Michelin Wants Less, Bridgestone More

Tyre manufacturer Michelin says it wants to cut back on the number of teams it supplies in Formula One next season, after claiming that an eighth team is interested in the French company's tyres for next season

Michelin currently supplies seven outfits and it fears its chances of winning will be hampered if it supplies eight. The company issued a statement on Wednesday, saying there was a strong 'imbalance' in the number of teams it supplies compared to Bridgestone.

The statement suggests that their current situation "does not help the development of long-term competition between tyre manufacturers; a principle to which Michelin is firmly committed."

Michelin Chairman and CEO, Edouard Michelin was quoted as saying: "Formula One must remain the marvellous technological showcase that it is, thus allowing the world's automobile players to compete, whilst offering a true show for the fans, as well as providing benefits within the automotive industry.

"It is with this in mind that tyre manufacturers must be able to make their own contribution towards improving the performances of the teams they supply. This supposes that there be at least two tyre manufacturers involved, maybe even more."

Michelin's statement could be viewed by sceptics as serving a double purpose.

While it further makes it clear that the company does not support any future move to make F1 a 'control-tyre formula', it could also be seen as a face-saving exercise in the event that any of its current teams switch to Bridgestone next year.

Michelin's director of F1 activities, Nick Shorrock, has told Autosport-Atlas that his company has only one team signed for next season, while the contract with the other six teams will expire at the end of this year.

"Right now, the only contract we've got [for 2006] is with Sauber, and we're working very hard on the others," Shorrock said.

McLaren and Renault are currently battling for the Constructors' Championship title, with both teams on the French tyres. They are believed to be close to renewing their Michelin agreements, while BAR-Honda too are expected to stick with Michelin. Red Bull, on the other hand, are the most likely team to switch to Bridgestone.

The question remains whether Toyota and Williams will do next year. Michelin made its return to Formula One at the request of these two teams specifically, which would inevitably make a decision by either quite significant for the French company.

Williams have said that they will not be making any decision about their future tyre supply deal until they have resolved their engine issue, while Toyota admitted this week that they were in talks with both Michelin and Bridgestone.

"We are looking at our options for 2006," a Toyota spokesman told Autosport-Atlas. "Both Bridgetone and Michelin companies are important to the Toyota corporation. So discussions of whatever level have taken place in the past also concerning the F1 project. However, we have not made a decision for 2006 yet."

In the background to all this, there is strong support within the F1 paddock for a single manufacturer 'control' tyre, which would achieve two principal aims: a huge reduction in the amount of tyre testing teams are compelled to do, and a ready-made means of keeping a lid on escalating speeds, which are an inevitable consequence of a tyre war.

Just as tyre companies must give a year's notice of any intention to enter Formula One, FIA president Max Mosley has stated previously that it is only correct that the governing body reciprocates by giving tyre manufacturers as much notice as possible of any regulatory change affecting their participation. Whereas this is taken by many to mean, similarly, a period of a year's notice, it does not appear as black and white in any regulation.

Asked earlier this month if Michelin had been given any notice of any intent to move to a control tyre in 2006, Shorrock said: "None whatsoever."

"We're racing," he added. "We're there, we've got partners expecting us to be there and we've got a programme that's being prepared for 2006."

If Formula One does move to a control tyre, however, Shorrock admitted that Michelin would not necessarily tender for it.

"I think we'd take a long time just to think about it," he said. "The spirit of Michelin is that we are in competition. It's that which make us progress. Right now, we don't see the sense of a single supplier."

It is believed that many of the leading F1 teams are waiting until the 2006 qualifying regulations are finalised before committing to any tyre deals.

Bridgestone and Ferrari have struggled to extract one-lap qualifying performance from their tyres throughout 2005, but this would become less of an issue if qualifying abandoned the single-lap format witnessed for the past couple of seasons.

Bridgestone has said that it would be happy to bring another top team into its fold, with Ferrari having felt this season that their chances have been hampered by being the only front-running team running on the Japanese tyre.

A Bridgestone spokeswoman said: "Having a top team would certainly be beneficial for us. It's no secret that with one team that's really got the resources to test properly and give us the data that we need, that having just one team like that this year has not been an easy challenge for us.

"So bearing that in mind, yes, we would like to hear from other teams. If they are interested to speak to Bridgestone, our door is open."

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