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Is Goodyear really pulling out?

ALTHOUGH Goodyear has announced that it is planning to pull out of Grand Prix racing at the end of 1998 we understand that there is already a movement within the company to reverse that decision, with pressure coming from dealers in Europe, who feel that F1 is very important for their sales.

There is also a body of opinion within the company which believes that a total pullout would be a strategic disaster as the company will be surrendering deals with the top teams which might take years to re-establish if the company decided it wanted to return.

Goodyear currently has contracts with - and pays - five major teams: Williams, Ferrari, McLaren, Benetton and Jordan. Sauber and Tyrrell pay for their tires. With such a strong line-up Goodyear was able to prevent Bridgestone from scoring a single win in 1997. Now the situation has changed and one interpretation of the Goodyear announcement is that the company does not actually have any intention of leaving the sport in 1998 but wants to concentrate only on the winning teams such as Williams and Ferrari. In order to meet the FIA regulations the company could also sell tires to a couple of midfield operations, such as Sauber and Tyrrell. The announcement that Goodyear is pulling out will send the other teams running into the arms of the opposition - without Goodyear having to pay severance money. The rivals would be forced to accept more teams because the FIA regulations.

The redistribution of Goodyear money - with two teams getting the money which was previously divided by five - would guarantee their continued loyalty - while not increasing Goodyear budgets. If all this can be done quickly and quietly Goodyear would not need to become embroiled in an expensive bidding war which is expected between Bridgestone and Michelin in the next few months.

If this is the strategy, we would expect to see some early defections from Goodyear to Bridgestone - with Jordan and Benetton thought to be the most likely to make an early move, hoping to gain an advantage by running Bridgestones in 1998.

There have been rumors for some months that both teams want to switch to Bridgestone in 1998 but were warned off by Goodyear. With Goodyear pulling out, the teams may claim that they are free to move - which may be exactly what Goodyear wants to happen.

Jordan's connections with Mugen and Damon Hill would make a move to Bridgestone very logical for the team, but if this is to happen the team would need to start work with the Japanese in the next few weeks. This might help to explain why Walkinshaw does not want Hill to test for Jordan until January...

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