The Gathering Storm Over Tires

There's an old saying, that goes "Be careful what you wish for, you may receive it." Ever since the introduction of the restrictions on tires - introduced rather foolishly at the same time as the 800cc rule, breaking the engineer's golden rule of only changing one variable at a time - complaining about how tires have come to dominate racing has taken on epic proportions. Fans complained that the racing had become boring, riders complained that they were left powerless to compete if they were given the wrong tires or the tire companies got it wrong, and sponsors muttered that they were unhappy pouring money into teams who would be invisible all weekend because of a simple hoop of not-so-sticky rubber.

After a false start last year, the baying crowd were finally given what they wanted three weeks ago at Motegi: Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta announced that in 2009, the MotoGP series would have only a single tire manufacturer, and that he was open to bids for the contract from tire companies.

What happened next completely altered the balance of power: Michelin, knowing that it stood no chance of actually getting the contract, as any result other than Bridgestone would have caused a bombshell of tactical nuclear warhead proportions to go off in the paddock, threw Dorna a curve ball, and decided not to submit a bid. With Bridgestone the only company to have submitted a proposal, the deal was theirs.

But this leaves Dorna with a problem. They too knew that realistically, Bridgestone was the only option, but had hoped to use the bid from Michelin as a stick to beat Bridgestone with to get more favorable conditions. With Michelin declining to play ball, Dorna is now stuck, forced to accept whatever deal Bridgestone offers them, their leverage removed by Michelin's very clever, and very spiteful move.

The Bells! The Bells!

Already, the storm clouds have started to gather. There were always going to be questions about how the development of the tires would be handled, and who and which bikes the tires would be developed around. And as rumors have started to emerge, the alarm bells are finally starting to go off in the paddock as well.

Colin Edwards was one of the earliest riders to comment, stating quite bluntly that he expected the tires to be developed for Valentino Rossi, and that the tires that Rossi likes are so hard that there are very few people who can actually make the tires work. Then both Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner chimed in, Rossi demanding that tires be developed that will work for all of the manufacturers equally, while Stoner slammed the proposals for just 20 tires, consisting of two different constructions and two different compounds, as being complete inadequate.

The current belief in the paddock - this was written before an official statement was made on the proposal by Dorna, expected on Saturday, local time, at Sepang - is that riders will have 20 tires for the weekend, 10 fronts and 10 rears, with two constructions and two compounds, and just 4 wet weather tires for the weekend. There will be no qualifying tires, and teams will have an allowance of 150 tires to test for the entire season. The upside for the teams is that all of these tires will be supplied free of charge.

Playing Favorites

The downsides are many and varied. Firstly, there's the question of tire development. There can be no doubt that Dorna will want to ensure that the faces that help it sell MotoGP in key markets are provided with tires that they will be competitive on. This immediately raises a problem: Valentino Rossi, MotoGP's marketing genius and golden goose, likes a very hard tire, which is one of the reasons he takes a couple of laps to get up to speed.

But this is going to cause enormous problems in the other key market: Dani Pedrosa is used heavily by Dorna to sell MotoGP in Spain, but the Spaniard is some 35lbs and 8 inches shorter than Rossi. He needs a tire which is softer both in compound and construction, as he doesn't have the weight to help squash the tire and get some heat into it. Valentino Rossi's tires just won't work for Dani Pedrosa.

But with two constructions and two compounds, this would give them both a tire they could work with, right? Well, it would leave Valentino Rossi with one construction that might work for him, and Dani Pedrosa with one construction that might work for him. It would effectively limit their choices even more, making it the worst of both worlds.

In this tug of war, there can be only one winner. And it isn't going to be Dani Pedrosa. If Dorna believes that Jorge Lorenzo can use the same tires that Valentino Rossi can - despite being a few inches shorter and 20 lbs lighter - then Dani Pedrosa will be left clutching the short straw, his only realistic option adding extra weight to the bike to compensate for his own diminutive stature.

Is This Thing On?

Then there's testing. 150 tires may sound a lot, but that's about what a team might expect to get through in three days of testing. It's unlikely that they'll be forced to make that allowance of tires last the whole season, the more likely option being that extra tires will be made available, at an extra cost. This will offer Bridgestone a chance to recoup some of the income it will lose by providing free tires, so tires for testing are not going to be cheap.

