APRIL 14, 1997
Will a top team jump to Bridgestone?
THE Argentine Grand Prix ended up being a clean sweep for Goodyear, with the top eight finishers all using the American rubber. There was little doubt, however, that Bridgestone user Olivier Panis could easily have won the race if his Mugen Honda engine had not failed when Panis was poised to take the lead of the race from Jacques Villeneuve.
The competitiveness of the Bridgestone rubber has been watched very carefully in recent months by all the top F1 teams - which are contracted to Goodyear. With Williams once again the dominant chassis there are several teams (Ferrari, Benetton, McLaren, Jordan and Sauber) which could gain a great deal in terms of performance, which might be enough to enable them to beat Williams on a regular basis. With the pressure to win in F1 intense several teams may find it hard to resist the temptation to cut and run.
Several teams have already sought legal advice to establish if there might be a way in which they could get out of their Goodyear contracts if it was decided that this was the wisest course of action.
A great deal depends also on Bridgestone's attitude towards defectors. There were rumors in Argentina that one or two teams have already spoken with Bridgestone bosses and have been told that Bridgestone will not accept defectors. This is hard to believe as Bridgestone's chances of winning races could only be improved if other competitive teams are to use the Japanese rubber.
Goodyear has adopted an aggressive attitude to the Bridgestone attack and is continuing its development program. The company was planning to send three truckloads of tires to Barcelona this week to be tested by Ferrari, Williams, Benetton and McLaren, and Goodyear compounders are confident that the new tires will be a big step forward.
In the circumstances it is unlikely that we will see any switching between tire companies before the forthcoming San Marino GP at Imola.
It should be added that Goodyear says that it intends to defend itself against any attempt at contract-breaking.
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