2008 was the last season to date that teams and riders had reasonably free reign over tyre choice.
At the season-opener in Qatar, the then 20-year old rookie Jorge Lorenzo clinched the pole position with a series of record-breaking laps. James Toseland and Colin Edwards followed, and were the only trio to choose Michelin for their qualifying tyre.
The following year, the Qatar GP was held under floodlights for the first time in racing history. All 18 riders were offered the same limited range of tyres in a move to improve safety and some say, make the racing closer by eliminating any competitive edge.
This is likely since before Bridgestone became the sole tyre provider in the 2009 season, riders had been used to a much wider range of tyres, and the likes of major contenders such as Valentino Rossi often decided on their race day compound choices after Friday’s practice.
Michelin had the capability to manufacture new tyre designs to Rossi’s specifications during GP weekends, and deliver them in time for the racing – something Marquez fans will remind Rossi supporters of, whenever there is speculation over favouritism in the sport today.
Both fan groups of the iconic riders were prompted to remember this controversy earlier in the year, when a discussion over tyres erupted. In a surprising outburst, ex-MotoGP rider Anthony West accused the “corrupt” FIM of allowing riders to cheat their way to titles.
“They let Rossi win all his 500cc championship by giving him special tires made for the tracks they were on. They used to helicopter tires in from the factory only for Rossi. So he could win races. Everything you see is fake and controlled. Don’t believe anything you see. They control who wins races and who doesn’t.” – Anthony West
As well as attributing Rossi’s many titles to special tyres, he also credited Marquez’s 2013 Moto2 win to a special ECU. In recent years, the team behind the current tyre provider, Michelin have had to carefully consider manufacturers’ demands and defend themselves on many occasions. Their position opens them up to praise just as much as it does criticism, but they are firm in the fact that their tyres are for every rider and not just the World Champion.
“It is difficult to make a tyre that works for Marc, then Viñales, then Dovizioso, for Honda, Suzuki, Ducati and so on. Since Marc Marquez came it has changed. He goes far off the bike and he brakes very late and strong and puts a lot of force on the front tyre.
We had to do a large review: it is more than an evolution, it is more of a revolution – we changed casing, profile, compound. Now I think we have a good balance because we’ve seen different manufacturers win and the model we propose works for everyone.” – Piero Taramasso
This year, the Michelin MotoGP boss has denied that the new rear tyre for 2020 will favour Yamaha and Suzuki, though early evidence suggests the inline-four machines stand to gain most, sparking debate once more.
Many MotoGP fans feel strongly that control tyres halt the optimisation of bikes, since teams are forced to tie themselves to an important aspect that their machines may not respond effectively to. Some go as far as saying that prototype bikes are unfairly compromised with tyres that don’t suit them.
On the other hand though, many believe a good rider should adapt to any bike and any tyre that’s on it, which would explain Marquez’s dominance in recent years. They feel that there is no bribery and the supposed ‘tyre advantage’ that many refer to doesn’t depend on machine type but versatility of the rider.
With Michelin’s place as controlled MotoGP manufacturer cemented for the next few years, could a broader range of tyres from the manufacturer become available to teams, or would this be an unnecessary attempt to switch things up once more?