SEPTEMBER 9, 2003
A secret meeting
There was a meeting yesterday at McLaren headquarters in Woking to try to sort out the current tire crisis in Formula 1. The meeting involved the FIA technical delegate Charlie Whiting, Ron Dennis and Martin Whitmarsh of McLaren and Sir Frank Williams and Patrick Head from Williams.
The teams are believed to have been discussing what will happen at Monza this weekend with the tires because the FIA's decision to measure the tires before and after the race has led to potential problems with the tread width of the Michelin front tires.
Michelin has been working flat out to sort out the situation but the tires produced for the recent Monza test have made the cars much more difficult to drive and there are hints that the problem still exists. The teams say that Michelin needs more time to prepare itself properly for the new rule interpretation, which was decided upon after the recent Hungarian GP where Ferrari, apparently acting on behalf of Bridgestone, complained to the FIA. The regulation in question is Article 77c of the 2003 Sporting Regulations which states that "Each front dry-weather tire, when new, must incorporate 4 grooves which are: arranged symmetrically about the center of the tire tread; at least 14mm wide at the contact surface and which taper uniformly to a minimum of 10mm at the lower surface; at least 2.5mm deep across the whole lower surface; 50mm (+/- 1.0mm) between centers. Furthermore, the tread width of the front tires must not exceed 270mm."
Michelin interpreted this to mean that tires must have a tread width of 270mm when new and, as there is no mention in the regulation of how wide they must be at the end of the race, they developed a clever system by which the tires were able to "grow" slightly during the race. When writing the rule, the FIA appears to have not considered the possibility that tires could do this.
While the teams involved are not happy about the sudden change in the rules there is a grudging acceptance that they will change if forced to do so but they argue that it is vital that they are given enough time so as not to be completely uncompetitive as a result of the new interpretation.
The new tires tried last week at Monza were an attempt to balance the demands on Michelin but it seems that no matter how the suspensions were set-up the tires performed as they were designed to do.
The teams are worried that they could lose the World Championship as a result of the change in interpretation and that this will reflect badly on the sport. As a result the FIA is running the risk of being seen to be helping Ferrari. This makes no sense as the FIA is well aware that Ferrari domination in recent years has harmed the sport considerably because races had become far too predictable.
The teams say that according to the rules the Michelin tires were clever rather than being illegal and that all they were trying to do was to find a competitive edge within the regulations as they were written.
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