JANUARY 20, 1997
Ferrari and Bridgestone
MICHAEL SCHUMACHER left the Italian media speechless last week during the Marlboro-sponsored week of skiing at Madonna di Campiglio when he said that Japanese tiremaker Bridgestone is to supply Ferrari with tires in 1997.
"Bridgestone will be supplying Ferrari, along with Goodyear in 1997," Schumacher said. "This is a good thing. I like to test tires. And it means that Goodyear will have to try harder."
The German's comments were later included in information diffused by Marlboro, Ferrari's sponsor - despite the fact that Goodyear sources said that such a deal would be impossible because the American tire company has a solid contract with Ferrari until the end of 1998.
Ferrari signed with Goodyear early last year but in recent months the Bridgestone tires have been showing particularly well in testing with Arrows and Ligier. In November Schumacher opened fire on Goodyear, saying that it had "become a little lazy".
This appears to have been a heavy-handed attempt to convince Goodyear bosses that they should create tires specifically for Schumacher's style of driving. Goodyear refuses to do this as it does not want to upset its five other contracted teams.
Bridgestone is planning to design tires to match Damon Hill's driving style but the Japanese would - no doubt - jump at the chance to supply Ferrari and Schumacher.
This would be to the detriment of Arrows and Hill but would make a great deal of sense for Bridgestone, the only worry being that Ferrari would take the credit for winning but could blame the tires if it did not win a race.
The timing of Schumacher's comments is interesting. There is still time for new rubber to be developed before the season begins - Hill is only just starting serious Bridgestone testing - while Schumacher has already tested the Ferrari F310B and will already know how competitive it can be. It may be that Michael and his bosses at Ferrari have concluded that the new car will not be good enough to win races on Goodyears and that - in a desperate attempt to live up to expectations of a minimum of four wins - they need Bridgestones and have decided to deliberately break the Goodyear contract.
Schumacher's comments may, of course, have been designed simply as a way of warning Goodyear that Ferrari is willing to do all this if the Akron tiremaker does not agree to make tires specifically for the German. It is unlikely that Goodyear bosses will allow themselves to be pressured by threats.
Either way it is a high-risk policy - which suggests that Schumacher and Ferrari are jittery about their chances in 1997. Some sources suggest that there are already some Bridgestone tires at Maranello.