Can Pirelli succeed? They created an F1 “team” to do so

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Politics aside, Pirelli has won the contract to supply F1 with tires for the next three years. Some thought Michelin’s 11th hour offer would win the day but F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone thought otherwise.

We’ve asked questions about any other company’s ability to supply a series like F1 and most wisdom would have Michelin as the front runner in the resource category but Pirelli has offered another look at their program that may change minds.

The Italian tire maker has created a “Formula One Team” to tackle the process of supplying the world’s most advance racing series:

The Pirelli Formula One team will be an international group of people based in Milan, the home of Pirelli Tyre’s research and development department. This division has traditionally been at the heart of Pirelli’s cutting-edge technology and is formed of 1000 research engineers, working in five development centres all over the world. Pirelli Tyre allocates each year between 3 and 4% of its revenues, the highest level in the tyre industry worldwide, to research. Motorsport activities have benefited for many years from the innovations introduced to high-performance tyres by Pirelli’s Research and Development.

While the Turkish Grand Prix may not be on the calendar much longer and attendance hasn’t been stellar, it seems the country will still have its foot firmly planted int eh F1 process with production of the F1 spec tire to be handled at Pirelli’s Turkish facility in Izmit.

Pirelli has agreed to supply six different types of tire for the whole season. Four of these will be slick tires – with different compounds to suit various dry asphalt surfaces – and one will be a rain tire, for heavy precipitation. Finally there will be an intermediate tire, for damp conditions and light rain.

Pirelli has also agreed to work with the teams for future technology innovations regarding a particular wheel size which was Michelin’s calling card in their offer.

One of the bigger concerns for us was Pirelli’s financial ability to set aside resources to adequately support F1. Bridgestone had suggested their investment per year was somewhere north of $100MM and that’s a tall order for any company let alone a smaller tire manufacturer. Pirellis says they have that covered with a special fund set aside for F1:

Today’s economic climate has enforced a realistic and collaborative approach to share out the production and logistical costs associated with supplying tyres to Formula One teams fairly. Pirelli will also invest in communications activities to leverage the technological and production values associated with Formula One, utilising resources and budget that have already been set aside for this specific purpose. Formula One will become an important showcase for the Pirelli brand along with its commercial and industrial growth, without impacting on the company’s existing financial strategy in any way.

Is Pirelli the right move? It’s hard to say with the politics and I suspect it was the best move for the FOM. The control that the FIA and FOM may have over Pirelli is perhaps larger than would have been present with Michelin.

Pirelli’s is no stranger to F1 but the years and regulations have changed dramatically and it will be a real testament to Pirelli’s current stature in the tire makers world should they succeed. The concern for me remains buried beneath the control and political machinations of an artificial element to F1 in a dramatically degrading tire to spice up the “show”. I suspect Pirelli agreed to what I will refer to as the :tire gambit” as an element of improving the “show” and that is not making very happy.


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