FIA’s ‘very little tyre degradation’ target is still too much for Michelin

2023 F1 season

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Michelin have not been involved in Formula 1 for over 16 years, and some bold comments from the tyre manufacturer’s CEO earlier this week suggested that is not about to change.

Florent Menegaux was frank in his assessment of Formula 1 and the FIA’s invitation to tender for the exclusive tyre supplier rights to the world championship, currently opened for the 2025-27 F1, F2 and F3 seasons. Dismissing the FIA’s insistence that F1’s tyre supplier make compounds that continue to feature a ‘cliff’ where performance drops off exponentially, Menegaux said Michelin had no interest in making tyres that “destroy themselves”.

F1’s unique tyre philosophy over the last decade has separated it from virtually all other international racing series. No other championship makes tyres which degrade rapidly a central focus of its racing.

Some regard high-deg tyres as critical to generating intrigue and strategy variance in a series where refuelling is banned. Others wince at the idea that drivers should prioritise managing their rubber during a race to maximise their performance, rather than push flat-out over every corner of every lap.

But is Menegaux right to so quickly dismiss F1 and the FIA’s attitude towards the tyres they want to see in the sport over the years to come?

Formula 1 has been a single-tyre category ever since Michelin left the world championship at the end of 2006. Bridgestone spent four seasons as the exclusive supplier between 2007 and 2010, before Pirelli took over at the start of 2011.

Pirelli returned to Formula 1 after 20 years with tyres which were very different to those raced in F1 previously. This was intentional. Just two weeks before the FIA named them as F1’s next supplier in June 2010, the Canadian Grand Prix took place, a race that changed the sport’s philosophy over tyres.

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The typical tyre strategy in 2010 was for drivers to start the race on the softer compound and then make a single pit stop for the harder tyres to run to the end. However at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, with track temperatures approaching 40C, Bridgestone’s chosen super-soft and medium tyre compounds wilted.

The dramatic lap time difference between the two compounds and high degradation led to an exciting, unpredictable race with many different strategies playing out. F1 and the FIA liked what they saw, and asked Pirelli to produce tyres that would degrade at a variable rate. Pirelli did as they were asked, making tyres which had a built-in performance ‘cliff’ where the grip would drop off dramatically.

Although Pirelli’s tyres had their critics – notably after a spate of dramatic failures at Silverstone in 2013 – Pirelli’s made-to-degrade tyres achieved what F1 and the FIA wanted for the sport. When the exclusive tyre supplier contract was next opened, the requirement that tyres should be made with a ‘cliff’ built in was retained when Pirelli retained the tender for subsequent periods.

Report: High-degradation tyres “completely the wrong thing” for F1 – Symonds
In their invitation to tender for the exclusive tyre supplier for the current period – covering 2020-23 and later extended to include 2024 – the FIA clearly outlined its targets for how rapidly lap times should degrade for each of the three compounds used in the vast majority of race weekend. Target ‘A1’ of the tender asked the tyre manufacturer to aim for compounds that would lose roughly two seconds of performance at different rates – the hards by 22% race distance, the mediums at 18% and the softs at 10% race distance.

The FIA also set a target for rough lap time difference between the three compounds: the hard tyre was the baseline, with the mediums supposed to be around 1.2 seconds a lap quicker and the softs 2.2 seconds a lap faster than the hards. In 2023, Pirelli’s tyres are far closer in performance then that initial FIA target requested, with Pirelli’s own data suggesting the medium compound has been, on average, seven tenths of a second a lap quicker than the hards over the opening three race weekends, with the soft tyres 1.26s a lap faster.

For 2025 and beyond, the FIA states four main aims for F1’s tyres – aside from the overriding concern of safety. Of highest priority is: “improvement of the show”. The secondary concern is “driveability” of the tyres, followed by overall performance and finally the tyre’s operating conditions.

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However, there does seem to have been a philosophy change for 2025. No longer is the FIA calling for compounds that rapidly degrade with major lap time deltas between each step. Instead, they explicitly specify tyres which will offer “very little degradation” across “all the three compounds.”

Michelin’s tyres are used in the World Endurance Championship
The FIA’s ideal hard compound during a race weekend would last around 180 kilometres (a little over half a race distance) with the mediums lasting just under a third of a race distance and the softs around a quarter of a race distance. In terms of lap time, the FIA are calling for more parity across the compounds than teams have ever had over the start of 2023 so far. They want the mediums to be around half-a-second a lap quicker than the hard compound during a typical race weekend, with the softs around a full second a lap faster than the hards.