And the losers here will be the satellite teams. Already, the teams struggle to find the money to compete, but if the costs for testing tires become too exorbitant, then testing will become too expensive for them to undertake. The satellite teams already test much less than the factory teams, in an attempt to keep costs down, and extra tires may just be an expense too far. If you had only a slim chance of winning on a satellite bike to begin with, without testing, you now have none.

But then, the satellite bikes were always going to be on the losing end of a single tire deal. A factory bike can turn a bike upside down to make it better able to use the tires. Factory teams can produce new frames, new swing arms, move the engine forward, backward, up, down, move the fuel tank around, and alter the headstock, all to get the tires to work with their machines. As a satellite team, you're given a bike and left to get on with it. A MotoGP bike is fully adjustable, but that's still not as flexible as being able to build a new bike. Satellite teams will be left to hope that the factory either gets it right first time, or is generous and fast in supplying new parts. Otherwise, they will be even further down the field than they already are.

As for just 4 rain tires to last all weekend, it does not even merit comment. A dry line on a wet track can completely destroy a rain tire in just a few laps, rendering practice on a rain tire a very risky business. This leaves two options: go out on a cut slick, and wobble round in an attempt to gather data which will be useless because of the slow pace you are setting, or use up some of your rain tires to get a setup data, leaving you few options for race day.

Out Of The Frying Pan

Once the rest of the riders realize just what the consequences of this move are, they are likely to explode. Though the riders fully accept the need to decrease speed into and through corners, this is surely not what they had in mind when a single tire rule was discussed. The expected proposal from Bridgestone will leave one half of the grid just as helpless as some of them were at Laguna Seca, or Brno, if they were using Michelins.

But unlike at Brno, they can have no hope of improvement: While the disasters of the summer left Michelin highly motivated to make amends, and deliver their riders a competitive tire, once there's a single tire, Bridgestone will have little incentive to improve matters for the stragglers. As long as the right names are at the front, then anyone who can't use the tires will just have to suffer.

The tire rule could end up having a peculiar effect on the shape of the paddock, or rather, the shape of the riders. At the moment, riders come in a range of sizes, with the light weight and low center of gravity of Dani Pedrosa offset by the greater leverage offered by taller riders such as Colin Edwards. But the wide variation in tire constructions and compounds is part of what makes this possible. Michelin could make tires which worked for both Pedrosa and Edwards, because they were two completely different tires. In 2009, both men will have to use the same rubber, in almost every respect.

So we could see the predicted rise of the jockey-like rider fail to materialize. Riders like Pedrosa and Toni Elias will simply not be able to use the tires available unless Bridgestone expands the range of tires on offer. Instead, we will see a homogenization of rider sizes, with the ideal rider being around 5'7" and some 140lbs. The magic word here will be median.

And as a consequence, we may see more riders coming through from Superbikes. The World Superbike series has had a spec tire for a long time now, and the heavier bikes require a stronger, heavier rider to muscle around. Suddenly, World Superbikes and World Supersport could become the feeder class of choice, if larger riders manage to get the tires working better.

Ironically, this could leave Dorna's support classes out in the cold. Both 125s and 250s favor smaller riders, though the 600cc class which will replace the 250s might change this. If Dorna had any thoughts that the switch to a single tire would help them compete against the World Superbike series, they may find their plan backfiring. If more riders come into MotoGP through the World Superbike series, viewers will keep a more watchful eye on World Superbikes and stop watching the 125 and 250 series.

There May Be Trouble Ahead

Of course, all this is just speculation at the moment, as we do not yet know exactly what the proposal from Bridgestone will entail. But if the rumors and leaks are at all accurate, then there could be trouble brewing in the paddock. Once the riders realize that their results are about to be dictated by tires to a far greater extent than they were being already, an open revolt is likely to break out.

And the riders will have to get their complaining in early: Any single tire contract is certain to contain a clause specifically forbidding any public criticism of the tires used. Even though the tires may be utterly useless to them, riders will have to shut up and get on with it. They are not used to suffering in silence, but that is a skill they will have to learn very quickly to avoid some extraordinarily expensive lessons.

