Big changes look to be coming to MotoGP's spec tire system. Now in the sixth season of having a single official supplier, MotoGP is moving closer to seeing the number and variety of tires drastically expanded. With the contract with Bridgestone due to expire at the end of 2014, there is even a serious chance that a new manufacturer could take over from the Japanese tire firm.
A report in the latest issue of the Spanish magazine Motociclismo (available via the Zinio platform), the magazine is reporting that Dorna is looking to change the way that the single tire supply works. Dorna representative Javier Alonso told Motociclismo that negotiations had been opened with several suppliers, including Michelin, Pirelli and Dunlop, as well as current supplier Bridgestone. Dorna had presented Bridgestone with a list of conditions drawn up by the Safety Commission, the liaison body in which the riders discuss safety issues with representatives of Dorna, hosted by safety officer Loris Capirossi.
Though Alonso does not explicitly name the conditions, he does give Motociclismo some context behind their thinking. The idea is to expand the range of tires available at each race, as it has been all too common in recent history for riders to turn up at a particular track only to find that just one of the two compounds available will work. Though the Bridgestone tires have proven to be excellent in terms of both grip and durability, Alonso said, they had proven to be 'difficult for riders to understand sometimes.' The spec tire has also been blamed for creating problems for Ducati. The current tire forces manufacturers to pursue a particular direction in chassis design, which has favored Yamaha and Honda. The intention is not to force Bridgestone to design tires especially for each manufacturer, as Pirelli does in World Superbikes, but to at least provide a much greater spectrum in terms of carcass stiffness and compounds. Senior Ducati personnel believe that a large part of their understeer could be solved by simply having a very different tire available.
At the moment, Bridgestone looks reluctant to comply with all of the conditions being put to them by the Safety Commission. They would be forced to accept some of those conditions, Loris Capirossi told Motociclismo. The sticking point appears to be largely expanding the number of tires available, Bridgestone's chief coordinator of motorsport Thomas Scholz told the German website Speedweek.com. If another choice of compound were to be added, that would increase the number of tires Bridgestone would have transport to the track by some 300 per weekend. If two extra tire choices were added, that number would go to 600. Bridgestone would need an extra race truck to transport the tires to European circuits, and transport costs for overseas rounds would be massively increased. Bridgestone already pays over 20 million euros a season to supply a maximum of 22 riders each season with free tires. The Japanese firm is not keen for costs to be raised further.
Although other manufacturers are definitely interested in taking over the single tire contract for MotoGP, change is unlikely to come for next season. Dunlop representative Clinton Howe told Motociclismo that they would need 18 months to prepare to take over the MotoGP contract, and both Pirelli and Michelin would also need a similar preparation period. The contract with Bridgestone is likely to be extended for a single season to the end of 2015, before another tire manufacturer is likely to take over. That would mean that whoever takes on the MotoGP tire contract would start with a single set of rules, as the entire class is set to go to the spec hardware and software solution in 2016.
Paddock rumor currently makes Michelin the clear favorite to take over from Bridgestone, as Michelin has been testing 16.5 inch slick tires in Italy, at Vallelunga. Any switch away from Bridgestone will have a massive impact on the series, as the manufacturer who takes over will have no data on how modern MotoGP machines perform. Both Dunlop and Michelin have been absent from the series since 2008, and only Michelin was producing truly competitive tires at the time. However, a major reduction in performance is one of the things Dorna is believed to want from tire manufacturers. Though they are adamant that safety must not be compromised, having tires which predictably lose grip halfway through the race would create more interesting race, they believe, as riders would be forced to pursue tire conservation strategies. That has not been necessary with the Bridgestone tires, with riders setting their fastest laps often near the end of the race.
Any decision on tires will have to wait, however. Talks have only just started in earnest, and an agreement will take several months to reach.