Word spread like wildfire around the Sepang paddock: Michelin is willing to return to F1 - under certain conditions, thereby potentially rescuing F1 from its imminent tyre crisis.
We should be grateful it's even prepared to contemplate such a move given the disgraceful way it was hounded out of the category a few years ago. But it would come back only under very specific conditions. Not only would it wish to demonstrate the energy efficiency of its tyres, but for reasons of cost and road car relevance it would have to be with a tyre for 18-inch rims, as already produced for Le Mans. The costly moulds already exist for these.
This would mean a much lower profile tyre more in keeping with performance road car products. It would also have significant repercussions on the design of next year's cars. The teams are unhappy with this and have issued a counter-proposal, but the feeling is the 18-inch idea will be accepted by the FIA, with Bernie Ecclestone's encouragement.
Although Michelin would be prepared to take over the current role of Bridgestone as a supplier to the whole field, this would not be a regulatory single tyre formula - ie other companies could come in to compete if they wished. Should this not happen, then Michelin would supply a single dry compound to be used at every track.
The intriguing prospect is that of Bridgestone. It has been a brilliant ally of F1, trouncing Goodyear then playing its part in some thrilling head-to-head contests, overcoming technical difficulties as it fought Michelin, afterwards providing the field with quality control tyres, tweaking them according to the whims of the sport's management and generally conducting itself with real class.
But at the end of last year it announced it would be pulling out at the end of 2010. The suspicion was it had simply decided there was no point spending money when there was no one to beat. But actually that wasn't the reason. It was the green marketing push the company was embarking upon. F1 was and is perceived to be exactly the opposite image to that required.
Bridgestone's F1 budget - around £70 million per season - represents a fraction of the company's profit, equivalent to a one yen to the pound swing in the exchange rate (at the time of writing £1 = ¥144); inconsequential in the overall scheme of things for what's been a massive marketing success. F1 has transformed Bridgestone's image. But the men at the top decided it's no longer the image required.
However, the news that Michelin may be about to return has caused a stir within Bridgestone. The main board is still committed to its 'green' marketing campaign but the motorsport department, not to mention regional marketing offices in countries with grands prix, are very excited about the prospect of returning to F1 competition with Michelin. They even have a similar 18" tyre to Michelin's in their Supra GT programme. So now one part of the company is itching to get back to competing against the only other tyre company in the world with a similar technical capability and the other part - the one in charge - is bound by its green campaign.
So how to come up with a way of making a green case for tyre development? It's a question which links in with Michelin's original wish of being able to demonstrate the fuel efficiency gains to be made from its tyres. What about linking a tyre's rolling resistance with permitted fuel density? The lower the rolling resistance, the denser your fuel is allowed to be. Therefore you can carry more fuel energy for less weight, and you'll go faster.
It gets the tyre companies and the fuel companies working together against the other tyre company and fuel companies. Publicise the results at each race. Bridgestone rolling resistance = x. Therefore Ferrari fuel density allowed to = y. Therefore Ferrari starts 8kg lighter than McLaren, meaning Michelin and Mobil have to get to work. That way everybody's happy.
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