Ducati To Switch To Michelin - Single Tire Proposal To Be Scrapped?

A crucial meeting is due to be held at Motegi on Saturday afternoon. During this meeting of the Grand Prix Commission, a proposal is to be submitted to allow only a single manufacturer to produced tires for MotoGP. Bridgestone is the favorite to be awarded the contract, which would end nearly 60 years of open competition in motorcycle racing's premier class. The general expectation is that the proposal will be adopted without too much argument.

Or at least, that was the general expectation up until a few hours ago. Now, Spanish television is reporting that Ducati, the team that has taken Bridgestone to its dominant position in the MotoGP paddock, is in talks with Michelin to supply tires to all 5 Ducatis expected to be on the grid for next year. The deal, if it were to come off, would immediately scupper any chances of a single tire proposal being pushed through, and blow the tire war wide open again.

At first glance, the proposal may seem to be beyond bizarre: Why would a company who have built up such an incredible record of success with Bridgestone suddenly dump the tire company who helped them to win world title this year, and whose tires are certain to win the championship again in 2008? What's more, why drop what is considered to be one of the key ingredients in the magic recipe that has turned Casey Stoner from being a fast kid with a tendency to crash to arguably the most dominant rider in MotoGP?

When you study Ducati's history in MotoGP, however, the move suddenly makes a great deal of sense. Ducati's successful partnership with Bridgestone started as a result of a strategic decision taken by the Borgo Panigale factory to switch away from the then dominant brand Michelin. This decision seemed as bizarre then as any proposal to switch to Michelins does now, but at its core is the same astute piece of analysis. If you want to beat Valentino Rossi, the leading candidate for the title of greatest motorcycle racer ever, you need to obtain some kind of advantage.

At the end of the 2004 season, Ducati made the switch to Bridgestone, arguing that they had more chance of getting Bridgestone to build a tire that would work specifically for their bikes than with Michelin. The French tire giant, then utterly dominant in MotoGP, was also supplying both Yamaha and Honda, and Ducati rightly surmised that with their needs were likely to come a long way down the list, after the demands of the then reigning multiple world champion and the factory that has been the driving force behind motorcycle racing's premier class since the late '80s.

Though the switch brought limited success in 2005 - at that point in time, Bridgestone were a long way behind in tire development - 2006 saw Loris Capirossi in with a legitimate shot at the title until his season was wrecked in the monster crash at Barcelona, and the story of Casey Stoner's domination in 2007 is all too familiar.

In the light of this history, and recent moves which have seen all of the major players in MotoGP either switch to Bridgestone, or demand that they switch for 2009, a move to Michelin starts to look like the smartest course of action. With Valentino Rossi and Dani Pedrosa already on Bridgestones, and likely to be joined next year by Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso, Ducati's influence with the Japanese tire maker is certain to wane, leaving them in a similar position to the one they found themselves in when the Italian factory first entered MotoGP in 2003.

By selecting Michelin as their tire suppliers, Ducati would once again become the major influence in tire development within Michelin as the only major factory team on French rubber. They could work together with Michelin to have tires tailor made to their own specifications, and once again, be in with a chance of getting an advantage over the competition.

The stumbling block to such a proposal would appear to be Casey Stoner. The reigning World Champion has in the past been very negative about Michelin tires, but there is an important distinction here. Stoner was negative about the tires he was given to race with, as the Australian was way down the Michelin pecking order on board the satellite LCR Honda. But his main complaint about the French tire company was that they favored the top teams over his smaller team. 

If Ducati are either the sole factory on Michelins, or at least, the most important team on Michelins, this objection disappears. Michelin is determined to restore its reputation in MotoGP, and you can be absolutely certain that the French tire maker will do everything it can to provide Stoner with tires capable of winning. And by having 5 Ducatis to supply, the incentives to get the tires to suit the bike are further increased.

Proof, if proof were needed, of Michelin's commitment to regaining its former dominant position in MotoGP can be seen by the French company's efforts at persuading other teams to join it. Michelin is said to be talking to both Gresini Honda and Rizla Suzuki about using their tires, and dropping Bridgestones. For Suzuki, as for Ducati, the argument of much greater input into tire development is an extremely persuasive one, and worth taking very seriously indeed.

