May 15, 2021

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MotoGP: Number 34 or 36? Michelin’s big Qatar problem

motogp michelin front tire problem qatar test

Photo courtesy of MotoGP.com

Michelin had some angry riders at the Qatar test when it discovered that the new front tire that the riders liked at Sepang didn’t work as well as another new front tire at Phillip Island, and limiting the riders to a few of each at Losail forced them to alter their test schedules.

The riders did not stop complaining at Losail. “Michelin only brought us four of the good front tires, the rest are ones that are not available in the GPs. What is the point of using them? This is a disaster!”

The complaint was repeated along the pit row. If one were to hear only this version of the story, they would wonder if Michelin is making a mess of their return to MotoGP.

Of course, riders often only see their side of the story, and getting to the bottom of the situation requires we get the opposing side’s explanation. So we went to speak directly with Nicola Goubert, chief of Michelin in the GPs. Goubert’s account of the situation clarified why some riders were so upset.

motogp michelin front tire problem qatar test nicolas goubert

Photo courtesy of MotoGP.com

Michelin’s Two Wheel Racing boss Nicolas Goubert had some explaining to do regarding the front tire allocation at Qatar that had a lot of riders upset. Unfortunately Michelin is discovering some of the headaches that accompany being the spec tire supplier for MotoGP…

“The number 34 and 36 front tires that were introduced at the test in Sepang were replacing the previous number 1002,” explained Goubert. “The 34 and 36 tires give riders more surface contact at maximum inclination, all the way past the point where riders were falling up to now. The riders loved the new tire and between the two options unanimously chose the 34.”

“Between Sepang and Australia, we had to start manufacturing tires for the first GP, and we did so based on the feedback from the riders. But at Phillip Island, 36 performed the best and suddenly the riders went on to say that the preferred tire was this one and not 34…which was already being manufactured for the first GP and for testing here.

“So we brought both. Each rider will have four number 36 tires and three number 34 tires in the K compound, which is the soft compound. The first day, we gave five riders both versions to test and four of them chose the 36 over the other.”

With the production line manufacturing the number 34 K compound front tires, Michelin has suddenly gotten themselves into a problem, and the riders are protesting. But at least now we know why and it’s a situation we should follow closely. Especially when the tire preferences were ultimately divided. Maverick Viñales, who finished on top of the timesheets on Thursday and ultimately was third quickest in the test, did not want to use the number 34 tire; he only wanted to use the number 36. Lorenzo on the other hand, opted for the number 34. Rossi is undecided, Pedrosa liked the number 36, Marquez is undecided…it’s quite a mess.

So now the question is unavoidable: What will Michelin do? If it builds two different tire constructions in two different compounds, it will cost a good deal more than the regular path of a single construction in two different compounds. It’s clear that there will be riders who will be upset with the situation. What if they ultimately decide something that goes against the interests of say, Suzuki, a brand that is just starting to make their mark on the paddock?

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