F1 but never won a race – but I don’t think that’s an especially telling statistics. Their only two appearances came on a handful of occasions in the fifties, and as supplier to a few back-of-the-grid teams in the early eighties.

For F1, there are clear dangers in going back to a tyre war. It could push costs up to unacceptable levels, especially for the new teams.

And it would almost certainly increase the performance difference between the cars. As we saw with Bridgestone in the early 2000s, if one tyre manufacture finds an easier route to success by collaborating closely with one team at the expense of all the others, then we’re in for a very one-sided championship.

Tyres in F1

Images (C) Bridgestone/Ercole Colombo, Ford, Ford, Renault/LAT

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 58 comments on “F1’s tyre wars”

    1. Prisoner Monkeys
      22nd April 2010, 10:09

      I’m really hoping we don’t get a new tyre war because then too much emphasis is placed on which manufacturer supplies you. Look at Michelin, who developed a tyre specifically for Renault and all the other Michaelin runners had to use it, despite bing unable to use it as effectivelyas the car it was designed around.

      1. Michelin and Bridgestone have both favoured particular teams in the past, and that certainly isn’t an ideal situation but neither is having one manufacturer in my book.

        It really is a case of settling for the lesser of two evils.

        1. GeeMac’s right, this is a difficult decision. Ultimately I come down on the side of not having a tyre war.

          If we have two tyre manufacturers then I think the best we can realistically hope for is having two teams fighting for wins. But in all likelihood we could end up with just one.

          However I think that will mean the teams having to accept unfavourable financial terms because as we’ve seen there not much PR for a tyre manufacturer in beating no-one.

          1. Pirelli are now talking openly about returning to F1 (see Autosport).

            When people opposed to “tyre wars” talk about them, they always assume that there would only be two suppliers, with the same consequences as we saw in the Michelin/Bridgestone era. But for a long time now I have argued that the best solution to F1’s perennial “tyre problem” is to allow many tyre manufacturers into F1, maybe mandating that one manufacturer can supply a maximum of three or four teams. This would mean that tyre makers can work closer with individual teams to produce tyres that work well with each car, and optimise car and tyre performance together rather than the “one-size-fits-all” nonsense we have now, where teams are forced to spend a good portion of each weekend on patently unsuitable tyres.

            If Bridgestone could be convinced to stay in F1 (which they may do if they only had three teams to supply rather than 12, as it would be much cheaper), we would then have four tyre manufacturers ready to go in F1. And other suppliers like Kumho and Hankook have been rumoured to be considering F1 as well, maybe they could be convinced to join the party too. Even if each tyre manufacturer chooses to focus their development efforts on one team, that’s still 4-6 teams who get to be the “A-team” and (hopefully) run at the front.

            1. Nice to see Pirelli throwing in their hat, but it would be great if Goodyear came back instead.

    2. Although I tend to believe a tyre war is not what Formula One needs, I was triggered by a remark I read earlier this week: if the FIA force spec tyres to be used in F1, it’s a good thing, but when working on a spec engine, it’s not.

      So, I believe that, in principle, competition in any field in Formula One should be the right route, tyres, too. However, there should be rules in force to prevent competitors from outbidding eachother in a spending battle.

      (I’m not sure what those rules should be, though…)

      1. Simple:
        1) Let all teams pay a set price for the tires, regardless of manufacturer.
        2) The manufacturers must submit specifications for super soft, soft, medium, and hard tires at the beginning of the year.
        3) All tires supplied by each individual tire manufacturer must conform to teh specification supplied at the beginning of the year.
        4) Open the applications for tire manufacturers up to any manufacturer that has shown previous major racing experience. Close the application process in December of the year before. All safety testing by the FIA will be done by Dec. 31 of the current season. Teams may submit a specification at any time between July and Dec., however the first design accepted will be their official entry for that season. This way teams have enough time to consider the properties of the tires in the final design process and that all teams will have a chance to choose their designer before testing starts.

    3. I just read, on GP Update – advertised here – that Pirelli is now considering joining, but they would want 18 inch wheels as well, like Michelin.

      A fray to join the tyre war? I think they could just take lets say wets, hards and super hards from Michelin, Inters, Soft and Medium from Pirelli, Super soft from Avon, or any mix, that makes some sense for the suppliers and cost wise.

      Then let the manufacturers show the differences between their tires. It would give some interest and competition, but not outright competition between different makes of the same tire.

      1. That’s impossible. If we had a race with changing conditions like in China, the car’s handling would change so much after a pitstop that it’d be a miracle if anybody finished the race!

      2. I have seen this idea suggested a few times on this site but I just don’t see how it would work. A medium compound tyre from one company could be the equivalent to a soft from another company.

