Don't count out Michelin...

AS Goodyear chairman Sam Gibara and his board of directors tour Eastern Europe this week, meeting local bosses and discussing the company's future plans for expansion, Formula 1 awaits a decision as to whether the company will actually carry out its announcement that it will leave Formula 1 at the end of this season.

Goodyear bosses in the rapidly developing countries in eastern Europe are likely to argue in favour of F1, which is becoming more and more popular.

A Goodyear withdrawal from F1 would leave Bridgestone as the only tire supplier. This would have a dramatic effect on the amount of coverage the tire companies are receiving as there will no longer be a tire war. This is fine from Goodyear's point of view unless another tire manufacturer decides to jump in and take its place.

The danger is that by leaving the sport's best-known racing teams: Ferrari and Williams, Goodyear will precipitate the arrival of another company because having access to top teams is such a rare thing for tire companies that it will be worth the risk of the newcomer being overshadowed by Bridgestone, which is dominating F1 this season with McLaren.

While both Williams and Ferrari have the fall-back position of being able to run Bridgestone rubber next year the team bosses will be looking for a better option because if they use Bridgestones in 1999 they will be a year behind McLaren and Benetton in terms of development. It would, therefore, be better to find a new manufacturer if one can be convinced to enter F1.

The obvious choice is Michelin and there is no doubt that despite official denials the French tire company is looking closely at jumping in to grab Williams and Ferrari from Goodyear. Michelin has the advantage of a skilled and experienced competition department which could be quickly up to speed in F1 and a tradition of being involved in Grand Prix racing.

The French company entered F1 with Renault in 1977 and remained in the sport until 1984. During that period cars on Michelin tires won 59 GP victories and three World Championships: 1979 (with Ferrari), 1983 (with Brabham) and 1984 (with McLaren).

Michelin is known to have a secret research group working on F1 tires. This has been in operation in Clermont-Ferrand since the middle of 1985 and may even have tested some of the rubber with Formula 3000 cars.

In January this year Michelin officially announced that it was not planning to re-enter F1 in 1999 but there have been a string of clandestine visits by Michelin engineers to the F1 paddocks in recent months and it is quite possible that the decision not to race in 1999 could be reversed.

If this is to happen we would expect that testing would begin shortly. It should be noted that when Bridgestone announced its plans to enter F1 in 1997, the Japanese test company began testing in the first week of June 1996.

We believe that the next few days will be of critical importance in the future of F1 tire supply...

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