However, any fans who have longed to see the back of tyres deliberately designed to produce a ‘cliff’ will be left disappointed. The recent tender still explicitly mentions a “non-linear performance gradient change (‘cliff’)” as being “desirable both for its impact on race strategies and to ensure tyres are not run to a point of excessive wear”. For Michelin, and potentially other tyre manufacturers, this is the crucial factor that dissuades them from considering a bid of their own.

Even if Pirelli are reselected as F1’s sole tyre manufacturer it looks like the sport wants to strike a more conservative balance between durability and performance. One that could, in theory, see fewer pit stops during a race on average as tyres are built to last longer than they are currently supposed to. And with less of a performance gap between the various compounds, that could offer teams more flexibility to commit to the compound combinations that suit their cars best, rather than simply go with the optimal strategy that the tyres dictate.

But whoever ends up supplying tyres to Formula 1 from 2025 and beyond, expect tyre wear and performance to continue to be major talking points every grand prix weekend.

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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17 comments on “FIA’s ‘very little tyre degradation’ target is still too much for Michelin”

  1. Based on what we see this season, knowing how to manage thermal degradation avoiding overheating in stints, determines true superiority and creates a very large gap between the teams.
    Thermal degradation has become the enemy of the show.
    However, if one decides to eliminate it, the effectiveness of the undercut and of the strategy would be lost.
    I am in favour of refueling, at atmospheric pressure, with tires without thermal degradation.
    No parc ferme; everyone chooses their own load of fuel and tires.

    1. Thermal degradation has become the enemy of the show.

      Nine team failing to design and produce a competitive Formula 1 car is what’s keeping back the show.

    2. Please, don’t ask for refuelling, as these destroyed overtaking on track. It was all about qualy laps to under or overcut on pits. Or in the case overtakes we’re done on track, the performance difference between low fuel cars vs refuelled cars made overtakes easier than DRS overtakes. Let’s not go back there please.

      1. And without refuelling, F1 is cars spreading out for the entire race – rather than each having the option to go faster but take extra stops or go slower will fewer stops.
        All removing refuelling has done is eliminate a much needed variable and strategic option for teams to compete with.

    3. Until they make it possible to once again drive a race with no pitstops, all of the “strategy” you refer to is contrived. Refueling is even more contrived and was awful for on track passing.

      1. To be honest, I think that’s what I’d like to see with respect to the tyres: if driven carefully, a hard which will last a full race distance, medium half, and soft a third, with no multiple compound or mandatory stop requirements, and designed to give similar overall race times for each. Multiple strategies of roughly equal overall performance, and a variety of strategies played out on track.

        Of course, this is easier said than done…

        1. Or even get rid of multiple compounds, just have a “qualifying” tyre designed for maximum performance and a race tyre which can, if treated carefully, last a while race distance.

  2. Makes sense to me to have the fasted track cars have to slow down and manage tyres…

    I get the whole “show” angle and all but with cost caps and DRS and so on I say it’s time for sure to end this crap and get real tyres on the cars again! Remember exhausted drivers at end of a GP?

  3. I don’t get where the obsession with having to have pit strategy came from.

    For a lot of F1’s history the only reason cars came into the pits was if they were suffering from a car issue or after the introduction of slicks if there was a need to change from slick to wets or vice versa.

    Even when pit stops started to become more common in the 80s there wasn’t really much strategy involved as drivers just pitted if tyres started to go off or if they wanted to switch to another compound and even then it wasn’t something everybody did as seeing some (Or sometimes even all) drivers go the entire race without stopping was still commonplace.

    And despite the lack of pit strategy the racing was perfectly fine and was in fact better and less predictable in some regards because nobody knew what anyone else was doing. And because of that the incentive to try and overtake on the track was higher as you never knew if the car ahead would be stopping or not, Especially since you never knew what compounds they had on. And for fans not knowing any of that made the races feel less predictable and more interesting because we never knew what anyone would be doing until they did it.

    I think the only reason pit strategy is seen as so important now is because you have a whole generation of fans who don’t know racing without it so feel like they need it because for them it’s always been there. I think those of us old enough to remember the racing before refueling was introduced in 1994 will know how good the racing still was without the strategy and how the focus would actually be on the racing.

    When refueling was introduced in 1994 it gave us strategy but also made the actual racing worse and reduced the amount of overtakes that were going on on the track. It shifted the dynamic of how races were planned, How they played out & how much input drivers had in a way that wasn’t positive.

