APRIL 22, 1996
Bridgestone men tour England
Our spies report visits to Jordan and Arrows, although other mid-ranking teams such as Tyrrell, McLaren and Ligier (owned by British-based Benetton boss Flavio Briatore) and the new Stewart Grand Prix may also have been visited. One of the Bridgestone men is believed to be Hiroshi Yasakawa, who was the company's motorsport manager in the early 1980s.
Bridgestone says it will enter F1 in 1998 with as many teams as the regulations demand, but in the interim it needs to get its hands on up-to-date F1 machinery with which to conduct testing. Five teams (Williams, Benetton, Ferrari, Sauber and McLaren) are under contract to Goodyear until the end of this year and so do not wish to be seen talking to other tiremakers.
Bridgestone used to have access to old Tyrrell and Footwork chassis in Japan, but none of these are still running, and so the company's best hope is that teams wanting to be considered as a candidate for the Honda deal in 1998 will sign up with Bridgestone to test - Honda and Bridgestone being closely linked. It is no surprise, therefore, that Ligier and Arrows are being tipped as the teams most likely to test for Bridgestone this year. Ligier has an advantage in that it has a Mugen Honda chassis ready but Arrows could quickly modify a car.
While Bridgestone is attracting a lot of attention, insiders insist that it is now only a matter of time before Michelin announces its F1 plans. We have even heard rumors that a deal has already been struck with McLaren for 1997.
Last summer there were unconfirmed reports that McLaren had been doing secret tests for Michelin, using less-than-obvious test drivers such as kartist Martin Hines to ensure secrecy. Michelin tires are used extensively on McLaren F1 sportscars and there is regular testing. Nelson Piquet was recently spotted testing a McLaren at the Michelin test center at Miramas in the south of France. The track, situated on the vast flood plains of the Rhone, to the north-west of Marseilles, is surrounded by high walls to stop casual viewers seeing what is going on. There is also a Michelin test track at Ladoux, near Clermont Ferrand where Renault secretly ran its prototype F1 car in March 1976.