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Michelin in F1 in 1998?

MICHELIN has a habit of not announcing its major moves in motor sport until the last possible minute and there is a growing body of opinion in F1 that the French tire company is preparing to enter Grand Prix racing in 1998. Michelin is involved in a three-way battle to be the world's biggest tire maker with rivals Goodyear and Bridgestone/Firestone. With these two companies at war in F1 it is virtually certain that eventually Michelin will have to return to Grand Prix racing.

The need for such action has become pressing in recent months because of the success of Bridgestone's marketing assault in Europe and because of Goodyear's aggressive policy of acquisitions, particularly in Eastern Europe. Last week Goodyear bought a majority shareholding in Slovenian tiremaker Sava, following on from the takeover of TC Debica in Poland last year.

There is no doubt that Michelin does have a secret F1 development program underway at its Etude Development Course department in Clermont-Ferrand. This team was established in mid-1995 when a number of senior tire designers from the German touring car scene disappeared from that program.

There is some doubt that the French company could enter F1 without a great deal of track testing of tires - as happened with Bridgestone - but it should be remembered that Michelin has great experience and expertise in F1 and is probably sufficiently prepared to mount a program with just a few months of testing.

The team's most likely to be involved in a Michelin program are Prost Grand Prix and McLaren. We understand that Prost is having some difficulties with Bridgestone this year because it is not getting the same development tires which are enjoyed by Arrows because Bridgestone does not want any new ideas finding their way to Michelin.

The Michelin Family, incidentally, holds a significant shareholding in the Peugeot Citroen company, having acquired a large amount of equity in 1934 when Citroen was unable to pay for the Michelin tires being fitted to its cars.

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