Michelin Threatens to Pull Out of F1

Michelin have warned that they may pull out of Formula One at the end of next year if the FIA goes ahead and introduces a control tyre, as Autosport-Atlas predicted last week

Michelin Threatens to Pull Out of F1

In a press conference at the Belgian Grand Prix on Saturday, Michelin CEO Edouard Michelin reiterated his company's opposition to the possibility of F1 having a single tyre manufacturer from 2008 - and warned that it could lead the French company to turn their back on the sport as soon as the end of next year.

"If the control tyre is adopted, Michelin would seriously consider withdrawing from F1 competition," he said. "We could withdraw in 2008, but what about (before the start of) 2007? We will consider it very carefully and discuss the situation with our partner teams."

Michelin issued a statement at last weekend's Italian Grand Prix claiming that they believed the FIA's aims of reducing costs and improving safety by having a single tyre manufacturer in the sport could be achieved even with a tyre war.

The company have yet to have had a response from the FIA, and Michelin has asked for talks with the governing body to discuss the situation.

"We need the FIA to clarify the reasons for the single tyre," he added. "We have limited trust in the transparency and governance of the FIA. Sometimes we wonder if there is anything wrong by winning by fair means. We would like to raise these fundamental questions."

Michelin's frustrations at the F1 situation have been exacerbated by the fact that the company lost out to rivals Yokohama in a bid to land the tyre contract for the World Touring Car Championship next year.

"The WTCC contract for 2006 tyres was granted to Yokohama and this remains a mystery to us," added Michelin. "It was done a few days after Indianapolis. Was it for technical reasons? Was it for financial reason?

"We would like a clearer idea of the rules of the tender. What are the selection criteria. Will the FIA disclose them? This seems to me to be crucial."

Michelin explained that his company's decision to tender for the WTCC contract was for marketing reasons, and that he was against a control tyre in F1 because: "It is the pinnacle of the sport and it should be about competition in every field."

The full statement by Edouard Michelin

"Good evening to all of you and thank you for coming in such large numbers to our press conference. I would like first to say that we at Michelin are certainly enjoying a formidable racing season in 2005, both in World Rally Championship, in Grand Prix Motorcycle and also, obviously, in Formula One. Now Pierre Dupasquier regularly reminds me that the race is not finished until the flag has been shown, and there are four more races to go before the season is concluded including the Spa race.

"But I thought that, before Formula One leaves Europe at the end of the season, it would be good to come and discuss with you some of the issues for which Michelin is looking for answers and on which our future involvement in Formula One hinges.

"Firstly, let me remind you that we have been involved in racing for 117 years and it's probably very hard to count how many Championships we have participated in and how many titles we have earned. But you know that for more than a century, the spirit of racing has been very strong for us, which goes with a strong sense of ethics, quality and commitment. And when I look at today's situation, when I see that fundamental changes, which is a total sea change, like the proposal made by the FIA of controlled monopoly tyres for 2008, with a specific single supplier, I wonder from time to time, if these values of competition are still shared.

"As you know, related with this fundamental issue for a tyre company of a single tyre manufacturer and a control tyre, we have clearly stated repeatedly that we are opposed to this project and I'm sure you have all had the opportunity to talk about it with Pierre Dupasquier.

"The main argument which is presented in favour of controlled tyres is that competing tyre manufacturers increase the number of tests and therefore Formula One costs.

"But, we have solutions to reduce costs without limiting competition between tyre makers. Some of it has been implemented last year; there is much more to do and we have done it in other disciplines like World Rally Championship in consultation with our competitor Pirelli, but with the strong support of the governing body of World Rally Championship. And I've asked the Michelin team to consult with Bridgestone to draw up new rules and proposals to continue to achieve significant savings.

"Among the possible measures are clearly reducing the number of tyres per race. There is also reducing the distance covered in official and private testing and there are probably savings of more than $100m throughout all the teams by controlling and reducing the amount of official and private testing. Clearly, therefore, the economic argument for wanting to eliminate competition and choice between and for tyre manufacturers simply does not make sense.

"This is our analysis, so maybe there are other reasons behind the FIA proposals for a monopoly tyre. We would like those behind these ideas within the FIA to be transparent about their intentions and this is not the case today.

"Now, when I see a Formula One team, apparently losing repeatedly because of its tyres, strongly advocating for the advance of the control tyre for everybody, in sync, by the way, with the FIA policy, I would strongly suggest as a matter of consistency to this team, that if ever there was difficulties with engine performance, to also request that the same engine would be imposed for everybody. This is simply a matter of consistency.

"Now, in the even that controlled tyres are adopted, we assume this would involve a tender offer, a call for tenders. What would the selection criteria be? Does the FIA undertake to disclose the selection criteria and reasons for its choice. This question is, for me, as we are making tyres, seems to me very crucial, and we at Michelin are seeking more transparency on these rules and the way in which they are applied.

