Michelin Could Consider F1 Return
Michelin has publicly ruled itself out of involvement in Formula 1 as long as it remains a control tyre series, but what if that were to change? “Different control tyre series are run and therefore perceived differently. At best the tyre manufacturer is seen as a supplier, at worst they are little more than a sponsor. It is important that there is a balance between tyre makers to motivate a comeback,” Michelin four wheel competition manager, Matthieu Bonardel, told Tyres & Accessories in a recent interview.
If and when the conditions are right Michelin would appear to want to “jump at the chance of re-entering the series.” However, there may be a twist in the company’s involvement were there to be a return to Formula One. “F1 is a good place for newcomers to come in and get known with their brand…Michelin could use any one of a number of different brands,” Bonardel said during the interview with Tyres & Accessories.
The F1 and WRC series may no-longer figure in Michelin’s racing calendar, but 2008 has seen another addition to the company’s motorsport portfolio – A1 Grand Prix. In this instance Michelin is a control tyre supplier, so how does that fit in the tyre supplier’s competition-centric motorsport philosophy? “We have different styles of competing – some specification tyre and some open series. It is important to keep a foot in the control tyre series,” Michelin four wheel competition manager, Matthieu Bonardel, explained.
Commenting that Michelin considers A1GP a “growing series,” he added the company is developing a new type of tyre the series. This means the design and development of both new wet and new slick tyres, based on existing products used in similar powered series such as Formula Renault. Test data is said to show that the series deliver a “strong package” now that it has Ferrari powered engines and new tyres on board.
According to Bonardel, A1GP’s promoters wanted to go a step further than they had been before (when tyres were supplied by Cooper), which resulted in the decision to put together the heavyweight motorsport brands of Ferrari and Michelin. So is there any animosity between the two companies as a result of what went on in F1? “F1 is a very small window.” By this Bonardel means that what went on between the Bridgestone-aligned Ferrari team and Michelin in the latter stages of the company’s last F1 outing is not representative of the French manufacturer’s relationship with Ferrari in the broader automotive perspective. “Although Ferrari gave us some hard times in F1, post 2001 we still had a relationship with Ferrari,” he explained, adding that this can be seen on the Michelin shod Ferrari F430 and Modena.
In addition, according to Bonardel, the two companies’ involvement in GT racing helped convince Michelin to work together with Ferrari on the new project, who were themselves a key part of Michelin’s invitation to join A1GP. A certain level of cooperation is therefore already in place.
Bonardel is clear that although A1GP and F1 are both open wheel competition series, A1GP is not seen as a direct replacement for Formula One. By the same token there is no sign that the company will go back to F1 unless there is more than one supplier involved. Asked if and when Michelin will return to Formula One, Bonardel commented: “It is difficult to know what will happen next, the company is considering very strongly the possibility of coming back if we can compete with another brand.”
Credit crunch motorsport
One thing Michelin will likely be pleased they don’t have to deal with, given the well-documented global economic downturn, is the huge financial commitment associated with F1. With this in mind, is motorsport still a popular decision in difficult economic times? Matthieu Bonardel agreed that the economic situation is likely to make things more difficult in the years to come, but also explained that there is a need for patience at times like this. Overall, as with everything, it is question of cost versus return on investment, he observed.
A1GP’s seasonal placement is a very interesting idea. It puts the brands it uses in the spotlight in a different way to a series that features GT racing for example, which have to compete with F1. Another real advantage of the A1GP series is its geographical positioning. Something A1GP does perhaps better than some other racing programmes is address the need for those involved to communicate with the emerging markets. “This was one parameter, but it did not force us to take the proposal…A1GP also gives us a good way of honouring and saying thank you to our best customers and dealers.” Bonardel explained.
Despite Michelin’s apparent economic pragmatism when it comes to the most recent additions to the company’s motorsport calendar, the competition element remains at the centre of its involvement: “We haven’t found the magic bullet that tells us many more tyres motorsport sells…[But] we are a long way away from considering motorsport as just an expense.”