All day Friday, thunder rumbled around the paddock at Sepang, and is expected to continue all weekend. Once the details of the tire proposal are announced, that thunder will be completely silenced, rendered inaudible by the deafening clamor of complaints and denouncements by riders, teams and journalists. The fans may hope that a single tire will produce closer racing, but they had better be right. If the 4th major rule change in 3 years doesn't help, then there will be plenty more to come.

 

See the links below for further reading on the subject.

 

Comments

OMG, think of the children!

Yes, this is of course what happens in WSB, BSB and any other single tyre rule in motorsport. Pirelli doesn't develop their tyre, nor do Dunlop and any other tyre company. Whilst I am not in favour of a single tyre rule, I simply do not buy the whole 'sky falling in' scenario that some peope are absolutely convinced will happen. Nor do I subscribe to the 'slippery slope' situation either. And before someone pipes in with F1 and spec engines and ECU's, remember that the entire budget for a Motogp team wouldn't even cover the hospitality in F1. We are talking budgets of $500 million a year and their sport is in real danger of becoming totally irrelevant when the costs are so out of control.

Motogp is a show. Dorna are concerned that if 1/2 the paddock are signed with a company that has conspiciously managed to stuff it up on different occasions for the last 3 years, thereby leaving their riders with absolutely NO chance of competing for any of the top positions, then the show is in danger.

Has anyone got any proof of the sometimes quoted rumour that Pirelli favour certain teams in WSB? Or is it just idle scuttle butt of people who seemed welded to the idea that any rule that might even out the disparity between the haves and have nots is bad? Because unless someone can actually post up proof that is what happens and that privateer WSB teams are provided with 2nd rate tyres, the argument look less and less convincing against a single tyre rule.

By the way, the 150 tyres part of the article. What do you think the teams are testing when they go testing? Most of the times it's the tyres. If there are no tyres to test (because they don't change), then there is no need to test as much. That in itself will save a fortune. It reduces the need to run a seperate test team (which came about with the 990 and IIRC, Ducati).

As I said, I don't want a single tyre rule, but I can totally understand why it was considered.

Motogp desperately needs to reign in their costs. 18 bike fields look sad. It'd only take Kawasaki to finally give up (and why wouldn't they?) and then you have 16 bikes. An injured rider or a team that develops financial issues, or God forbid, HRC pulling back on their participation and then our beautiful sport will disappear into obscurity. When WSB manages to put on a good show each week, with riders who aren't precious about fighting for postion, with teams that want to join the grid and manufacturers clamouring to enter as well, leading to full grids then Motogp really needs to look at what is going on.

Lastly, whatever the tyre situaton, it will be the same for everyone.

Total votes: 58

Re: the rumor in WSBK that

Re: the rumor in WSBK that some teams are favored? No, there is no proof of that. The contracts signed by FGSport and Pirelli ensure that should any such favoritism would not be made public.

Re: Testing. Yes, tires is a big part of the equation. But with just a single tire, the teams will have to spend a lot of time finding solutions to the bike to make them work with the tires, instead of the other way round. Net result: very little.

Re: The same for everyone? Everyone except for the person and factory that the tires are developed for. It would be foolish to believe that Bridgestone will try equally hard to please Valentino Rossi and 2009 rookie Yuki Takahashi.

If a single tire rule was done properly, it could be reasonably fair. However, certain players and certain markets are too important to ensure that it will be applied neutrally. 

Total votes: 60

So, you have no proof that

So, you have no proof that in WSB that Pirelli favour one team over another?

Testing, you have a point, to an extent. But as you say, no change.

Same? And how does that differ from today?

I apoligise for not having the same doom and gloom outlook. As per my reply to Jules, I don't think this is necessarily the worst thing that could happen. If you mentioned spec ecu's or a common engine config/maker, then I'd be with you marching on Dorna HQ.

Total votes: 57

Any proof I may have is

Any proof I may have is hearsay based on anonymous sources. In organizations with non-disclosure agreements (which is effectively what Pirelli have in WSBK), the real truth of the matter will necessarily be hidden. Whether that truth be that the way things look is the way things work, or that there are dark machinations going on behind the scene.

Teams may just be blaming poor results on the tires in off the record briefings, or there may be some truth to the allegations. The secrecy imposed by NDAs - for understandable commercial reasons, you don't pour money into a series to be badmouthed by the riders in that series - prevents us from ever knowing the facts.