"As an example, the conditions in which the WTCC contract for tyres for 2006, for which Michelin had bid, was granted to Yokohama remains a mystery to us. This was done a few days after the Indianapolis Formula One Grand Prix, by the way. What were the criteria that brought about the FIA final decision? Were the technical features of the tyres taken into account? Was it the financial terms of supply? Was it the advertising spot? Were there any other reasons?

"What I have heard recently is that the first test of tyres at the WTCC seems to be fairly challenging, and I encourage you to get some more feedback about that.

"Now, at the end of the day, there is one clear principle which is very dear to Michelin and which underpins the technical arguments concerning multiple tyre suppliers, F1 competition and this is very much in our genes at Michelin, is a fantastic technological showcase must remain so. Let us not reduce Formula One into a mere promotional exercise and I'm sure the GP2 race this afternoon was interesting but I'm afraid this is simply not Formula One.

"Formula One is about, and must remain, intense competition and technological challenge, a melting pot where engineers, aerodynamic experts, engine designers and, in our opinion, tyre makers test, develop, innovate and do so for the benefit of the automotive world as a whole and for the future benefits of consumers.

"Regarding tyres, we want healthy competition with one or even several tyre companies. Are full aim is to make sure that teams, whose cars are fitted with Michelin tyres, our partners teams, have an edge on their competitors because they have chosen Michelin. This is our pride, this is our commitment.

"Now, I am therefore very interested in the hearing the arguments given by the FIA to explain the reasons for their proposal or eventually their decision, and I encourage, very much, the Formula One teams and our partner teams in particular to voice their opinion and contribute to clarify the landscape. Should control tyres be adopted for 2008, Michelin would seriously consider withdrawing from Formula One competition, not because we are worried about the outcome of the call for tenders, provided, of course, that the decision-making process is sound and based on the technical feature of tyres, but mainly because such a situation would simply negate the spirit of racing.

"So we could withdraw from Formula One in 2008 if a single tyre is adopted, but what about before that, I mean in 2007? We will consider the situation very carefully and obviously we would discuss the situation with our partner teams while fulfilling our contractual obligations to them and in keeping with current Formula One rules.

"This is my foremost point, it's an important message I'm delivering to you about the evolution of the landscape in Formula One, and our pledge to keep the true spirit of racing.

"Now, let me turn, if I may, to the 2006 season. We have stated, about three or four months ago, that our desire was to see a better balance of teams between Michelin and our competitor, because we feel it is part of the stimulus and the efficiency of competition and therefore choices also, and this is actually what is going to happen. From what I hear from the paddock, and from what you the press tell me, it seems that Bridgestone agrees with our view of a better balance of the number of teams, and I thank them very much for that. And it seems that they have been very busy talking to many of our current partner teams in the recent period, and so in 2006, Michelin will partner with five teams, five-five: McLaren-Mercedes, Renault, BMW-Sauber, BAR-Honda and Red Bull. Therefore it means we will no longer supply the Toyota or Williams teams.

"As for Toyota, this has been a discussion and a decision shared at the highest level between the Michelin Group and the Toyota Company, and as you probably know, Toyota expressed, when they decided to enter Formula One six years ago, the desire to have Michelin as their first partner and so we are proud and thankful for having raced with them for a certain number of years. We enjoy excellent business and technical relationship with Toyota and we full understand, I must say, the reasons that they have to switch their tyre partner. We regret losing them but we totally respect the orientation that they have taken.

"Now, concerning Williams and concerning Sir Frank, I must say that Frank is an old and strong friend of Michelin and we share a lot about the spirit of racing and the values of competition. We have welcomed him personally many times in Clermont Ferrand, our world headquarters where he has talked with our people and encouraging us, and he's going to come again. Just like us, he loves technology and progress. We've learned a lot from Williams engineers and we are grateful for this. In the current climate, the Williams team has had many choices to make and we can fully understand the Williams and we wish Sir Frank great success for his team in 2006.

"Now, ladies and gentlemen, as I indicated in my introduction, to make the decision that will commit Michelin in the long term, we need the FIA to clarify and explain its policies so that we are able to understand the reasons for its moves. We seek ample clarification on the reasons for its choice and as you understand, today we have limited trust in the transparency and governance process of the FIA ruling body.

"Moreover, we need regulation to be maintained over a reasonable period of time, so that the effort, investment, commitment and other partners can be amortised over time, and I have to admit to you that sometimes I wonder is there really anything wrong in winning through fair means?

"Now, as I told you, 2005 is a formidable year. For the last century, Michelin has been giving its best for the development and the support for automobiles around the world and racing. For the last five years, we have done our very best with honesty and dedication to contribute for the public and for our teams to the success of Formula One. We would like the road ahead to be clear to be able to continue to commit all our energy in Formula One over the long term. This is what we expect, thank you for your attention."

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Series Formula 1
Author Tony Dodgins
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