NOVEMBER 16, 1998
The tire war is off - but a race is on
The obvious link is between Prost and Michelin. The French team is supposed to be a showcase for French industry and Michelin is one of the country's biggest industrial concerns. The French company is battling for supremacy in the tire markets with Goodyear and Bridgestone.
Bridgestone currently has 18.3% of the world's tire market while Michelin boasts 18.6% and Goodyear is trailing behind with 16.6%. The American company is, however, in the process of buying Sumitomo Rubber's Dunlop brand which will boost its share of the market to 22.3%.
The only other big players in the tire business are Germany's Continental (6.3%), Pirelli of Italy (4.4%) and Japan's Yokohama (3.4%). All three have expressed an interest in entering F1 but they do not have the money necessary to take on the big players. They cannot simply hire Goodyear's expert F1 engineers because the American company has contracts with them which forbid working for a rival tire company for at least two years.
Goodyear thus has time to decide whether or not to embark on a Dunlop F1 program once the merger between the two companies is completed. Such a program is unlikely to happen before 2000 or 2001 - if at all.
There are several factors which might convince Michelin to enter Grand Prix racing. The Competition Department at Clermont-Ferrand is keen on the idea and we believe that an F1 development program has been underway for the last three years in case a decision was made to enter Grand Prix racing.
Williams's new engine partner BMW could help to convince the French to take on Bridgestone with the promise of increasing the number of new BMW models designed for - or leaving the factory on - Michelin tires.
It is also worth noting that the Michelin Family hold shares in PSA, Peugeot's parent company, which could be good news for Alain Prost.