Burning rubber - don't expect tyre rows to die down any time soon

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 June, 2006, 12:00am

Keep your fingers crossed. While those in Formula One this past week were making optimistic noises about having two races in the United States some time soon, the rest of us have been fervently hoping that there won't be a repeat of the fiasco of last year.

You may remember that only six cars took part, with all the cars with Michelin tyres being pulled after the parade lap on safety concerns following Ralf Schumacher's big accident on the oval section where he suffered a tyre blowout.

The American fans weren't amused, and neither were the Formula One big wigs who have waged a war of words with the French company seemingly ever since. A year on and the saga seems to have come to an end. With a single tyre supplier approved for 2008, Michelin which had already decided to withdraw from Formula One next season has decided not to apply for the job.

It caps a wretched 12 months for Michelin, which included the accidental death on a fishing trip of the company's boss, Eduard Michelin, just before the Monaco Grand Prix.

But Michelin isn't leaving the sport without venting its feelings.

'Michelin has continually made it's belief known that Formula One should, as motor sport's cutting-edge discipline, be an arena where the most advanced technologies can do battle in the interests of motoring,' Michelin said.

The company argues the single tyre rule goes completely against these principles. ' It is one more step towards standardising a sport which should be practised at the highest level of competition.'

So farewell to Michelin, and I for one will be sad to see them go. It's not so much the company, but what it leaves behind, and that is Bridgestone.

The Japanese company has been the French firm's rival for some seasons now. It supplies several teams, but its main bedfellow is Ferrari.

Just as Ferrari have been more than a little cosy with the sport's governing body, the FIA, so Bridgestone by association have been accused of playing the politics game.

You may remember back in 2004 when the Ferrari-Bridgestone dominance was being challenged by Michelin teams, the French tyres were subject to a complaint and found to be illegal, sending them back to the drawing board and the title back to Ferrari.

It left a bad taste in the mouth of Michelin. And after last season's one-set-of-tyres-per-race rules which it dominated, Michelin was furious that the rules were changed back again, and came close to alleging outright that the FIA was favouring Bridgestone.

It may seem that all this is so much bile under the bridge and come next season there will be a level playing field. The current Michelin teams are not so sure. Some have called for next year's tyre regulations to be changed completely to make Bridgestone start from scratch.

The argument is that otherwise Ferrari will start with an advantage as all current testing is geared towards their cars.

Even with the same tyres, the fear is all the other teams will be at a competitive disadvantage.

Ferrari and Bridgestone deny this of course. You wouldn't expect anything else.

But let's be honest, you get the feeling that Ferrari will do what it takes to get the jump on the competition (like parking the car during qualifying in Monaco). Of course, as Max Mosley and the FIA look to cut costs in Formula One by changing the rules in 2008 you can expect more friction and more rows.

Tyres are not the only area where the cost-versus-cutting-edge-technology argument will create friction. The manufacturers are far from happy about the restrictions being applied to engines, while the FIA assure us it will mean the return of overtaking and 'proper' racing.

So brace yourself for more rows in the sport. But let's face it, as fans of the sport it's something we've come to get used to in recent years, and secretly we probably rather enjoy it.