Grapevine: Analysis: Michelin Could Exit Early

Max Mosley's confirmation on Friday that the 2008 Formula One technical regulations will stipulate a single tyre supplier makes it highly likely that Michelin will withdraw from Formula One - perhaps even as early as the end of the 2006 season

Grapevine: Analysis: Michelin Could Exit Early

"This is one of the issues about which there is absolutely no disagreement," Mosley said at Monza. "All the teams want a single tyre and we (the FIA) want a single tyre."

The timing of a Michelin statement yesterday, therefore, is no surprise, the French making it abundantly clear that they do not view a single tyre as either the way forward for Formula One or sufficient incentive to guarantee their future involvement.

The Formula One regulations, however, require a tyre company to give ample notice of any intended withdrawal, with the F1 Sporting Regulations stating: "Any tyre company wishing to cease the supply of tyres to Formula One teams must notify the FIA of its intention to do so no later than 1 January of the year preceding that in which such tyres were to be supplied."

In other words, if Michelin was to withdraw from Formula One at the end of 2007, they would need to give notice to the FIA no later than January 1st 2007.

Autosport-Atlas understands that Michelin includes a provision in all the contracts it signs which states that the company reserves the right to withdraw from the sport and terminate the partnership sooner than 2008, should there be an agreement in place to move to a single tyre provider.

This could be as early as the end of 2006, in fact, which means Michelin would be required to notify the FIA of such intentions before January 1st 2006 - four months from now.

In Monza, over the Italian Grand Prix weekend, sources suggested that Michelin's CEO Edouard Michelin could make an appearance at Spa next week, where he will publicly confirm the company's intention to withdraw from the sport if - or when - a decision is made to restrict the sport to a single tyre maker.

Practically, though, Michelin could well decide to postpone any such decision until later this year - with the 2006 contracts the competition department's primary focus in the next few weeks.

For some time in Formula One there has been word that major teams other than Ferrari will be on Bridgestones in 2006, and the word is that Toyota bosses in Japan - although not necessarily in the race team - are pushing for a switch to their countrymen's products, which some suggest could be announced at Suzuka during the Japanese Grand Prix.

Frank Williams is also believed to have done a deal with Bridgestone that will also be announced in due course, and Autosport-Atlas understands this agreement to have a financial incentive for the Williams team involved.

Red Bull, meanwhile, have also been rumoured to be in line for a Bridgestone move. The team's agreement with Ferrari for engine supply, and the suggestion that Michelin's terms for supply were pitched at a level that was made deliberately unattractive to the team - presumably because Michelin does not want a Ferrari-aligned team having access to its rubber - had made a move to Bridgestone predictable.

Now, however, with the French apparently losing Toyota and Williams, it would seem that Michelin is keener to hang on to Red Bull. Sporting director Christian Horner is also believed to prefer staying on the French tyres for performance reasons.

Ferrari's position is interesting, with the temperature apparently rising between Ferrari and Bridgestone after a difficult season. At Monza, however, Luca di Montezemolo ruled out any possibility of a switch to Michelin.

"We would not consider switching," di Montezemolo said on Saturday. "Bridgestone has done a fantastic job for us throughout and I am confident that they will support us in the future...We have done well together and we have done not well together."

Quite clearly, the temperature also rose between Michelin and the FIA in the aftermath of the Indianapolis catastrophe. When, after Indianapolis, the FIA required Michelin to present analysis of its tyre failures for the previous two seasons and pointed out that cars could fail scrutineering if they were considered to be potentially dangerous, those with more suspicious minds believed that Mosley was preparing the ground for the introduction of a single tyre for 2006 on safety grounds.

In the pervading political climate, however, it seems that Mosley decided against fighting everyone at the same time...

Up until this weekend, however, Michelin's only signed contract for 2006 was with Sauber which, of course, is now a different entity. And there was a line of thinking that the moment a Michelin withdrawal was widely anticipated, the major teams on Michelins would start to be concerned about being the last of those to go across to Bridgestone.

The Japanese, in a monopoly situation, would obviously supply every team, but there are other matters, such as establishing strong working relationships and being in a position to cherry-pick tyre engineers, and so forth.

But now, Autosport-Atlas understands, McLaren have made a firm commitment to Michelin for '06 and Renault and BAR are expected to follow suit.

It does, however, seem possible that 2006 will be Michelin's last year. The governing body is unlikely to be concerned about a threat from the French to depart before the end of the current Concorde Agreement when it wants a single tyre anyway. And Michelin appears to have little interest in tendering for the post-2007 deal.

As part of the FIA's previously published 2008 rules (now being reworked after the FIA/AMD survey), larger wheels and tyres were stipulated and the governing body sought input from the tyre companies on the implications. Autosport-Atlas has learned that the FIA received a detailed study from Bridgestone, and a three-line response from Michelin saying that they don't agree with single tyres...

Do not, therefore, bet against some kind of affirmation from Edouard Michelin that the French company may withdraw from Formula One if a decision is made to introduce control tyre regulations. And it could well happen sooner rather than later.

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