DETROIT—Michelin has expressed interest in returning to Formula One racing, sources close to the FIA have confirmed.
While it has long been assumed that Pirelli Tyre S.p.A. will remain the sole supplier in 2014 and has made commercial arrangements with both teams and F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone, the bottom line is that it has not yet signed a deal with the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile, sources told Autoweek magazine, a sister publication of Rubber & Plastics News.
Nor has the FIA yet issued an official tender for the supply contract, which it normally would be expected to do.
In 2010, the principals of the Formula 1 team owners were weighing bids by Michelin and Pirelli Tyre S.p.A. to be the series' tire supplier for the 2011 season and beyond before eventually settling on Pirelli.
It's believed that Michelin's formal interest would trigger a tender and that the FIA will go through the motions of asking all possible suppliers if they are interested before considering the offers from those who are.
It goes without saying that recent events have weakened Pirelli's position with the FIA and upset teams as well—some of whom may be keen to see a change. They still are frustrated about having to pay for the annual supply.
It remains to be seen whether Michelin really could be ready in time for 2014, and the other key issue is that Ecclestone is close to Pirelli and is more than happy with the lucrative commercial deal he has with the Italian tire maker. Meanwhile, it is no secret that FIA president Jean Todt is close to Michelin.
There are some other key issues, not the least is the fact Michelin always said it preferred competition and ultimately wants to go to low-profile tires, as are used in other forms of top-level sport. The FIA's informal position on that is that current F1 tires are unique, and there is no point in switching just for the sake of it when technical compromises are involved. Wheels also would be heavier and potentially more lethal in accidents.
Meanwhile, Pirelli is pushing for a change of rear tire sizes for 2014 as it continues to learn more from the teams about the new car/engine packages, in terms of the expected downforce levels and the loads put through the tires.
In essence, Pirelli wants a bigger contact patch, which could be achieved by a combination of diameter and width increases. The former, however, would involve significant design changes for the teams and even at this stage would delay their 2014 projects. An increased width—the figure 20 mm has been discussed—is a little more realistic.
The problem is that the technical regulations have been defined already, and the FIA is reluctant to agree to a change