Michelin Out, Bridgestone In, Fewer Tires For Riders
As we reported earlier, Michelin has decided not to submit a bid to become the sole supplier of tires for MotoGP. The press released announcing the move read as follows:
"Michelin has decided not to submit a bid to the governing body of the MotoGP World Championship. At the same time, Michelin regrets not being able to contribute to the organizers' important discussions to improve rider safety and reduce costs.
The spirit of competition has always been central to Michelin. Motor sports at the highest level are useful because competition among several tire manufacturers is a valuable stimulus for developing increasingly high-performance tires that will one day equip customer vehicles. Tires play a key role in a vehicle's performance and can make a considerable difference. This competition among manufacturers helps to make racing exciting.
The radial tire, which was invented by Michelin, has been improved through racing, and the improvements have since been passed on to consumers. Michelin's dual compound technology for motorcycle tires was first tested in MotoGP racing and is today integrated into premium products for the brand's customers. The MotoGP Championship organizers have decided to use a single tire supplier for the coming seasons, which effectively eliminates the competitive environment that has led to so much progress.
The R&D resources allocated for MotoGP racing will be redeployed to support innovation, which is at the heart of Michelin's customer-focused strategy."
Michelin's decision leaves Bridgestone as the only bidder for the contract, and barring a revolution, certain to be awarded the contract. Indeed, it is entirely possible that the reason Michelin decided not to submit a proposal is because they knew they did not stand a chance of winning the contract anyway.
If the French tire maker had been awarded the contract, then open rebellion would have broken out among the riders currently contracted to Bridgestone, and riders such as Valentino Rossi and Dani Pedrosa would have put pressure on Dorna to reverse the decision. Michelin may have decided to withdraw with honor, rather than go through the motions for what was essentially a sham.
Michelin's withdrawal also shifts the balance of power between Dorna and Bridgestone. As Dorna insisted that any tire manufacturer submitting a bid must already have experience in the premier class, that left only Bridgestone, Michelin and Dunlop. With both Dunlop and Michelin refusing to submit a proposal, Dorna is forced to accept the terms demanded by Bridgestone, rather than being in a position to put pressure on a tire supplier by threatening to switch to another manufacturer.
Just what that change in the balance of power might mean was hinted at in an interview which appeared on the official MotoGP.com website with Hiroshi Yamada, Bridgestone's Motorcycle Sport Unit Manager. When asked what effect being a single tire supplier would have on their ability to provide all of the riders and with tires and on the current allocation of 40 tires for each race weekend, Yamada replied: "We cannot continue with the current regulations, because we will have double the number of riders. These detailed conditions we put in our proposal. (...) I believe they can accept our proposal."
Although he did not say so in so many words, it seems fairly clear that Bridgestone will want to limit the number of tires supplied to the riders each weekend. Though the riders were almost unanimous in their support for a single tire supplier in MotoGP, once confronted with the ramifications of such a choice, they may well be less happy.