The use of control tyres in motorsport is nothing new. Neither is it peculiar to motorcycle racing. Pirelli are the sole tyre supplier in F1 as well as the World Rally Championship. And in bike racing, British and World Superbikes have used Pirelli (or Metzler; same thing) tyres for as long as most of us can remember. And it’s not just Superbikes; all the MotoGP teams have to use Michelin tyres and they’ll continue to until at least 2023. But are control tyres in motorsport really a good thing? There are two schools of thought…
First of all, let’s nip one thing in the bud. All you cynics out there that think these control tyre deals are just another way for Dorna, IRTA, the FIM and MSVR to line their pockets, you should be ashamed of yourselves. These are organisations run by people that are passionate about motorsport, they’re not making these decisions just to get rich (although that is an added bonus). No, despite the multimillion pound tyre contracts that get signed year in, year out, it’s not about money.
So what is it about? Well the powers that be will tell you it’s about making motorsports a level playing field. If everyone’s on the same tyres, nobody’s at an advantage or a disadvantage. And that makes sense. In fact it’s difficult to disagree with that on the face of it. Particularly in high level motorsport where some teams might enjoy preferential treatment from the tyre manufacturer; they might get special development tyres that aren’t available to anyone else, even other people running the same manufacturer’s hoops.
I raced in British Superstock for a lot of years where we were all forced to run Pirelli tyres. It made the racing ‘fair’ but only from a tyre perspective. And as far as I’m aware nobody got any preferential treatment. But why would they? Pirelli are going to win the race whatever happens, they don’t need to give anyone that extra push. And that, if you ask me, is where one of the major problems lie.
Whether it’s Michelin in MotoGP or Pirelli in BSB and WSBK, the fact that they’ve got no competition means they don’t really have to try. Whatever happens, they’re going to win. The development and investment MotoGP teams and their factories make to try and win races is off the scale; but it’s simply not being matched by the tyre companies, because it doesn’t need to be. If you let all the tyre companies have a crack at the whip, they’d be pulling all the stops out. The end result would be accelerated tyre development, which would eventually mean better tyres for us ‘consumers’.
And whilst I understand it’s about trying to make racing fair, some would argue it’s doing the exact opposite. Because in nearly every high level motorcycle racing series, all the bikes are different. Different engines, chassis, suspension set ups, everything. If Michelin make a tyre that works with every MotoGP bike, it will 100% work better with some than others. Wouldn’t it be ‘fairer’ to let each manufacturer use the tyre that works best with their bike?
In an open tyre championship you would probably, as previously mentioned, have some teams receiving preferential treatment from the tyre manufacturers. But what’s new about that? Nobody complains about Repsol Honda getting more factory help than LCR Honda. Or all the other ‘Factory’ teams, compared to their satellite stablemates. That’s just what happens in motorsport.
I think there’s a time and a place for a one tyre rule. When kids are racing on identical bikes, like the Aprilia Superteens or the Red Bull Rookies Cup, I think it makes sense to have a control tyre. In that environment, it levels the playing field so that the cream can rise to the top. But racing at that level is primarily to develop the kids skills to set them up for (hopefully) a career racing bikes. And to spot exactly who has got ‘what it takes’.
But when you’re all on different bikes anyway, I don’t really see the sense in putting everyone on the same tyre, just in the interest of fairness. A control tyre isn’t going to negate the fact that you’re all on different bikes, and some riders will sometimes have an advantage. If you’re the rider that feels he’s at a disadvantage, you can find a better bike, just like you can find better tyres… if you’re allowed.
No, I don’t think control tyres have a place in professional motorsport. I don’t think it’s particularly good for the sport, and I certainly don’t think it’s good for development. I would put money on the fact that if BSB and WSBK allowed any tyre manufacturer in, lap records would instantly tumble.
But if I’m being honest, I don’t think it’s going to happen. Because I think there’s too much money tied up in the deals with various tyre manufacturers and too many people are getting rich off it. And all in the name of fair play. Fair play, my hoop.