As we wait for F1 to make its official declaration, Pirelli seems poised to outpace Bridgestone in securing a contract. Numerous insiders in the paddock indicate that the agreement is practically ensured and are of the opinion that the chances of a change decrease as time passes.
There is a twist, though. Inside sources imply that Pirelli might decide to strategically withdraw from F1 at the end of the next term. If that happens, the sport will have to find a new tyre partner post-2029.
Earlier in the year, the FIA initiated a tender process. Following their technical proposals examination, Pirelli and Bridgestone – its sole competitor, received quick approval from the governing body. After this, the commercial negotiation including Stefano Domenicali and the F1 organisation has gone on for months. This is because each company has effectively vied against each other in a bid to win the contract.
At the initial stages, there were hints that Bridgestone‘s financial proposal was so attractive that F1 couldn’t afford to ignore it. Domenicali can’t blame himself in trying to squeeze the last penny out of the single tyre supplier. After all, it’s his responsibility to maximise generated revenue for the teams and bosses at Liberty Media.
However, the discussions have been complicated by the fact that F2, F3, and sustainability considerations are also involved in this deal. These weren’t part of previous tenders.
The situation could get murkier if Pirelli wins this tender. They would complete 18 years as a supplier (2011-2028) and might feel they have nothing more to offer in terms of brand building. This could hamper the commercial discussions for Domenicali if Pirelli decides to withdraw and Bridgestone chooses not to compete again in four years, creating a buyer’s market wherein Japanese company couldn’t be pressed as much.
This could potentially open doors for other players, such as Michelin or Hankook, to step in and elevate the price. But, there is also a dark possibility that could scare Domenicali – there might not be any bidders for the 2029 tender.
Domenicali wouldn’t only consider the commercial side, but he would also need to analyze the impact of introducing a new tyre supplier to the track.
There are mixed opinions in the paddock about the future of F1. Some think a change is needed, while others reminisce about Bridgestone‘s successful tenure during the Michael Schumacher era. Others are of the opinion “better the devil you know” meaning they know how to handle Pirelli‘s deficiencies as they’ve been a staple supplier for 13 years. If Bridgestone wins the deal, they will face the immense task of designing tyres for current cars in 2025 and subsequent technical regulations in 2026.
According to Guenther Steiner, the Haas boss, the technical challenge of creating tyres for a modern F1 car is difficult. This sentiment is echoed by Williams team boss James Vowles who also emphasized the increased downforce production. This factor also influences the significance of the moment when the decision will be made.
Ferrari‘s Fred Vasseur suggests this is true as making tyres for 2025, and a different kind for 2026 pose a demanding task. There is also a high chance that, due to the delay in making a decision, Bridgestone will not secure the deal as they will be starting from square one.
Also in this discussion, Franz Tost from AlphaTauri mentions the relief from having two willing tyre suppliers, although he acknowledges the possible problems in technicalities with a new provider due to the lateness of this decision.
Regardless of who wins the tyre deal, the most important point for teams is to ensure shares from the extra money added to the prize pot. In the words of Red Bull boss, Christian Horner, Pirelli is a great company, and it would be wonderful to continue working with Pirelli for several million reasons.