Today's announcement by the FIA that it intends to reduce the number of tyres at race weekends from 14 to 11 sets per driver points at attempts being made by the governing body to keep Bridgestone in the sport beyond this season. Last November Bridgestone confirmed it would not be renewing its tyre supply contract when it ends in 2010, and with few other tyre manufacturers coming forward to fill the void the FIA has been forced to re-examine all options.
The proposed reduction in dry-weather tyres for drivers in 2010 represents a considerable 14% reduction in Bridgestone's tyre freight, which the Japanese company has to transport around the world 19 times a year. Under its agreement with the FIA, Bridgestone has to supply the tyres to the teams free of charge, with this year's increase from 10 to 13 teams making matters even worse for the Japanese supplier. The only branding Bridgestone is permitted under the supply agreement is to have its logos on the tyre sidewalls, but the company increases its profile by agreeing individual sponsorship arrangements with all teams and many races. However, amid the global economic downturn, the bill being footed for its F1 programme is become a bitter pill to swallow for the executives in Japan.
While most changes in Formula One nowadays are inspired either by cost-cutting or improving the show, the fact that this latest change fits into neither category suggests an ulterior motive is at play. Reducing the number of tyres available is unlikely to improve the show with drivers being forced to conserve tyres throughout the weekend, while cost-reduction measures have only ever been introduced to help teams reduce their budgets and not successful corporations tapping into Formula One's marketing power. To date, major tyre manufacturers including Continental, Pirelli and Goodyear have all ruled out returning to Formula One, with the one-sided tender agreement making it considerably unattractive for such companies. Add this to that the fact that any mention of their tyres during race weekends is usually negative and it's easy to see why few are showing an interest.
In the age of cost-cutting, teams are likely to baulk at paying for their tyres, although such a move is not unlikely given Bridgestone's reluctance to stay. However having already lost such high-profile names as Honda, BMW and Toyota in recent times, the FIA is keen to stop the rot and keep the Japanese supplier involved.
On a side note, it will be interesting to see how the FIA regulates the reduction to 11 sets of tyres for each driver. Under the 14-set rule drivers were given seven sets of each of the two compounds available (from super-soft, soft, medium and hard), while 8 sets could then be brought into qualifying. Unless safeguards are put in place, drivers could end up going into qualifying with 6 sets of the most preferable tyre and just 2 of the least preferable, meaning teams would not have to choose the poorer tyre during qualifying and thereby eliminating another element of risk and strategy.