And I agree that spec tires aren't the worst thing that can happen. What I am afraid of is that this will prove to be a precursor to some the things you would be prepared to light the torches for.

 

Total votes: 61

Don't deliver the tires to

Don't deliver the tires to each team specifically.  Have them in a giant truck at each race.  Like a giant shopping truck.  You take your 'tire rack' on wheels over to the big tire truck, select your allowed quantity for the weekend from the giant truck, wheel them back and hope for the best.  THIS would eliminate nearly any chance of a team getting special treatment.  The only exception here being if the tires were developed for one rider...if that was the case, then the future of the sport would be in question with ethics like that... 

 

 

 

Total votes: 59

@buzz, no

that doesn't solve anything.  regardless of how the tires are distributed the issue is who gets to have input on tire development.  edwards has already said that rossi likes a much harder tire than the rest of the paddock.  ethics has nothing to do with it.  bridgestone needs to develop tires for motogp.  how can they do that without input from the riders?  and who's input will they listen to?  certainly not the whole paddocks.  and you can't just say, well lets take rossi tire + pedrosa tire / 2 and come up with a nice median.  doesn't work that way in engineering...

Total votes: 69

@cejay: did you actually read what kropotkin wrote?

you said: "Lastly, whatever the tyre situaton, it will be the same for everyone"

did you read the article?

Total votes: 69

Of course I did!

Jules, of course I read the article!! It's just that there is absolutely no proof and any substance to the point it makes.

BTW, are we not allowed to have a different opinion? I have said that I don't want a single tyre rule and in a perfect World, it would not be required or remotely desirable. But we don't and unfortunately the rule has been created and no matter how much bleating and chest beating we make, it won't change for next year.

And how does the situation you fear and describe differ from today? Do you believe that the tyres that Michelin made for HRC are the same for all the Honda teams? Do LCR really get the same pick of construction and compound as Hayden? What about Toseland, does he get the same as Lorenzo? And does Elias who weighs 2/5 of naff all have the same level of attention paid to him as Stoner (who looks like he weighs about 3/5's of naff all but has a different riding style)? When Rossi is romping home in the championship and being the PR windfall he is, do you seriously expect Bridgestone to deploy resources and efforts of their top string develop guys to a struggling Kawasaki (who reportedly do have tyre issues and getting them to work with their chassis)

Motogp has, is and always will be a sport of haves and have nots. The concept of a single tyre rule removes one variable. Whether the implementation works as expected we will have to wait and see.

So, as before, I don't like or desire this rule, I just really do not see how the situation next year (in the scenario you paint) is vastly different to what happens today. Win, or be a contender you will get the effort of the tyre teams. Lose, well, then you are consigned to the bargain bins at the $2 shop.

At worst, we are where are today. At best, we have one variable that has led to some strange results removed.

Total votes: 60

I wonder, do all the riders

I wonder, do all the riders in the grid get tires developed for them?  Or is is mostly just Rossi Dani Casey and a few other top riders?  Then the rest just get 'standard' tires?

There should be a standardization WITHOUT direction from any certain rider.  To me, it's not about tire developement anymore.  You take a chance of catering to a specific riders needs if you do that. 

I guess there could be a developemental suggestion 'drop box' so to speak.  Riders put thier concerns into this hypothetical and anonymous drop box.  Bridge-eh-stone then takes whatever concern or comment that is most prevelant and addresses it.  So as to NOT be answering to any specific rider/team.

It makes me sick that the better riders get preferencial treatment from tire companies..thus making the difference all the more. 

When I go to buy tires for my bike I don't have input on the shape of them, or how much softer or harder the carcass or compound should be.  I only have what's available to me to choose from. 

Why can't it be like that?  The company makes a STANDARD shape tire in several compounds...and the riders have to DEAL with it.  Oh and I like the no bitching clause they're saing they might have...

 

Total votes: 72

Why?

Because you're not paid to race a prototype motorcycle.

Total votes: 69

Fair enough, I'm not paid to

Fair enough, I'm not paid to do that...but they ARE paid...and as such they're getting paid to 'deal' with it. 

Give em a standard tire, not developed for any specific bike.  Bridgestone wasn't just formed last night.  They know what works and what doesn't.  I'm sure there could be a standardized version of what works. 

The riders that get paid so much can then adapt to it. 

Total votes: 62

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