OCTOBER 28, 1996
Bridgestone looking good
RICARDO ROSSET's speed in the recent Arrows-Bridgestone test at Suzuka, in which the Brazilian lapped nearly four seconds faster than he had done in qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix on Goodyear tires, suggests that Bridgestone rubber is going to be very competitive next season.
The huge leap forward can, in part, be attributed to Rosset's increased knowledge of the race track and the fact that there was more rubber down after the race than there had been in qualifying. There is no doubt, however, that the rest of the time came from the tires.
Suzuka is a special case in that Bridgestone has done almost all of its testing at the circuit, dating back to 1989 when Paolo Barilla and Christian Danner did the initial F1 development work with a Formula 3000 Reynard. With 21,000km of tire testing at the track the tires should be good but Bridgestone may struggle to be competitive at other circuits where one cannot test.
Goodyear's F1 experience is going to help the Akron company but its compounders are not being complacent and development is pushing ahead with faster tires expected to be run throughout the winter testing.
The tire war will inevitably lead to dramatic reductions in lap times at some circuits, something which observers have been suggesting since it became clear that Goodyear was to have competition in 1997. The FIA tried to play down the dangers but knows that better tires will undermine a lot of the safety work that has been done since the death of Ayrton Senna. Softer tires are also likely to leave more rubber on the road, which will make overtaking more and more difficult.
In the summer the FIA and the F1 teams agreed that the governing body would have the right to change the tire regulations to decrease cornering speeds if development became too intense. FIA president Max Mosley has been advocating smaller "contact patches" between the tires and the road and even the use of treaded tires. This argument is likely to re-emerge during the 1997 season if cornering speeds increase as much as Rosset's lap times at Suzuka suggest they might.
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