Michelin is closing in on a deal to return to Formula 1 next year, but it may not be as a standard tire supplier.
Although no final decision has been made, sources have revealed that the French tire manufacturer is in advanced negotiations with the FIA about the terms of a return for the first time since it quit at the end of 2006. It is believed that an announcement confirming Michelin's comeback could be made as soon as this month.
Current standard tire supplier Bridgestone is leaving F1 at the end of this season, with the Japanese company's board deciding that it does not benefit enough to justify its investment in the sport. Although a replacement standard tire supplier would require the FIA to go through an official bid process, it is believed there is a chance the governing body will simply open up the entry criteria to allow any qualified manufacturer in – re-igniting an F1 tire war.
Should Michelin give the green light to return, then it could be against other tire manufacturers such as Hankook and Kumho, who have also been linked with a move into F1. Michelin's last spell in F1 was from 2001 until 2006, when it enjoyed world title success with Renault but also endured its fair share of controversy, including being forced to withdraw from the 2005 United States Grand Prix on safety grounds.
Michelin was not interested in becoming the sole tire supplier when the bidding process was opened for 2008 – believing it vital that the company faced competition if it was to invest in F1. Earlier this month Michelin's managing partner Jean-Dominique Senard told the Bloomberg news agency that the French company was open to a move back to F1 if the sport could prove its environmental credentials.
"We might consider returning but there are some very clear conditions," he said.