        From a cost and logistics point of view I don’t think it would work either. Unless we had the current rule where every type of tyre had to be used in the race, which I am personally not in favour of, then some tyre companies could take tyres to every race and they may hardly be used.

        Either because they were the wet tyre supplier and it didn’t rain much or simply because they were the super soft tyre supplier and it turned out that the soft or medium tyre was better.

        A situation like that would probably see the company leave F1 rather quickly.

        1. You are probably right about the impracticalities of the logistics and manufacturing driving cost up.

          But it would be a sort of competition between the suppliers and motivating them to deliver good tires in their segment.

          To bring this solution in, the FIA or FOTA would have to define what they want for a Soft, Medium, etc. for the Manufacturer to produce it.
          The fact, that a medium from one company would do the job better than a soft from somebody else on the same track would be the competition part.
          Unsuccessfull suppliers could just end up producing a single batch and having them visit each race until they give up, or they can improve the tires and get drivers to use their tires.
          Because the best supplier would then deliver the most tires (but not all, as each car uses min. 2 types) they would also have the higest cost paired with the most succes.

      3. It’s an imaginative idea but for the reasons PJA states and my suspicion that I doubt it would be of much marketing benefit to the tyre companies, I think it’s a non-starter.

        However someone did suggest the possibility of having ‘regional’ tyre suppliers: Bridgestone for the Asian races, Michelin and/or Cooper for the European ones. Maybe that could work in terms of sharing the costs.

        1. I like that idea Keith, but would it satisfy Michelin who reportedly are demanding competition?

          1. No. But I think we can safely discount finding a solution that satisfies everyone. Finding a solution that satisfies someone would be a start…

        2. How about each team has to run one car from one supplier, and one from the other…
          I’m joking, be fun tho’ :D

          1. Each car has to have two tyres from each supplier! Definitely the fairest way!

      4. The only benefit I see from that ideaa is that Sauber would finally have a few sponsor logo’s to stick on their cars…

      5. the Sri Lankan
        23rd April 2010, 1:55

        think about a car filled with with michellin, pirelli and avon stickers…i doubt that would happen

        1. Maybe they could add some tyre selling outfit, like Quickfit offers you all these brands of tyres to make it look to the point :-)

    4. I’m concerned if Pirelli were to come back as a sole supplier, would they give Ferrari peferential tyres as they are both Italian

      1. well i’m concerned if Cooper is become the sole tyre supplier. the would love to give mclaren more preference since they’re both british

        1. And if Goodyear came back they would give preferential treatment to USF1…. wait.

          1. the Sri Lankan
            23rd April 2010, 1:56

            lol…yeah because bridgestone gave their all to Honda and Toyota

      2. I think there are better reasons in a tyre war for a tyre company to tailor its product to a particular team than mere jingoism (also, Cooper are American, not British).

        But it is undesirable and if we are going to have a tyre war back a lot of thought needs to be given to how it is managed.

      3. I don’t see why its a big issue tbh. With the testing restrictions they have now it would be really difficult to make a type ideal for just a single car

      4. Because, as we have seen the natural Japanese affinity for the Italians resulted in Bridgestone committing their deveopment to Ferrari instead of Honda or Toyota.

    5. Wouldn’t the easy solution being to have multiple manufacturers, with the FIA to mandate a set cost to teams for tyre supply.
      The manufacturer can’t select teams, they must take anyone who applies.
      If the tyre company wants to embed an engineer in a team, they have to supply an engineer to every one of their teams.
      Tyres to be homologated at the start of each season.
      With restricted testing it shouldn’t spark a hyper development war.

      That way you get the benefits of multiple suppliers, but as far as I can see minimise the risk of spiralling costs.

    6. Although I don’t want F1 to be a standardised formula, I make an exception in the case of tyres and would prefer one tyre supplier instead of a tyre war.

      Tyres are supposed to be the single biggest performance differentiator on an F1 car. While the Ferrari dominance of 2002 owed a lot to their tyre advantage, their lacklustre 2005 was also largely due to their tyres.

      With one tyre supplier it is easier for the FIA to control speeds, if we had another tyre war lap times would probably tumble and the FIA would look at other areas to reduce speeds.

      On a personal note, as I started following F1 in 1991 I thought of the Goodyear Eagle as the F1 tyre, until Bridgestone and Michelin came along that is.

      That graph is a nice illustration of tyre suppliers in F1, I have never even heard of Englebert before, apart from Engelbert Humperdinck the singer/pianist.

      1. I have never even heard of Englebert before, apart from Engelbert Humperdinck the singer/pianist.

        Those were my exact same thoughts when I was looking it up!

