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APRIL 28, 1997

The Michelin man pops up again

PIERRE DUPASQUIER, head of Michelin's motor sport division, popped up at Imola last week, but claimed that the French tire company has no immediate plans to enter Grand Prix racing. There have been hints that the Clermont-Ferrand-based company is considering an F1 program since 1995 when Dupasquier suddenly started appearing at Grand Prix soon after the company announced a healthy profit, following a major restructuring. At the time there were suggestions that the company had created a secret research group to get up to speed with the latest F1 technology.

Michelin has not been in F1 since the end of 1984 when it withdrew after seven and a half years in the sport, during which it scored 59 GP wins and won three World Championships (1979-83-84). Between 1980 and 1984, however, Michelin lost $1.5 billion and had to withdraw. After Bridgestone took over Firestone in 1988 Michelin took on more debt in 1990 by spending $1.5 billion to buy Uniroyal Goodrich. This led to a major restructuring in 1993 which involved cuts in production and staffing levels but in 1995 the company was back in profit.

Bridgestone's push into F1 - and into the European market - may have convinced Michelin that it is time to get back into F1 although Dupasquier says that "there are no plans at present".

"We are working in so many activities in competition that we have a good understanding of the kind of tires which would be needed in F1," Dupasquier said, " but if we were planning to come back to F1 we would still need to test them on actual cars."