Michelin's bid to oust Pirelli as F1's official tyre supplier may have got a boost from the fallout of the Belgian grand prix. Sebastian Vettel was not the only high-profile figure to boldly criticise Pirelli after his blowout at Spa-Francorchamps, as Nico Rosberg had a similar high-speed incident at the fearsome circuit.
In a post-race blog, German Rosberg said the blowouts were "really not acceptable", even though Pirelli insists external damage and excessive wear were the actual causes. Now, Mercedes driver Rosberg has said in his column for Bild newspaper: "I am confident that Pirelli will double-check everything properly before the next race in Monza and that we will be able to drive a safe race."
It follows Pirelli chief Paul Hembery having hit back with anger at the post-Belgian controversy. "The engineers are pushing the cars to ever narrower limits," he told Bild, "at the expense of the tyres. First the drivers say the tyres are too soft, then they're too hard. We (Pirelli) are always the stupid ones," said Hembery.
Indeed, the Telegraph newspaper reports that Pirelli actually found cuts in tyres other than Rosberg's across the Spa weekend, with Red Bull chief Christian Horner saying there were also problems in the GP3 race. Mercedes apparently reacted to the issue by adjusting suspension settings ahead of the grand prix, while Rosberg has proposed that teams install rearward-facing cameras so that potential signs of damage can be monitored.
Hembery admits that might be a "useful" tool. What is clear is that the Spa-Francorchamps controversy came at exactly the wrong time for Pirelli, as negotiations with Bernie Ecclestone about extending the official tyre supply deal beyond 2016 are currently taking place.
The F1 supremo is a supporter of Pirelli's, but pressure to ink a deal with Michelin, who are also bidding for the 2017 contract, will now be rising. "F1 deserves the best," said former McLaren driver and now BBC commentator David Coulthard. "And the current tyres are not that." Writing for the Singapore broadsheet the Straits Times, David Tremayne agreed: "Further controversy could result in Ecclestone opting for Michelin as a tyre supplier for 2017."
And Michael Schmidt, the highly respected correspondent for Germany's Auto Motor und Sport, said: "For Pirelli, the debate about the safety of its tyres comes at the most inconvenient time. Unlike Pirelli, Michelin are advocating longer life for the tyres, and the blowups of Spa are only live ammunition in that argument." (GMM)