        1. I was wondering as well. Turns out Engelbert was a Belgian company, then joined forces with US Rubber to form Uniroyal from 1958 onwards, changing name to Uniroyal-Engelbert and when Uniroyal’s European bussiness was sold to Continental in 1979 the name disapeared.
          After Michelen bought Uniroyal Inc. in 1990 they supplied tyres under this brand for car collectors but stopped producion a few years later.
          Intersesting story, maybe a follow up item on F1-tires we forgot about?
          sources for this comment:
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Englebert_%28tyre_manufacturer%29 and the Uniroyal website.

          1. Very interesting thanks BasCB.

    7. Are they considering having all the teams using tyres from all manufacturers that will be participating? It would abolish the artificial rule of having to run the option and prime and teams won’t potentially suffer from manufacturers preferring a single team like bridgestone apparently was.

      It’s also likely tyres will develop faster and in the same direction increasing overall speed and mechanical grip of the cars.

      Is this a viable option or simply impossible to consider due to either engineering difficulties or the likely terms tyre manufacturers are likely to enter?

      In case they’re going with the old system, are they likely to introduce a rule preventing one tyre manufacturer dominating the grid, like it currently is with engines (apparently)?

      1. Having to use both brands of tyre during a race? Nice idea, but not from the point of view of costs, and it would be just as artificial as the two-compounds rule, being in effect a modification of it. I don’t see the benefit for any multiple manufacturers to enter F1 under such a scenario either.

    8. I’m not sure how there could be any kind of “tyre war” under the current regulations. There is limited testing already and teams aren’t allowed to use ‘rigs’ to test tyres off the car. Now, maybe if there’d been a budget cap..ROFL.

    9. Would it not be possible to offset the danger of one tyre company forming a special relationship with a specific team in the event of a tyre war by ensuring that each company supplied a balanced range of teams? So that, for instance, instead of a post-2001 situation where it was in Bridgestone’s interest to focus on Ferrari as they were their only realistic chance of winning, tyre supplies are obliged to provide more than one top team with rubber. That way, if titles rivals share the same tyres, they can lean on the supplier to give them equality of service.

      It would be a difficult thing to implement I admit – you can’t ‘oblige’ companies to supply anyone, though I’m sure Bernie or some such figure could bring his influence to bear or at least point out the advantages of such an arrangement.

      Looking back to that period of Ferrari-Bridgestone dominance, I wonder if things would have been different had McLaren not defected to Michelin after 2001, thus letting Bridgestone focus their efforts on the one top team. Would Ron Dennis have demanded McLaren receive the same attention Ferrari was receiving and the same level of car/tyre integration, or would the fact that Bridgestone had two top teams to please mean they would not have gone to the lengths they did to build up a special relationship with a single team?

      1. I think they defected after realising that Bridgestone was into a special relationship with Ferrari and was not giving them the best package for their needs, so they went to Michelin who reacted to their imput.

    10. Let FIA play the middle man between F1 teams and tyre suppliers so that no tyre maker prefers one team. Few points should be considered :
      1. Cost should be same.
      2. Types of compounds supplied for different races should be same.

      If tyre degradation for 1 tyre maker is more then they will strive to make better tyres next time since the whole world be watching them (their tyres)

      1. HounslowBusGarage
        22nd April 2010, 12:31

        How do the teams pay for tyres at the moment – do they pay Bridgestone at all?

        1. I guess not since the teams offered to pay Bridgestone for the tyres to get them stay in F1.

        2. As far as I know Bridgestone supplies all of the tyres, as well as the cost of shipping them around the world and supplying technical delegates at all the races, for free (It is part of the ‘sponsorship’ deal). It’s also part of the reason they want out, especially with new teams (ie more tyres) joining the grid

      2. If there are going to be multiple tyre manufacturers in F1, I’d like to see it like this!

    11. I’m hoping there won’t be a tyre war either. The competition was horrible during those years. I don’t like to see a team dominate a season because of it’s tyres.

      It will be difficult for the teams to design their cars when they haven’t tested the tyres yet. Looks like next season’s start could be a bit of a lottery again.

    12. Michelin should not come back just to please all the honchos that drove them out of F1 in the first place. If they have a valid business reason to do it, great, but I guess that would imply they race unchallenged. I believe some Chinese or Korean manufacturer is going to step up to the plate and we will have next year a Lada competing with a Force India both on Nankang tyres. Long Live F1 !!!

    13. James Bolton
      22nd April 2010, 13:46

      How about one company makes all the tyres and then they can stamp the logo of whichever tyre company a team is affiliated with on the sidewall.

      This way different companies can be represented but you don’t end up with one team dominating because the tyres only suit their car.

      The tyre companies can also share the costs of manufacturing the tyres, and they don’t have to spend any money on development or tyre testing.

