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More on Bridgestone's future in Formula 1

IN recent days there have been stories in newspapers around the world suggesting that Bridgestone will, as we have suggested, pull out of Formula 1 at the end of 2002, when all its current contracts run out. The stories suggest that the management of Bridgestone in Japan have decided that they want to revive the Firestone brand rather than killing it off and want to concentrate their marketing efforts on Firestone in CART.

If this is the case, one must expect to see a rush of Bridgestone teams to Michelin as there is no point continuing with the Japanese company if it is not committed to F1 and it would be better for teams to begin building their relationships with Michelin. But Bridgestone seems to have been a little wiser than Goodyear which announced it was pulling out before the end of its existing commitments which enabled the major teams to claim a broken contract and leave immediately to join Bridgestone.

Certainly, Bridgestone's future in the sport must be considered doubtful because of the legal problems in the United States in recent months. This has resulted in falling sales and as many as 119 impending law suits over fatal accidents and possibly as many as 500 injury claims linked to Firestone tires. The effect of the crisis is now beginning to be felt with the announcement that 450 people are to be laid off at the Firestone factory in Decatur, Illinois. The company is also planning to cut its US production by 20% because of lack of demand for the tires. The company has already written off $450m to cover the recall of the troubled tires.

The lay-offs are the first move by the new chief executive of Firestone John Lampe who say that in order to recover the company must take "necessary but painful steps."

A withdrawal of Bridgestone from Formula 1 makes a lot of sense in the circumstances as it will not only allow more money to be used to promote Firestone and will enable the company to put all its best racing brains into one operation, it will also have the effect of depriving Michelin of publicity in Formula 1 because without a tire war, there is rarely any mention of tires. The danger is that Michelin will now decide that it is not really interested in competing against itself and will bring its F1 program to a swift end.

The only way that F1 could avoid this happening would be to convince the third of the Big Three tire companies - Goodyear - to make a comeback. Goodyear has been busy in recent years trying to merge its operations with those of Dunlop but our spies within Goodyear say that there is not much hope of an F1 comeback at the moment.

It is worth mentioning that we heard recently that F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone has been in contact with Goodyear boss Sam Gibara...

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