Pirelli is ready to open talks with Formula 1 teams about a tire supply deal, after company chiefs this week gave it the green light to evaluate a return to grand prix racing.
With teams currently weighing up offers from Michelin and Avon Cooper about supply deals for 2011, Italian tire manufacturer Pirelli has now also joined the race to compete in F1 from as early as next season. Its bosses held an investors' meeting in Milan on Wednesday and approved a proper study into the benefits of getting Pirelli back into F1 for the first time since 1991.
Pirelli's director of motorsport, Paul Hembury, says the company's stance has been prompted by the fact that F1 could switch to 18-inch rims, and that teams are now ready to accept proper commercial terms for an F1 tire supplier.
"Nothing is concrete yet, but we understand that with the possibility of 18-inch tires, and the fact that the commercial reality has changed compared to the previous environment, then F1 is something that we are now looking into," Hembery told AUTOSPORT
. "We are always in contact, and remain in contact, with the FIA and the F1 promoter – and that is something that continues year on year. We've been aware of the ongoing situation in F1 and that is really what has led to our latest situation."
Although Michelin has made it clear that it is most interested in a return to F1 if it faces a tire war, Hembery says Pirelli would prefer to become a standard supplier.
"We wouldn't rule out a tire war at this moment, but at this current time I don't think there is a huge appetite to spend large sums of money developing tires to go faster," he said. "Of course, these things go in waves and, at some point, that may be the correct approach, but at the moment teams are more interested in bringing costs down."
With Pirelli about to embark on its feasibility study, and keen to begin dialogue with teams, Hembery admitted that getting a deal in place for 2011 would be tough – but did not totally dismiss it.
"To be there next year is very ambitious, but you should never say never," he said. "If the commercial conditions are good, and from our point of view we believe it is the right direction and it has been presented and approved by our board and the FIA, then we will see where we are."
F1 teams are hoping to get the 2011 tire plans in place by next month's Spanish Grand Prix, but the fact that Pirelli has now entered the race to supply tires may lead to a decision taking longer.
Pirelli's last spell in F1 was from 1989 to 1991, when it triumphed with Nelson Piquet and Benetton at the 1991 Canadian Grand Prix.