FEBRUARY 5, 1996

...but trouble brewing over F1 tires?

THE international automobile federation is on a crash course with the top Formula 1 teams over the question of tire supply in Grand Prix racing.

THE international automobile federation is on a crash course with the top Formula 1 teams over the question of tire supply in Grand Prix racing.

The FIA is worried that the arrival of new tire companies will result in a tire war in which the tire companies will develop rubber capable of lapping perhaps three or four seconds a lap faster than the existing compounds. This would very quickly negate all the safety work done by the FIA, the teams and the circuits in the last couple of years.

A tire war would also increase costs and disrupt the current delicate balance, which means that all teams receive the same compounds.

Ferrari, Williams, Benetton, McLaren and Sauber all enjoy very considerable advantages over the opposition in their position as Goodyear's contracted teams. They receive free tires in exchange for doing development work for the American tire giant. The smaller teams have to pay bills of as much as $1 million a year for the rubber they use.

This system will only work as long as Goodyear has a monopoly on tire supply. And with both Michelin and Bridgestone considering entering F1, there is a very real risk of a tire war. Goodyear sources say that the company would welcome competition from other tires companies, but that it would inevitably result in prices going up and the concentration of its efforts with a smaller number of teams.

Last year in Hungary - when rumors of a Michelin involvement first emerged - Goodyear supplied softer than usual tires to the teams. The result was a dramatic speeding up of lap times - sending a clear message to the FIA.

The governing body cannot stop tire companies entering F1 unless it institutes a single supplier policy, asking tiremakers to bid for the right to supply tires in F1. This would mean that the top teams could no longer enjoy their favored status. They are, therefore, opposed to the idea and at last week's Formula 1 Commission in London the big teams rejected a proposal to study a single tire supplier. Instead the team engineers will discuss how to contain lap times by other means. The subject, however, remains so sensitive that FIA president Max Mosley refuses to even discuss it.

Goodyear would obviously like to be the sole tire supplier in F1 and would be the logical candidate as its has been loyal to F1 while others have come and gone. The Akron, Ohio-based company entered F1 in 1965, and in the late 1960s and early 1970s was in competition with Firestone (now owned by Bridgestone) and Dunlop. Firestone pulled out in 1974. Michelin arrived with the Renault F1 team in 1977 and stayed until the end of 1984. This left Goodyear and Pirelli fighting it out until the end of 1986 when Pirelli pulled out. The Italians briefly returned in 1989-90-91, but since 1992 Goodyear has had F1 to itself.