NOVEMBER 30, 2001
Why McLaren-Mercedes have made the right move with Michelin
THE McLaren-Mercedes team's decision to switch from Bridgestone to Michelin tires in 2002 looks a bold and audacious decision. In fact many F1 insiders agree that it is an entirely logical move for McLaren, faced as they are with the challenge of closing the car performance gap to Michael Schumacher's Ferraris which have won the last two World Championships.
In 2000 it was a close call for Ferrari when they finally clinched their first Drivers' World Championship since 1979. But in 2001 the Maranello's advantage over McLaren was stretched. The Ferrari F2001 was a better all-round package that the McLaren-Mercedes MP4/16 - for whatever reasons - and it therefore followed that McLaren will have to make a quantum leap in performance for 2002 if they are to have a realistic hope of regaining the Championship.
If McLaren had remained on Bridgestone one major element of the car performance package would have remained identical to their key rival's package. Although nobody has ever talked in terms of Bridgestone showing "partiality" towards Ferrari, there is an increasing suspicion that the Japanese tire maker has been tailoring its constructions and compounds more in Ferrari's direction that in McLaren's.
Whether or not this is the case - but bearing in mind the remarkable speed sometimes displayed by Schumacher's Ferrari in the crucial F1 qualifying sessions - it makes sense for McLaren to try beating Maranello on a different tire. Whether that enthusiasm is shared by the ultra-diplomatic Sir Frank Williams and his technical director Patrick Head is another matter altogether. Having put in the donkey work as Michelin's blue riband team throughout 2001 the thought of having to share top billing with McLaren next season is hardly likely to have them pulling Christmas crackers with delight.
Nor will the Renault Sport (nee Benetton) squad be unreservedly joyous about the situation. Benetton made a lot of progress with Michelin this season. France's national F1 squad is now third in the Michelin pecking order. Or are they? It will be fascinating to wait and watch how it all shakes out.
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