Recently, the possibility of Cooper/Avon becoming Formula One’s 2011 tyre supplier was mooted. Cooper Tires bought Avon Tyres from Avon Rubber PLC in 1997.
Avon Tyres started business in 1885 and have been making pneumatic tyres since 1901 at Melksham in Wiltshire. In 1911, they started making tyres for motor-cycles and sidecars. Avon started producing motor-cycle competition tyres in 1957 winning every motor-cycle World Championship Grand Prix, 1958 to 1963, with riders including Mike Hailwood, John Surtees and Geoff Duke. The Aston Martin team won the 1959 Sportscar World Championship, lead by Stirling Moss, with Avon tyres.
The same year saw Aston Martin enter Formula One using Avon rubber for eight of their eleven starts. Avon did not reappear in F1 until 1981. In 1980, the grid had been supplied by Goodyear and Michelin but Goodyear quit at the end of the year. Michelin had only been supplying the Ferrari and Renault teams and were willing to expand to the better teams but not all fifteen teams. Pirelli supplied two or three teams starting a six year involvement in F1. Avon were paid in a deal put together by Uncle Bernie to avoid the backmarker teams having to drive around on their wheel-rims. Just to confuse matters, Goodyear were persuaded back before the end of the season to supply Brabham, Williams and Lotus and such were the musical chairs scrabbling over tyre-deals that Fittipaldi raced with Avon, Pirelli and Michelin during that season. After ’81, the stop-gap Avon tyres were not seen again.
Avon were building up to being the major tyre-supplier on a commercial basis for series that had to buy their tyres, and now supply over 150 championships World-wide including Caterham, Formula Ford, Formula Palmer Audi, FIA Historic Formula One, Supersports, Hillclimb, Sprints, Historic racing, Rallycross and Historic Rally. They have been providing tyres for British F3 since 1982 and used to supply F3000.
Cooper Tires (no connection to past F1 constructor Cooper) is based at Findlay, Ohio. The Cooper Corporation started making tires in 1919, merging with other tire companies and becoming a major producer of rubber-related products for the military during World War II. They sell tires for cars and trucks and in the USA are second largest to Goodyear. 25% of their sales are in China in partnership with Chinese manufacturers. It seems they are keen to expand their position in the Asian market in particular. Cooper-branded tires, made by Avon, were used for A1 GP and Formula Atlantic before both series became victims of the financial recession (now they want to supply F1 – ‘third time lucky’ or ‘bad things happen in threes’?).
Despite their own motorsport experience, if successful in their tender, the suggestion is that Cooper/Avon will take over Bridgestone’s technology. Personally, I think they should supply the same tyres as for 1981. Now that would make Formula One interesting.