MotoGP’s control tyre supplier Michelin has once again come under flak following the British Grand Prix, with championship contenders Pecco Bagnaia and Joan Mir appearing to question the French manufacturer on a day when both of them conceded valuable points to title leader Fabio Quartararo.
The Frenchman looked imperious on the Monster Energy Yamaha to control his pace in the early laps of the race and then break away when the time was right to win by nearly three seconds in the end.
But both Mir and Bagnaia, who started the weekend level on points behind Quartararo in second, faded as the race progressed, with the Suzuki rider coming home in ninth and the Ducati pilot a distant 14th place.
“The feelings on the first laps were really good and I was able to ride in a good way,” Mir explained afterwards, “but I got a bad front tyre, and this problem made me lose two or three seconds on the last laps. From 10 laps to the end I had a problem that before I didn’t have, and we have to understand it.
“I expected to be closer to Quartararo and to have had more podiums this season. We got a couple of fourth positions that could have been podiums, but honestly today I’m not optimistic now because what happened is really strange. Something happened today for me and it isn’t clear, and we have to understand it.
“I don’t know what the problem is. It’s soon to talk about what happened to me, to say that it was or wasn’t the tyre, because we need a lot more information.
“It’s true that, yeah, the difference of performance between one tyre and another isn’t the best one. It’s a bit inconsistent, and all the riders and teams agree to say that this can be improved.
“It’s always frustrating when it happens to you – but I’m not saying it’s a problem with a bad tyre because I don’t know for sure.”
“It’s quite clear that something was nor working today,” Bagnaia added, echoing Mir, “because my pace all weekend was so strong, and during the weekend I made a run with used tyres three seconds faster than this. I don’t really know what happened, and we have to check on the data and speak to Michelin.
“In a championship like this, we are at the top of motorcycling, and I think that a good thing is if all the parts of the motorcycle are at the top.
“I just heard that Jack [Miller] had some [tyre] problems in qualifying. I think we need to speak well with Michelin to understand what is going wrong.”
Though Quartararo’s points lead was already formidable and the British GP is therefore unlikely to prove pivotal, Mir – much like Bagnaia – said he was expecting a much better outing that should’ve at least given him a chance to show similar pace to what team-mate Alex Rins produced.
“I didn’t shine during all the weekend, but I was working really on the shadow like a lot of times,” Mir said. “Probably, if today didn’t happen something to me… I would be not as angry as now, no? Probably the history would be a lot different.”
However, according to Michelin boss Piero Taramasso, while it has had at least one defective tyre this year (for Miguel Oliveira in Austria), he doesn’t believe that the increasing number of rider complaints are to do with any quality control issues at the French manufacturer.
“Already before we bring the tyre to the race track we do a lot of measurements, about load and balance,” Taramasso said.
“We check with a special machine, we x-ray it to make sure it is ok inside and without bubbles. We do a lot of testing, and the quality control is unbelievable. Each piece – every front and every rear – is checked, and so is the raw material when it arrives to us. It is a very huge program.”
Instead, the Italian believes that it’s not issues with the construction process of the tyres that causes the problem – but rather the fact that unlike any other component on the bike bar the rider, the tyres are ‘living’, breathing things made out of natural materials.
“We bring the tyre to the track, and it is the most difficult thing because you have to control many things. Rubber is a live material – it is not like a piece of steel. It is very sensitive to temperature,” he explained. “Pressure, humidity, the level of grip of the track.
“If you are on the same line, if the pace is faster or slower, [it changes]. If you are two tenths quicker, you can gain 10ºC. This is enormous. In MotoGP right now everything is on the limit – tyres, bikes, engines, the riders – and you need very small things to change things massively. Riders are very close to each other.
“Many times we hear ‘oh, the tyres were better this morning, or yesterday, or last week’. Yes, because the conditions were different. Everything is different so it’s very hard to compare.”
That’s an argument that is in many ways supported by Valetino Rossi’s comments after today’s race, too, with the Petronas Yamaha rider lining up on the grid looking set for one of his strongest weekends of the season so far only to fall dramatically back through the pack before finishing outside the points.
“I was quite strong during all the weekend, I felt good with the bike and I had decent pace,” Rossi said. “But starting with the medium [rear tyre] was more difficult for us because I was better with the hard. Today was very cold, though, and we needed to go with the medium. I expected that we would have some more problems, but not like this.
“After five or six laps the rear tyre dropped incredibly and I didn’t have any more grip on the right side. It’s like it burned, and afterwards the rubber lost a lot of performance. I started to lose two or three seconds a lap and tried to arrive to the end, and it’s a great shame.”