Michelin says 13-inch wheels made F1 return in 2020 a “no-go”

2020 F1 season

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Michelin says it turned down the opportunity to return to Formula 1 in 2020 because it does not want to produce a tyre which “has nothing to do with the real world”.

The manufacturer which bowed out of F1 at the end of 2006 is not among the companies which submitted tenders to become the sport’s official sole tyre supplier from 2020 to 2023. Under the terms of the four-year deal the chosen supplier will have to supply rubber for 13-inch wheels in 2020 and 18-inch from 2021-23.

“We were pleased to see that Formula 1 has accepted, after almost 10 years, the proposal of Michelin to switch F1 to 18-inch,” Michelin motorsport director Pascal Couasnon told RaceFans in an exclusive interview. “That was a nice recognition of our vision.”

“But obviously the fact that we would have to produce some 13-inch tyres to start with was pretty much a no-go to start with.”

“It would have been impossible to justify developing a tyre has nothing to do with what we do in the real world,” he explained.

Michelin objected to another aspect of the tender, which requires the tyres to degrade rapidly, which it is believed will produce better racing.

“Formula 1 didn’t accept our recommendation to stop going towards the degradation with [the] tyres,” Couasnon added. “These two things made pretty much impossible to go any further.”

Based on its experience in other series, Michelin believes the quality of racing would improve if F1 tyre development focused on performance rather than degradation.

“We believe it would help Formula 1 to be more spectacular because if you look at what we’ve done in endurance or even what we’ve done in Moto GP, we bring long-lasting performance.

“In Moto GP for example we bring three choices at front and rear and at the end of the race you’ve got a fight and you have very often on the podium three different combinations of tyres there. And we believe that’s something that would make sense also in other sports.”

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According to Couasnon, F1 drivers who have sampled their rubber in different categories have been impressed by how their product allows them to run closely to other cars for long periods of time.

Moto GP, Red Bull Ring, 2018
Michelin supplies tyres to Moto GP
“We believe the tyre needs to be designed so you give the possibility to the driver to express the maximum of his talent and to fight as much as possible. And that’s not to say ‘OK I’m going to have to be careful, I’ve got one or two strikes possible and if I miss it, I cannot fight any more’.

“We’ve been able to demonstrate other in series, and it’s not just us saying that it’s when you talk to drivers who are able to race in both, not only Fernando [Alonso], Mark [Webber] has told us before, Nico [Hulkenberg] also, that they say ‘wow, it’s possible to attack and try again and it feels great’. So we believe this is the right way to go.”

F1 began using high-degradation tyres in 2011, a change which coincided with Pirelli replacing Bridgestone as the sport’s official rubber supplier. Couasnon said it is “a little bit sad” that the philosophy has stuck. “We have had rules that were put in place for almost a decade. You’ve got some young drivers who never had the chance to really see what true driving, true racing can be. That’s a little bit unfortunate.”

However Michelin may consider returning in future. “It’s not that we don’t want to come back to Formula 1 and that it’s something that doesn’t make sense for us,” said Couasnon.

“We will continue to look at the evolution and if one day would be the strategy of Formula 1 becomes aligned with the strategy of Michelin we would be happy to reconsider our position.”

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
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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  • 27 comments on “Michelin says 13-inch wheels made F1 return in 2020 a “no-go””

    1. I guess the intentions were good. But Michelin forgot 2005 America it seems.
      But building a 13inch tire for only one year is madness.
      It seems Pirelli has some advantages there.

    2. it really doesn’t make sense to ask a new supplier to replace Pirelli for one year, and then change the product entirely for the next three years.
      Also, the Michelin spokesperson has a point, why not get rid of degredation, and have higher performance tyres? Get rid of pitstops and make the races an enduro-sprint with focus on driving and overtaking?

      There is not one answer to any of these questions, or it would be easy to get right. The fact we continue talking about it proves it isn’t that simple…

      by the way, I like pitstops, but can see all sides to this argument. Tricky situation for any supplier to be in.