      1. Good idea, but it would still be an issue over who gets to make the tyres, since everyone will know they really made them (e.g. Sauber’s “Petronas” engine, which everyone knew was a Ferrari).

    14. In my opinion there should not be control tyres, F1 is the height of technology, if you have control tyres you then must consider control engines and then you come to control cars and then you have GP2, which nobody wants.

      1. Why can’t the tyre manufacturers only be given data from GP2 cars? That way, they couldn’t favour one team.

        Ridiculous i know, but I can’t for the life of me think of anything better ^^

    15. The biggest problem with tire competition would be a dramatic increase in cornering speeds and reduction in braking distance. That would wipe all all the work done to slow the cars through aero limitations and engine freezing, etc. Perhaps the FIA could require multiple race distances for a a tire but that seems impossible to implement in practice, as allowances must be made for damage, track conditions, etc.

      Maybe the FIA should make the competitors commit to having a greener tire, beyond the lame green striping Bridgestone used to do. That is, commit to faster degrading tire materials, less particulate production, and improved recyclability as design specs. That will reduce the tire performance, maybe. And it would help deal with the serious issues of disposed tires in the world, which is actually a significant contributor to mosquito-borne disease in Brazil and other places.

      1. Tire wars and 18″ wheels are all very admirable, but has anyone considered the additional expense?
        18″ tires will add 33kg to the weight od the car. How about 18″ Wheels? I would guess at least as much. Now add an additional 5kg of extra weight to cover the new and much bigger brakes.
        Furthermore, we have to redesign the whole damn car, because not one suspension pick-up point on the tub or any presently used suspension part will stand up to the additional weight. Now to the “cheaper” parts. Beef up the very expensive 7spd. gearbox. While we’re at it, why not a larger clutch and bigger CV-joints and stronger halfshafts? To put things into perspective, brakes for one corner would most likely be $10.000. Now keep adding from here.
        In the days every one is concerned with cost cutting wouldn’t that be a slap in the face

        1. are current tyres really only 13″ in diameter? i thought that was just the rim? and then the huge sidewall made them around 18″ total?

    16. A tyre war would be bad for F1.

      First, it would drive up costs.

      Second, with the inevitable tumbling of lap times the FIA will further neuter the cars to cut speeds.

      Third, it will take even more of the performance out of the drivers’ hands. In the old days, it would rain and the Michelin guys would fall away.

      Fourth, there’s the potential for bias and manufacturers favouring one team to get the maximum benefit, to the detriment of the other teams on that tyre.

      Fifth, any improvement to the racing (a better car being hampered by its tyres not being the best ones for that weekend) would be artificial and often pot luck.

      The only issue with tyres at the moment are the gimmick rules regarding qualifying and the two compounds, and the gap between compounds themselves, where pitting on lap 20 and going to the end won’t wear your tyres down enough to make you vulnerable to being passed at the end. The number of suppliers isn’t the problem.

    17. Why not have tyre Company A supply Driver A in each team, and tyre Company B supply Driver B in each team for odd numbered races.
      And vice versa for even numbered races.

    18. Spaceman Spiff
      22nd April 2010, 18:18

      Currently, the FIA’s biggest political/media campaign appears to be “Make Roads Safe” while an on-going FIA campaign has been to emphasise the “road relavence” of F1 technology development.
      Given these two efforts, the FIA should make every effort to match their campaign goals with F1 rules and regulations.
      As far as I see it, tyres are perhaps the single most relavent piece of the car as far as road safety is concerned, so the FIA should put the pieces together and “make roads safe” by emphasising “road relavent” tyre development. This means updating the obviously old-fashoned F1 wheels & tyres to come in line with modern-day road car wheel & tyre design and application.

    19. Yes more tyre wars, i want to see them compete each other, so we get better compounds, and faster cornering.
      I know F1 wont be dropping their high down force spec, so i can say goodbye to more passing, than let us at least have more speculation on who builds a better compound.

    20. “Perhaps alarmed at Michelin’s immediate success, Bridgestone reacted by pursuing a uniquely close technical collaboration with Ferrari in 2002, despite also supplying several other teams that year. Bridgestone technicians went to work at Maranello and their Ferrari counterparts headed to Japan, all in the pursuit of a superior combination of tyre dynamics and suspension configuration.”

      pirelli and prodrive did the same thing in wrc, with the same results. michelin was the the most popular supplier then, too.

    21. Michelin have the data of all the race track but some so I think they have an advantage, not sure who will join them.

    22. Interesting reading. I to do not favour a tyre war…

    23. They need to be really communist about this. Each manufacturer must give each of it’s teams the same tyre. However if it wants to design a tyre for a specific team then it must design specific tyres for all it’s teams.

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