Expect a move from Michelin

MICHELIN is expected to inform the FIA within the next few days that it is intending to enter Grand Prix racing in 2001 but a public announcement is not expected until January. The current F1 regulations mean that any company wishing to enter Grand╩Prix racing must give notice a year in advance.

The move has been rumored for a long time and as early as 1995 Michelin established an F1 research group in Clermont-Ferrand. The company's competition boss Pierre Dupasquier and other engineers have become regular visitors to F1 races.

A change of policy would not be a surprise given that the company chairman Francois Michelin retired recently after nearly 40 years in charge and his son Edouard Michelin II took over. His first move was to announce job cuts, an indication that he intends to change the company's conservative approach as it battles for the top place in the tire business with Goodyear and Bridgestone.

Current speculation suggests that Michelin is making a bid to supply Ferrari, Williams and Prost. The Italian team is believed to be asking for as much as $12m a year for the privilege of supplying free tires but such is Ferrari's marketing power that Michelin may agree to the deal if the company can prove that its tires will be competitive against Bridgestone. Williams has been linked to a Michelin deal because of its new association with BMW. The German manufacturer has been working closely with Michelin on its sportscar program and may wish to continue the deal. The F1 program can be backed up with original equipment supply deals and the use of Michelin tires may help BMW to achieve success quickly as a tire advantage can be very useful in F1, as was proven by Bridgestone in Hungary in 1997 when Damon Hill nearly won the race in a Yamaha-engined Arrows. The Prost link is obvious and makes sense, particularly if Prost is going to get Mercedes-Benz V10 engines in 2001. This will mean that the German car-maker would have McLaren on Bridgestone tires and Prost on Michelins.

If it is confirmed, the arrival of Michelin in F1 will be a challenge to Goodyear, which withdrew from F1 at the end of 1998. Our sources suggest that Goodyear's market research has revealed the need for a Formula 1 program but the weakness of the Goodyear share price in recent months has meant that current boss Sam Gibara has been cutting back on budgets. The racing programs have been slashed and Goodyear has been forced to withdraw from both CART and IRL. The team of skilled racing engineers, built up by Goodyear over many years, is demoralized and beginning to fall apart.

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