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Goodyear and Formula 1

The Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne marked Bridgestone's first Formula 1 victory and the dominance of the McLaren-Mercedes team suggested that part of the reason for the team's breath-taking victory was the competitiveness of the Bridgestone tyres.

McLaren and Benetton both decided to switch from Goodyear to Bridgestone in the course of the winter after Goodyear made the shock announcement that it would be withdrawing from Grand Prix racing at the end of the 1998 season. The move made little sense at the time but when Goodyear announced plans to double its sales in five years, it became clear that all of the company's available money would be needed to help pay for future acquisitions.

The fact that the two top teams of recent years - Williams and Ferrari - stayed with Goodyear seemed to suggest that perhaps there were more devious plans afoot with Goodyear not planning to pull out but rather to focus its efforts on the top teams.

But Goodyear's General Manager of Worldwide racing Stu Grant says that there are no such plans.

"We are pulling out," he says. "We are exiting Formula 1 at the end of 1998. That was the announcement we made back in November and our position has not changed. There has been a lot of speculation about what is Goodyear is going to do but I can tell you that 1998 is our last season. We are committed to doing the development necessary to provide our teams with a competitive product this year and to try to win as many races as possible before we go."

Surely pulling out is a crazy step if it is just a question of saving money because getting back into Grand Prix racing with top teams such as Williams and Ferrari is virtually impossible.

"There is no question about it that if after a period of time we elected to get back involved in the sport it will certainly be more difficult. From a technology standpoint it is such a joint process to develop a tyre with a car that stepping out for a time and then trying to get back in would take a lot of work and a lot of lead time. Look at what Bridgestone have done. They have been working for eight or nine years, getting ready for their entry into F1, so it does take tremendous preparation."

Aren't the Goodyear bosses worried that the company will be seen to be running away from the Bridgestone challenge?

"The decision can be looked at in a lot of different ways, but it comes down to being a business decision as to whether the costs associated with our involvement in F1 is worth the benefits from the sport. Our management has made the decision that they do not feel that our investment in F1 is providing the benefit to justify that kind of expenditure."

The Goodyear team of engineers in F1 are disappointed but they want to go out fighting and in Australia things were better than some people expected.

"From a tyre standpoint I was extremely pleased at where we are at the moment," says Grant. "When you look at the grid in Australia Goodyear had seven of the top 10 and so clearly from a tyre perspective at this point Goodyear has a very good product. Our tyres are very consistent the drivers are very pleased with them. The teams are happy. The McLaren is obviously an extremely strong package and they are going to be tough to beat but tyre-wise I am pleased without performance."

Were Goodyear bosses upset that McLaren and Benetton jumped ship and went to Bridgestone, particularly as Benetton made the decision very late in the day?

"After we announced our withdrawal we notified all our teams that if they were interested in moving to another tyre manufacturer we would work with them to accomplish that. Certainly we were sad to see Benetton and McLaren leave but after we had made an announcement like that there was obviously some concern from the teams as to whether our development would be committed and so on and so forth. We understand that."

Given the lap times in Melbourne the FIA's plan to use grooved tyres to slow down the cars has not been very successful. It must be very frustrating to have gone through all the upheaval to find out that lap times are not very different.

"Without questions the contact patch between the tyre and the road has been reduced. The rules limit us to the size of rear tyre we can run and we cannot go any larger so we are undoubtedly putting less rubber in contact with the road than we were in 1997. That is the way the rules are and there is no way of getting around that. Our development has obviously been to get as much grip as possible but really it has been to try to make a tyre which is as consistent as possible because that is the kind of thing that you are struggling with when you reduce the size of the contact patch. The speed of the cars has surprised a lot of people. It is a lot closer to 1997 times than most people expected so clearly this has to be due to better aerodynamics, car improvements and greater engine horsepower."

But developing grooved tyres cost a great deal and little has been achieved.

"The FIA's aim was to slow down the cars and from a pure standpoint they are slower what they really wanted was for overtaking to improve. That was the objective. We will have to see as the season goes on."

How would Goodyear feel if the FIA decided that more grooves were needed to slow the cars down even more?

"It is not easy for a tyre company to make changes like that from the technology point of view. You do not simply carve additional grooves into a tyre. It may not be apparent but there is a lot of technology which goes into devising the shape of a mould and the construction of a tyre to give you the most consistent wear with a grooved tyre. We have had to make those adjustments and Bridgestone had to do the same thing. Any additional grooves would mean we would have to do a considerable amount of mould and construction development all over again.

"It is not as easy as one might think."

What about the details of the tyre war. Bridgestone has opted to run wider front tyres. Why has Goodyear not done the same?

"We have done some work with wider tyres. There are pluses and there are minuses. The pluses are that you do have some additional footprint area but it certainly hurts from an aerodynamic point of view. There is a bit of a trade-off.

"There may be some circuits where a wider front tyre will work well and they will be others where it will not work. We will have to wait and see..."

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