Innocence and Experience among the tire men

MICHELIN must overcome the biggest hurdle of its season at Indianapolis when, for the first time since its Formula 1 comeback, it attempts to balance the high speed and high load of the banking of the Grand Prix circuit's final corner - Turn 1 of the legendary speedway - with the almost pedestrian pace of the infield.

This is thought to be the strongest lifeline offered to the Bridgestone-shod teams against what is likely to be a dominant weekend from Williams-BMW. Ferrari alone can all match the blue and white cars on outright speed, but perhaps the experience that Bridgestone has of the event with the lessons learnt on its way to victory in 2000 will help the Italian team reclaim the initiative.

Prior to last year's inaugural US Grand Prix at Indianapolis there were grave doubts over the ability of regular Formula 1 tires to cope with the rigors of the Indianapolis banking, compounded by the fact that there was no opportunity to test them. From the moment that the cars burst out of the infield onto the 92-year-old banked oval they are at full power and stay there for longer than at any other circuit in the world championship, round the majestic banking and down the full length of the start/finish straight.

Yet with the banking set at only nine degrees Bridgestone found out last year that the stresses were not so great as it had first imagined - and furthermore that the speed in the lap came from the twisting infield. Last year the tires were of a very conservative hard compound that, now the Japanese manufacturer is no longer the sole supplier, will be forced aside in order to win the all- important infield sectors

Hisao Suganuma, Technical Manager at Bridgestone Motorsport, said: "Indianapolis is a unique circuit for Formula 1 because of the banking but in reality, the effect was not as severe as we had anticipated, mainly because the cars enter the banked section from the slow in-field and there is only one corner where they use the full bank."

Michelin's motorsport director, Pierre Dupasquier, is not abashed by Bridgestone's experience however. His tires have triumphed four times so far in their debut season at Imola, Montreal, Hockenheim and Monza - each time while attached to the Williams-BMWs - and is confident that his technicians have got their sums right for Indianapolis.

"The Italian Grand Prix gives us cause to believe we are working in the right direction," he said. "Generally, our performance at Monza was one of our best of the season to date and all our partner teams were competitive. But we will continue to evolve our compounds and constructions all the way until the season's end, at Suzuka."

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