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Tyre debate returns to F1 paddock

After a low-profile period for F1’s official supplier, suddenly “tyres” and “Pirelli” are being talked about again.

Following the days of tyre explosions and disintegrations a couple of years ago, Pirelli chief Paul Hembery admitted last week that he is enjoying not being the “bad guy” anymore.

But beneath the surface, discontent remains.

Since the beginning of the ‘power unit’ era, when Pirelli took a much more conservative turn, lap times have blown out as drivers whispered about “concrete” tyres.

Drivers who have recent experience of life both on Pirellis and with Michelin in prototype sports car racing, like Mark Webber, speak with joy about how they can push on every corner of every lap with their French rubber.

Michelin piped up last week, saying it was considering applying to be F1’s sole supplier from 2017.

It triggered an immediate rebuke from Bernie Ecclestone, who predicted the French marque would make a “rock-hard tyre” rather than a show-inspiring product like Pirelli.

Allan McNish, who raced Michelin-shod cars both at Le Mans and in F1, hit back: “Everyone has their view.

“(But I) can’t say this is my experience of the last … 18 years,” he added on Twitter and Facebook.

However, Ecclestone does have his influential allies when it comes to backing Pirelli in F1.

Paddy Lowe, a team boss at reigning world champions Mercedes, thinks that notwithstanding what some drivers say, the Italian marque has improved the spectacle of formula one “a great deal”.

“I think we’ve seen far more exciting races since Pirelli came into formula one,” he said.

Lowe acknowledged that drivers are complaining about not being able to push throughout the race, “But I think that’s been an element (of F1) in the past.

“It may be a slightly bigger element at the moment, but it also adds to the skill necessary from the driver.  So it’s still all part of an exciting package,” he added.