Pirelli's Paul Hembery has spoken out against what he sees a lack of incentive for tyre manufacturers to compete in next year's World Rally Championship.
This is the third and final season of Pirelli's agreement to supply a control tyre to the WRC, with the FIA electing for a return to competition in next year's series - despite a barrage of criticism from the sport's teams.
Pirelli was the only tyre firm to tender for a new three-year sole supply WRC deal earlier this season, but when that was stonewalled, it agreed to a one-year deal on the proviso that if the FIA intended to open up WRC to tyre competition it would announce it before the end of March. Both Pirelli's tender document and the one-year deal were scrapped in favour of competition for next season.
Following its meeting to decide how the 2011 tyre regulations would work, the FIA issued a homologation procedure document at the end of last week. Sources within the governing body have passed the document onto AUTOSPORT.
The document commands a possible supplier to produce one asphalt tyre in two compounds, one gravel tyre in two compounds and one ice tyre. The tyre manufacturers can test their tyres with no limits on any surface, but manufacturers will only be permitted to test each tyre for 1,000 kilometres - using no more than 100 covers in four two-day test sessions.
The other significant point in the document is the desire for a "15 to 20 per cent reduction in the global quantity of tyres," through 2012 and 2013. Tyre companies will have to nominate themselves to the FIA by September 1, with the governing body issuing the full list of nominated firms before September 15. All tyres must be commercially available and given to the FIA at the start of November (gravel tyre), the end of November (asphalt tyre) and December 20 (ice tyre).
Once the manufacturer has produced the tyres, the specification of the tyres, under the FIA's technical condition 1.5, can not be changed for the 2011 sporting season without the express agreement of the FIA - an area Hembery believes will be of concern to potential tyre companies.
Asked to comment on the document, Hembery said: "I have to say I'm utterly bemused by the document. I still can't figure out how we got here. This is neither a control tyre scenario and nor is it in any way a competitive environment for a tyre manufacturer to work in.
"Can you honestly tell me that, if a tyre company is completely uncompetitive at the first gravel rally then they're just going to sit by for the next season and take the beating? That's not what we would see as competition. For Pirelli, competition is about competing on the technical side of tyre development.
"For Pirelli competing on the technical side of tyre development is stimulating but even then you need to give a reasonable chance for new entrants to have access to competitive vehicles and time to prepare.
"Maybe we could have one car in a team on one tyre brand, the other on an alternative. That would ensure the teams are not totally disadvantaged on any one event. It certainly made interesting watching in MotoGP when [Valentino] Rossi and [Jorge] Lorenzo had different rubber on the same bike but then that ended up in a control tyre situation too so it is never easy to balance these things.
"Of course spending money on going faster with tyres is very much out of fashion at the moment, you expect these things to run in cycles and WRC does not seem to be the most logical format for restarting tyre wars. But you have to accept that there is a masterplan and you try and adapt to the changes, this all being part of the bigger strategy to bring rally back to the levels of interest and participation of the past."
Hembery added that he had reservations about how the development rules would be enforced in practice.
"My other concern is the loopholes in this document," he said. "Recently we had a scenario in GT racing where the tyre specification was frozen for the season, but one of our competitors had a severe tyre wear issues, so they applied for dispensation and got it, permitting teams using their tyres to take an extra set of tyres - that was a nonsense then and I worry that we could have the same situation this time around.
"Given the tight parameters in terms of development and testing time - and the high costs involved with both of those processes, I can't see too many tyre firms coming in. We're still considering our position and deciding on which brand we will use in rally in the future."