Why Did Michelin & Bridgestone Leave Formula 1?

For the bulk of the 2000s, there was a fierce rivalry between F1’s two tire suppliers, Michelin and Bridgestone. However, by the end of the decade, neither remained in the sport. So why did Michelin and Bridgestone leave Formula 1?

Michelin and Bridgestone left F1 for several reasons, with the main one being that Michelin had a strained relationship with the FIA following the events of the 2005 United States Grand Prix, while Bridgestone could not justify the expenses of tire development.

These tire manufacturers poured a lot of time and money into developing the best Formula 1 tires. However, they ended up being replaced by Pirelli in 2011, and they’ve never returned. We take a closer look at why that’s the case below.

The Tire Wars In F1

These tire manufacturing giants had both entered Formula 1 at a similar time. Bridgestone became a tire supplier in 1997, while Michelin joined the sport in 2001. There was a distinct difference between the two tire suppliers though.

The biggest difference for the teams was that Michelin tires would perform better at hot races, whereas the Bridgestone tires would perform better at colder races. In addition, Michelin tires were the quicker qualifying tire, but they would suffer extreme wear during a race, making the Bridgestone tires last longer, and therefore they were the better race tires.

Bridgestone tires would sometimes struggle to keep the heat in their tires, making the Michelin tires better in damp and wet weather. This gave them a significant advantage if it were to rain during a specific race weekend. This all had consequences for teams that chose to run one brand of tires over the other.

Why Ferrari Stuck With Bridgestone

The majority of the field chose to run with Michelin tires, while Ferrari were one of the only the loyal customers to the Bridgestone company. Back in the early 2000s, Formula 1 used to allow unlimited private testing. Modern day Formula 1 teams aren’t allowed to do private tests in order to develop their cars, as it would give the richer teams an unfair advantage.

Ferrari did the most testing, as they had the biggest budget of all the other Formula 1 teams at the time. Therefore, they were able to get the most running out of the Bridgestone tires. Many speculated that this is the reason why the Bridgestone tires worked so well with Ferrari in the 2000s, but not well with other teams.

Note: It was also said that Bridgestone designed their tires specifically to suit Michael Schumacher’s driving style

There were only around 2 or 3 teams who ran with Bridgestone tires out of a field of 10. This shows how the Bridgestone tire was definitely not the standout tire of choice. The other Bridgestone runners were mostly found at the back of the grid.

Bridgestone vs Michelin Tires F1 Championships

YearWDCWCCTires
2001Michael SchumacherFerrariBridgestone
2002Michael SchumacherFerrariBridgestone
2003Michael SchumacherFerrariBridgestone
2004Michael SchumacherFerrariBridgestone
2005Fernando AlonsoRenaultMichelin
2006Fernando AlonsoRenaultMichelin

Which Tire Was Best?

If we take a direct comparison between the two tire manufacturers and their overall record, Bridgestone beats Michelin. Michelin tires started 215 races and won 102 of those, giving them a win percentage of 47.4%. Bridgestone tires started 244 races and won 175 of those, giving them a win percentage of 71.7%.

However, these numbers include races Michelin won during previous eras, and races Bridgestone won as the sole tire supplier of Formula 1 (between 1999-2000 and 2007-2010). If we only take into account races during which both Michelin and Bridgestone tires were the only options available to teams (i.e. 2001-2006), it’s a bit more evenly matched.

Michelin vs Bridgestone Tires In F1

TireRacesWinsWin Rate
Bridgestone1056259%
Michelin104*4341%

* No teams running Michelin tires started the 2005 US Grand Prix, and we discuss this in more detail below

Michelin F1 Controversy

The 2005 United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis will forever go down as one of the strangest races in Formula 1 history. Only 6 cars started this race, much to the disappointment and anger of the thousands of fans attending the event. All 6 cars were running Bridgestone tires.

To understand why, we need to go back to the Friday practice session for the Grand Prix, as Ralf Schumacher’s Toyota had shunted heavily into the wall at turn 13. Turn 13 was an incredibly high-speed banked corner, making use of the oval section. This specific type of corner was unusual to find on the F1 calendar.

Practice Crashes

The cause of Schumacher’s accident was revealed to be a failure in one of the rear Michelin tires on his Toyota. The unusual corner type caused extreme levels of lateral load on the tires, which caused it to fail. His replacement, Ricardo Zonta, also suffered a tire failure. Michelin then stated that they could not guarantee their tires for more than 10 laps if the cars would not slow down for Turn 13.

Key Fact: This was a big issue because teams weren't allowed to pit for new tires during races at this time

After a thorough investigation, and many failed attempts to find a solution, and after Michelin tried to change the track layout to allow their teams to race safely, the 7 Michelin teams decided to bring their cars into the pits after the formation lap. This left only 3 teams to start the Grand Prix. With only 6 cars on the grid, Ferrari of course dominated the race, followed by some unusual points finishes from backmarker teams.

This naturally left fans furious, as they had paid for tickets and made the long trek to the Indianapolis Speedway to see Renault and Fernando Alonso continue their title charge. This decision also put some strain on the relationship between Michelin and the FIA.

Note: There is a lot more to it and this is a summarized version of events. The teams, team principals, and various other F1 figures spent a lot of time trying to find a solution. But the end result was one of the strangest races F1 has ever seen.

This was the beginning of the end for Michelin in Formula 1. What followed were many more disagreements between Michelin and the FIA on policies and rules that were being implemented. Eventually, Michelin completely withdrew from the sport after the 2006 season.

Michelin showed interest in returning to the sport in 2017, when Pirelli’s contract with Formula 1 was coming to an end. This caused many people to debate the possibility of a new tire war in Formula 1. However, it never came to anything, and Pirelli simply renewed their contract.

KEY POINTS

• Michelin and Bridgestone were F1’s tire suppliers from 2001 until 2006

• Bridgestone continued to supply tires until the end of the 2010 season

• Bridgestone teams tended to outperform Michelin teams

Michelin left the sport for various reasons, chief among them being the 2005 US GP controversy

Bridgestone’s Exit From F1

From the 2007 season onwards, Bridgestone was to once again become the sole supplier of Formula 1 tires. This allowed them to revolutionize the tire game in Formula 1. They introduced tire compounds to shake up the strategic element of the sport.

This concept is still used in Formula 1 today, but back then they were called the ‘prime’ and ‘option’ tires. Prime was the hard, longer lasting compound, and Option was the softer, faster compound. These were distinguished by a white stripe painted in the middle groove of the tires to show the soft compound tire.

The Return Of Slicks

Slick tires were reintroduced in the sport in 2009, and the white stripe on the tire changed to a green stripe painted on the sidewall of the softer compound tire. However, Bridgestone’s time in Formula 1 was coming to an end, as they announced that they would withdraw from the sport at the end of the 2010 season.

Bridgestone had recorded a huge expense of $70 million producing and developing their Formula 1 tires. The costs they had to absorb in order to develop the new slick tires had been higher than they originally expected, and they weren’t on track to make their money back.

There was no benefit for them to be Formula 1 tire suppliers other than some additional marketing. This meant that they did not get the expected return on their investment in developing Formula 1 tires. This is what led to the decision to stop their investment in Formula 1 after 2010. At the end of the 2010 season, Bridgestone quit Formula 1 and Pirelli became the sole tire supplier.

Final Thoughts

The mid 2000s era saw a fierce battle between two giant tire manufacturers. Both Michelin and Bridgestone fought to become the top tire manufacturer of the elite motorsport of F1. However, the tire war was surrounded by controversy and financial troubles, causing both manufacturers to end up leaving the sport.

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