      1. It may not make sense but the situation has only arisen because Pirelli’s contract expires at the end of 2019 and Liberty decided to start their new formula a year later, as there is not enough time to start it at the same time. The simple solution would be to ask Pirelli nicely to continue for one more year but then why should they help out – unless they get a nice shiny new 5 year contract? They’re as greedy as the rest of F1

        1. @mrfill,@graigchq, the

          The simple solution would be to ask Pirelli nicely to continue for one more year but then why should they help out

          bit has happened, and was indeed rejected by Pirelli, if I remember right.

    3. Low profile road tyres are far less expensive to manufacture and consume less raw material The swing to low profile tyres on the road made it more difficult for manufacturers to isolate passengers from directly transmitted road noise.

      1. Low profile tires do contain less raw materials. But, if they are much less expensive to manufacture then why to they cost 2, 3, 4, or more, times as much?

        1. @bullmello, part of that is because it doesn’t actually cost less to produce a low profile tyre, since there really isn’t that much of a difference in materials.

          Furthermore, because the tyres can be marketed as “sporty” tyres and as “looking good”, the tyre manufacturers can slap a much larger profit margin on them as, thanks to the PR that they put out, they can persuade people to pay more for them. It’s probably not surprising that, when the profit margin is around three times that of a conventional tyre, Michelin are keen to promote a low profile tyre as much as possible…

      2. Low profile tyres might instead be called low performance tyres.

        They look good and theoretically perform well on flat tracks with no kerbs. The decreased sidewall deformation means they should corner better as long as the car doesn’t hit a kerb – which happens on lots of corners on F1 race tracks – which will provide a rapid bounce to upset the aero and handling. As a result F1 suspensions will need to be much softer and this may in turn lead to slower cornering.

        And on real roads with real cars, they don’t perform well when hitting bumps or gutters, where the small sidewalls cannot act anywhere near as well as traditional tyres and so provide a worse ride for passengers and an increased risk of damaged rims and suspension.

        They’re better in showrooms than on roads but tyre and car manufacturers can charge a lot more for them (and their fancy rims).

        Michelin wants “real world” tyres for the real world marketing of “style over substance”.

    4. Look at this guys, what did they want? To present a sensible proposal for F1’s tyres? What next? Improve performance of the cars with them instead of hindering it? Pfft, idiotic…

    5. While Michelin does have their past issues in F1 they do make some valid points regarding the future of tire specs.

      From a manufacturer’s standpoint it makes no sense to tool up for 13″ tires for one year only if you have no current tooling for such tires. Then switch to 18″ tires after one season which will be the standard going forward. As noted, this only serves Pirelli well since they currently do produce 13″ tires. What if Michelin did acquire the contract as specified and struggled producing an adequate 13″ tire in 2020? Even if they were to produce excellent tires in 2021 and beyond how well does that serve F1 for 2020? It is difficult to blame Michelin for not wanting to jump through this ill constructed artificial hoop.

      Furthermore Michelin also makes good points about tire durability vs. tire degradation for better racing. Take the Italian GP for example. Many fans would have rather seen head to head racing between the two fairly evenly matched leaders of the race than to see the driver with less degraded tires cruise past the other driver with severe blistering on his highly degradable tires.

      Even if F1 stays with the required pit stop for different grip level tires it does seem most fans want to see more durable tires with all grip levels for better all out racing. What is the downside? Tires will still be subject to severe abuse, such as flat spots from lockups for example or contact with other cars, due to the nature of rubber not being totally impervious. But, the racing will not be so dependent on nursing tires.

      We can only hope that Michelin is listened to and provided a more open and fair opportunity to prove what they can bring to F1 to improve racing.

      1. @bullmello, the thing it, I believe that Couasnon is being a little disingenuous about what some of those drivers have actually said about the tyres in the WEC – especially when Michelin is not only the sole supplier of tyres to most teams, it is also the primary sponsor of the WEC itself (so they can’t exactly afford to annoy them).

