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Why Did Michelin and Bridgestone Leave F1?

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

There was a combination of factors that led Bridgestone and Michelin to leave F1. 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 perfect Formula 1 tires. However, by the end of the decade, neither tire was to be found in Formula 1, and they had been replaced by Pirelli. Keep reading to find out why.

Tire Wars

These tire manufacturing giants had both entered Formula 1 around a similar time in the Formula 1 eras. 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 would suffer extreme wear during a race, making the Bridgestone tires last longer, and therefore become the better race tires.

Bridgestone tires would sometimes struggle to keep the heat in their tires, therefore 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.

So, at the end of the day, there were some big differences between the two tires, but still, 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. Interestingly, this was not because of the various features mentioned above.

Back in the early 2000’s, Formula 1 used to have unlimited testing. Modern day Formula 1 teams aren’t allowed to do private tests in order to develop their cars, as it would give them an unfair advantage.

Ferrari, having the biggest available budget of all the other Formula 1 teams naturally did the most testing. 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 perfectly with Ferrari in the 2000s.

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 tyres out of a field of 10. This shows how the Bridgestone tire was definitely not the tire of choice amongst the rest of the field. The other Bridgestone runners were mostly found at the back of the grid.

Ferrari, who had been dominating the sport for multiple years in a row with Schumacher, ran the Bridgestone tires. Their closest rivals, Renault and Mclaren ran the Michelin tires.

Although there are many other variables to consider, the results since Michelin entered the sport are as follows: It’s important to remember that Ferrari had built an extremely strong and dominating car for the seasons: 2001, 2002 and 2004.

YearDriver’s ChampionshipConstructor’s Championship
2001Schumacher (Bridgestone)Ferrari (Bridgestone)
2002Schumacher (Bridgestone)Ferrari (Bridgestone)
2003Schumacher (Bridgestone)Ferrari (Bridgestone)
2004Schumacher (Bridgestone)Ferrari (Bridgestone)
2005Alonso (Michelin)Renault (Michelin)
2006Alonso (Michelin)Renault (Michelin)

If we take a direct comparison between the two tire manufacturers and their overall record, Bridgestone only just 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%.

So, it looks like Bridgestone is the clear winner of the tire wars. However, it is very important to take note of the fact that they had 116 races as the sole tire supplier of Formula 1 (between 1999-2000 and 2007-2010).

So, if we take away the 116 races that they spent as the sole supplier of Formula 1 tires, we get 128 race starts, and 59 race wins, giving them a true win percentage of 46%. So that statistically makes Michelin the more successful tire in Formula 1.

Michelin 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 race. These 6 cars were running Bridgestone tires.

Flashback to the Friday practice session for the Indy Grand Prix, and Ralf Schumacher’s Toyota had shunted heavily into the wall at turn 13. Turn 13 being an incredibly high-speed banked corner, making use of the oval. This specific type of corner was unusual to find on the F1 calendar. The cause of Schumacher’s accident was revealed to be caused by a failure in one of the rear Michelin tires on the Toyota. The unusual corner type caused extreme levels of lateral load on the tires, which caused it to fail.

After a thorough investigation, and looking for different solutions, the FIA decided at the last minute that no cars running the Michelin tires were allowed to participate in the race. 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 finishers from backmarker teams.

This naturally left fans furious, as they had paid 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.

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.

Bridgestone’s Financial Troubles

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, however back then they were called the ‘prime’ and ‘option’ tires. Prime being the hard, longer lasting compound, and option being the softer, faster compound. These were distinguished by a white stripe being painted in the middle groove of the tires to show the soft compound tire.

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 limited, 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 undergo in order to develop the new slick tires to reintroduce into the sport had been more than they expected, and they had not made their money back through the next year in the sport.

There was no benefit for them to be Formula 1 tire suppliers other than branding and marketing. This of course 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 cease investments in Formula 1 after 2010.

At the end of the 2010 season, Bridgestone quit Formula 1 and Pirelli became the sole tire supplier of Formula 1.

The New Tire Wars?

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.

So, would a tire war be good for Formula 1? In my opinion, no. There are already a ton of different variables in Formula 1 that separates the teams and adding another variable in terms of the tires would be too much.

Having each driver on the same tires creates a sense of equality between them. With the rule changes for 2022 aiming to make the cars closer and create a more even playing field for all teams, having multiple tire manufacturers could potentially ruin that.

Final Thoughts

The mid 2000s era saw a huge battle between two giant tire manufacturers. Both fought to become the top tire manufacturer of the elite motorsport. However, the tire war was surrounded by controversy and financial troubles, causing both manufacturers to exit the sport in a bad way.

Michelin tires were ‘forced out’ of the sport in a sense by the FIA after the controversial 2005 Indianapolis Grand Prix. Their ‘rivals’, Bridgestone, were left with no choice but to leave the sport after running into financial difficulty in 2010.