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Here comes Michelin!

MICHELIN is gearing up to enter Grand Prix racing in 1996 and we believe that the French tire company has already carried out tests on its new range of F1 tires in a series of secret tests in Spain.

Rumors in F1 circles suggested that testing has been done by the McLaren team, although there have also been hints of a possible Ferrari involvement. Whatever the case, this is a very delicate matter as both teams have tire supply and development contracts with Goodyear until the end of next year.

McLaren is the team which has had the most opportunity to test Michelin tires, with no fewer than four visits to the little-known and very remote testing ground at Idi Ada, which dates back to March and a number of runs at the Danielson test track at Lurcy-Levis in France. Idi Ada and Lurcy Levis are both tracks which suit aerodynamic testing, but they could also be used to evaluate tires and the use of unusual test drivers such as kartist Martin Hines and up-and-coming youngster Ralph Firman Jr suggests there may be secret work needing to be done. In the past, McLaren has tended to use unusual drivers and strange locations for highly secret tests, notably with Jonathan Palmer and Allan McNish a few years ago when the team was developing electronic systems.

The fact that Michelin may be coming back to F1 is no surprise as the company recently announced a healthy profit, which suggested a possible F1 comeback.

Pierre Dupasquier, the head of Michelin's competition department, has been at various races this year, albeit adopting a low profile.

The arrival of a new tire company in F1 will certainly accelerate tire development and could lead to the return of qualifying tires, despite the current seven set rule which exists. The current rules may have to be changed to avoid this kind of cost escalation and the lowering of lap times which would happen as a result.

In theory a new tire manufacturer cannot come into F1 until it is in a position to supply 40% of the field if called upon to do so. The arrival of Michelin would probably cause Goodyear to reduce its supply to its works operations, thus forcing Michelin to supply on a customer basis.

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