And so, at a stroke, Ducati have helped sweep the single tire proposals from the table, a proposal that was indirectly a result of their dominance of last year. For such a small factory - and their entire factory could probably fit inside just the race departments of some of the major Japanese manufacturers - Ducati have managed to have an inordinate amount of influence over the MotoGP series.

 

Thanks to Jim Race and Jules Cisek of Rideontwo.com for the tip.

Back to top

Comments

Ducati have long experience of wrapping governing bodies round their little finger. They've been doing it in World Superbike for many years to ensure "equivalency" between Ducati and Japanese bikes. Ducati are political operators in the mould of Machiavelli.

I still think that Ducati might be too clever for their own good if they choose Michelins. Surely if they can't beat Valentino on Bridgestones with this bike, they should just build a better bike.

While it makes sense from the perspective of once again being the only factory team on a maker's tyres, isn't there a history of riders, (including Stoner) who regularly lost the front end on Michelins but not on Bridgestones?

Haven't a few riders, and pls correct me if I'm wrong, Shinya Nakano is one,  whose careers didn't fare so well on Michelins as opposed to Bridgestones.

But, conspiracy, perhaps this was why Hayden is so attractive, form on Michelins.

 

 

 

 

 

Something that isn't being considered is that you're talking Michelins in terms of Michelin making tyres for Honda and Yamaha, then issuing them to Ducati - what's been done in past years.

Michelin ain't stupid.  Given the proper motivation, there's no reason Michelin can't design a 'Ducati-perfect Bridgestone'.  And I would think that restoring the company's reputation in MotoGP would be a reasonable amount of motivation.  Yeah, there's going to be downsides.  If you're a Ducati fan (like me) don't expect the MotoGP title again before the 2010 season.  Next year is probably going to be a first half of the season throwaway as they reconfigure what works well.

Just the same, simple hard cold reality is that nobody currently on the grid can outdo Rossi day-in/day-out using the same equipment.  He's that good, and shows no sign of weakening over the next couple of years.  To be able to beat him, you're going to need a technological advantage, too.  And having just the bike being superior isn't enough.  You need the tyres just as superior.

 

This makes me so happy. First, this is good because, if true, we may be clear of a single make or spec tire rule. Second, it underlines the importance of tires to bike development. What people don't seem to understand is that the tires are a central part of your design they are not just a bit you add on afterward.

 Jimmy: "Surely if they can't beat Valentino on Bridgestones with this bike, they should just build a better bike."

Would you say the same thing if we were talking about brakes instead of tires? Tires at this level are not just somethign you pop into a store and pick out based on how much you want to spend, they are as much a part of the design as the forks or brakes are.

Carmelo should make a new rule to force anyone with the initials V.R. to use wooden wheels and friction brakes.  It would seem unreasonable until they institute the Pirelli control tire.  Job done, even playing field. 

This smells an aweful lot like gossip and posturing.  If it's true, expect a boat load of money to be wheeled from Claremont-Ferrand to Borgo-Panigale. The Tech3 budget may get a little thin.  If there's any room for negotiation, I'd like to ask Ducati to add a condition that Michelin resume production of their Dexter scooter tires (best ever).  But overall I think think that most folks have written of Michelin far to quickly.  In terms of dominance in the sport it would be like writing off Honda after the 2004 South African GP.  First Rossi, then Pedrosa.  They panic and force issues.  I can see why Pedrosa would panic.  He and Puig see how their grand plan of stringing together world championships is in great danger from the arrival of Lorenzo.  I think it would be best if the factory Yamaha and Honda teams remained split.  Again, good for competition.

I am also glad there is no one spec tyre or 1 tyre rule for MotoGP because this is prototype racing.

Casey may crashed often in LCR but his experiences on Bridgestones would be an important input for Michelins to develope a front tyre that does not wash out how it used to be. Nicky who uses Michelins would be an asset to evaluate the improvements should Michelins awake from their present downfall.

Note that Michelins had been successfully during WSBK days supplying tyres only to Ducati Corse factory teams. Such collaboration and success should weigh creditable value to the Ducati MotoGP programe.

Also, having Michelins around would see Tech3 boys not leaving the grids prematurely, because I am sure we have not seen the best from Colins and James just yet.

Yes, Ducati not only save the MotoGP from 1 tyre rule, but also saved the number of bikes lining up the grids on raceday. If only Michelins could have a talk with KR Senior in the near future.

 

Cheers!

Hirari