    They planned strategy on Saturday, Fueled the car for the first stint & were then limited by that as if you put 15 laps of fuel in for the first stint there’s not much room to extend and if you shorten the stint you have compromised your race by carrying more fuel than you needed to at the start. Everyone was dictated by the first stint with very little driver input.

    Both before refueling and after it it was more reactive, more about drivers & less planned out and that makes things less predictable, more dynamic and more interesting as well as putting it more in the hands of the drivers as they can manage tyres to extend a stint, They could manage them to go non stop….. They can’t do that with refueling which puts it more in the hands of the strategy guys and the computers.

    1. Fully agree, very well said!

  4. The dramatic lap time difference between the two compounds and high degradation led to an exciting, unpredictable race with many different strategies playing out.

    And that’s the problem. The FIA and Liberty are trying to engineer predictable unpredictability in the face of some of the finest engineering minds on the planet.

    Unless you’re willing to introduce more random variables into the racing– in which case it’s no longer a championship, it’s merely a spectacle to determine who survives chance, and who doesn’t– this will never work.

    You cannot regulate chance in a sport like this. Worse, the regulations are ever tightening, to reduce innovation and variation– so now the teams have such a limited set of variables available, that everyone is forced to run roughly the same strategy.

    Look at the car designs– every car out there that isn’t the W14 is either based on the Ferrari design, or the Red Bull design. No one has the money to test variations, or other approaches, because they have to hit the ground running at the first race with a viable concept– because no team has the money to develop a second chassis concept either before, or during, the season.

    And the aero choices are so limited now, that without that money, no team can push the boundary.

    We’re creating a series where only one spec actually works– whether it’s a spec series or not, you’ve only got one viable design, maybe two.

    Engineers are going to engineer– they will always, without fail, engineer the best possible outcome for their team given the variables they have. They will engineer their way around all unpredictable elements if those unpredictable elements are known ahead of time. Give them rapidly degrading tires? You get cool down laps, and excessive tire management.

    The FIA and Liberty are like checkers players trying to outwit Chess Grand Masters.

  5. Michelin wants to compete ….. the FIA wants gimmicks to formulate a NETFlIX reality show.

  6. I feel like fans that complain about the current tyres and tyre strategies are a vocal minority. I’d bet F1’s data from surveys of the audience like the excitement that stems from the current arrangement of pit stops.

    Sure they could try something else, but if it ain’t broke… There’s no guarantee switching philosophies would lead to more entertaining races in the slightest.

    And yes, F1 exists to provide exciting races. It doesn’t mean that excitement should come at the cost of sporting integrity but designed to degrade races tyres do not hinder that. The tyres are the same for everyone.

  7. Coventry Climax
    22nd April 2023, 11:27

    As usual, I disagree with the FIA’s and Liberty’s philosophy.
    With tyrewear being as fast as it is now, we see the tyres are being treated -managed- with the utmost care. That, on average, makes the laptimes go up, makes the drivers think twice before attempting to actually race one another -or even closely follow one another- results in boring, skill-less DRS overtakes only and gives us rather predictable strategies.
    If we have to stick to a single tyre manufacturer, if the tyres were made more durable, we’d likely see them being pushed more, and get to enjoy more drivers actually racing one another. That, in it’s turn, will lead to the tyres wearing out faster again.
    You could even make the tyres so hard that they’re providing less grip, just like a worn out tyre currently does. That would bring laptimes up ofcourse, but also increase the stress on driverskills and car design, which happen to be the core aspects of F1 and motorracing in general. As a side effect, it would likely also improve the -hate the word- show and diminish the fakeness of it.
    Am I right or is the FIA right? Well, how about dumping these silly sprint thing tests and appoint a couple of races during the season to test these different compounds? And while we’re at it, let’s see what happens over a full race without DRS as well please, like we were more or less promised.
    To be honest, I don’t really think the FIA should be appointing races for any type of tests -sprints, tyres, whatever- at all: In my opinion F1 should be a constant testbed for car design, tyre design, fuel design and what not, like it used to be; the pinnacle of motorsports. We could still have that and have a budget cap in place. But all that seems to be way beyond the grasp of the FIA these days, so I’d settle for this compromise.

  8. I think the larger issue for Michelin is that they know no one buys tires based on what F1 is using. Better to sink those dollars into R&D than a wor GH less brand exercise.

  9. Kudos to Michelin for calling a spade a bloody shovel. I want to see a WDC, not a WTMC.

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