        In the case of Alonso, it seems that tyre management was in fact a fairly important element of his success at Le Mans earlier this year. After the race, there was a report that, when asked about why he was so quick at night, he responded by saying that he’d realised that he had to moderate his pace during the day in order not to overheat the tyres, but could then push harder during the night when the temperature fell and prevented him from overheating the tyres. By contrast, his rivals had adopted a set-up that meant they didn’t overheat the tyres during the day, but then found that the tyres were falling out of the right operating temperature range overnight.

        1. It is hard to give Michelin a big vote of confidence considering their last stint in F1. Rather than the F1 proposal of 13″, then 18″ I would rather see some kind of fair, realistic testing with 18″ tires before the 2021 season if possible.

      2. @bullmello Well, the current tyres (as well as last season’s) are harder, and thus, allow the drivers to push for longer than in 2011-16.

      3. It’s not Pirelli’s fault that Ferrari destroyed it’s tyres. Mercedes and Red Bull didn’t have the same issue.

        1. The graining issue seems to have plagued various drivers at various tracks in various situations. It seems difficult to put all that on the teams, drivers or situations without giving Pirelli some of the credit.

          It does seem Ferrari had more of an issue with the softs in this race. Lewis did have some graining too, not as much though. But, why so much graining with the tires this season? Does it have to be that way?

    6. Not sure about using MotoGP as an example! Bike racing is something else…

      I think the need for a manufacturer to develop the tyre and all the fabrication process for just one year before changing it all to adopt the 19 inches tyres is a deal breaker for everyone bar Pirelli, as we all mentioned before. Regardless of their opinion of high degradation or whatever it just doesn’t make a lot of sense…

        1. Pirelli wants to stay. I think FIA wants Pirelli to stay. No way anyone else was going to tool up for 13 inch tires for one year. This was a done deal before anyone else even entered, I suspect.

    7. I 100% agree with them regarding degredation.

      The tyres should allow drivers to push harder for longer, They should be less sensitive in terms of the operating window & should overall encourage drivers to race hard. There should also be less of the blistering issues we have seen through this season.

      What’s the point of looking at a formula that will allow closer racing in 2021 if the tyres are still going to discourage drivers from pushing & racing hard.

    8. Entirely understandable. Why would anyone indeed want to manufacture 13-inch rims for one season only to then move to a different rim size altogether? That’d be a total waste of time and money.

    9. The article should have the headline: “Michelin says low performance tyres made F1 return in 2020 a “no-go”” ;-)

    10. I couldn’t agree with Michelin more. The beginning of the Pirelli era was the worst F1 that I’ve ever witnessed. I’m thoroughly unhappy with a decision to repeat that failure and personally wonder why Pirelli would consent to produce tyres that make them look idiots.

      As for the single year of 13inch rims, well, any conspiracy-minded person would argue that only exists to keep Pirelli as the supplier.

    11. No need for a conspiracy. Pirelli signed to supply tyres for 2017/8/9 in 2016 – 3 years before Liberty came along and declared a new formula with 18 in wheels would start in 2021. It is Liberty who have created this problem for themselves but they needed to urgently reduce team costs to maintain numbers. It has rather handed all the aces to Pirelli who will probably hold out for their pound of flesh from the cash cow.

    12. So, “FU Bernie”

    13. Hopefully next time Liberty will line up the expiry of contracts with any major change to Tyre sizes etc.

      Just ridiculous and oh so Bernie like to handicap the potential tenderers by insisting they produce a 13” for 1 year and 1 year only.

      1. @dbradock The problem was that the tyre tender with Pirelli has always been done on a 3 year contract (2011/12/13, 2014/15/16 & now 2017/18/19) however the Concorde agreement between the teams/FIA/FOM doesn’t expire until the end of 2020 so 2021 was the earliest the FIA could introduce these regulation changes unless they got unanimous agreement from all teams.

        At the time the current 2017-19 tyre deal was signed in 2016 nobody was expecting such a big regulation change in 2021, Especially the switch to 18″ tyres which was only decided upon fairly recently.

    14. Of course Formula 1 cars have everything to do with the real world. As do 21 inch wheels on road cars.

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