Formula 1 needs to think carefully about introducing a major revamp of the sport's tire regulations next year, amid speculation that Michelin could return to grand prix racing with totally different rubber.
Michelin is close to giving the green light to coming back to F1 after a four-year absence in a move that could reignite a tire war for the first time since 2006. It is also understood that serious consideration is being giving to the French tire company's desire to make F1's tires bigger – by running 18-inch diameter tires rather than the 13-inch ones that are currently used. Such a move would force teams to make a major revamp to their car designs for 2011 – and it is something that Lotus chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne believes needs to be thought through with great care before the go-ahead is given.
"It will have a huge impact, and it depends on how we address it," Gascoyne told AUTOSPORT about the prospect of Michelin re-entering F1 next year with 18in. tires. "Some people are saying let's not allow anyone to change anything on the suspension and put 18-inch rims on it, which you can sort of see why. But then you are going to have to change it at some stage and, if you are going to do so, why not do it straight away?
"It is something that I have mixed views about. In some respects, as a new team, you like big rule changes because it is a great leveler. In other ways, as a new team, maybe you don't have the number of people and the facilities to cope with it – but bring it on. Whatever it will be, we will get on and deal with it."
Gascoyne believes that as well as forcing teams to make big suspension changes, the change of tire size will have other implications on car design.
"The aero implications are very big as well – it is huge. That is why I think we need to think carefully. Obviously, there will also be less air in the tires, so pressure management and all things like that become easier. There are fewer variables, though.
"Obviously, with the sidewall stiffness, a variable is taken away out of the suspension system, so there is a lot more space within the uprights – but do you then start damping the wheels and all sorts? We need to think quite carefully about it so that we don't end up allowing huge expense back into the sport."
He added: "Some of the big teams may not want it themselves, because they will want to maintain the status quo, but there is a big aero change with the ban on double diffusers, anyway, so teams will have to design new cars. But, from my perspective, every time there is a rule change we [Lotus] are not having to catch up with the two or three years' development, so we look forward to a big rule change. We will get on and deal with whatever it is."
Bridgestone's director of tire development Hirohide Hamashima believes a move to 18-inch tires will lead to a big change in car handling.
"Generally speaking, if we put 18-inch tires on the current cars suddenly, then it will have big oversteer – will have less traction very quickly," he said. "Teams would have to redesign the rear suspension, aerodynamics and brake discs. It would be a lot of money and a lot of work."
With the FIA having favored a standard tire for the last few years in a bid to bring down costs, Gascoyne is also wary about the prospect of a new tire war in F1
"I think tire wars, with limited testing, will be hard," he said. "Tire wars are great if you are on the right tire, but pretty bad if you are on the wrong one. And again, tire wars have never brought down costs, they only make them spiral upward. So again, I think we have to be careful about that."