Pirelli's Paul Hembery has spoken out against what he sees as a lack of incentive for tire manufacturers to compete in next year's World Rally Championship.
This is the third and final season of Pirelli's agreement to supply a control tire to the WRC, with the FIA electing for a return to competition in next year's series – despite a barrage of criticism from the sport's teams.
Pirelli was the only tire firm to tender for a new three-year sole supply WRC deal earlier this season, but when that was stonewalled, it agreed to a one-year deal on the proviso that if the FIA intended to open up WRC to tire competition it would announce it before the end of March. Both Pirelli's tender document and the one-year deal were scrapped in favor of competition for next season.
Following its meeting to decide how the 2011 tire regulations would work, the FIA issued a homologation procedure document at the end of last week. Sources within the governing body have passed the document onto AUTOSPORT.
The document commands a possible supplier to produce one asphalt tire in two compounds, one gravel tire in two compounds and one ice tire. The tire manufacturers can test their tires with no limits on any surface, but manufacturers will only be permitted to test each tire for 1,000 kilometers – using no more than 100 covers in four two-day test sessions.
The other significant point in the document is the desire for a "15 to 20 percent reduction in the global quantity of tires," through 2012 and 2013. Tire companies will have to nominate themselves to the FIA by Sept. 1, with the governing body issuing the full list of nominated firms before Sept. 15. All tires must be commercially available and given to the FIA at the start of November (gravel tire), the end of November (asphalt tire) and Dec.20 (ice tire).
Once the manufacturer has produced the tires, the specification of the tires, under the FIA's technical condition 1.5, cannot be changed for the 2011 sporting season without the express agreement of the FIA – an area Hembery believes will be of concern to potential tire companies.
Asked to comment on the document, Hembery said: "I have to say I'm utterly bemused by the document. I still can't figure out how we got here. This is neither a control tire scenario and nor is it in any way a competitive environment for a tire manufacturer to work in.
"Can you honestly tell me that, if a tire company is completely uncompetitive at the first gravel rally then they're just going to sit by for the next season and take the beating? That's not what we would see as competition. For Pirelli, competition is about competing on the technical side of tire development.
"For Pirelli, competing on the technical side of tire development is stimulating but even then you need to give a reasonable chance for new entrants to have access to competitive vehicles and time to prepare.
"Maybe we could have one car in a team on one tire brand, the other on an alternative. That would ensure the teams are not totally disadvantaged at any one event. It certainly made interesting watching in MotoGP when [Valentino] Rossi and [Jorge] Lorenzo had different rubber on the same bike but then that ended up in a control tire situation, too, so it is never easy to balance these things.
"Of course, spending money on going faster with tires is very much out of fashion at the moment, [but] you expect these things to run in cycles and WRC does not seem to be the most logical format for restarting tire wars. But you have to accept that there is a master plan and you try and adapt to the changes, this all being part of the bigger strategy to bring rally back to the levels of interest and participation of the past."
Hembery added that he had reservations about how the development rules would be enforced in practice.
"My other concern is the loopholes in this document," he said. "Recently we had a scenario in GT racing where the tire specification was frozen for the season, but one of our competitors had a severe tire wear issues, so they applied for dispensation and got it, permitting teams using their tires to take an extra set of tires – that was a nonsense then and I worry that we could have the same situation this time around.
"Given the tight parameters in terms of development and testing time – and the high costs involved with both of those processes – I can't see too many tire firms coming in. We're still considering our position and deciding on which brand we will use in rally in the future."