MAY 6, 1996
This week at Imola
The Imola test will see major tire development work by Goodyear and its five contracted teams: Ferrari, Williams, Benetton, McLaren and Sauber. We expect the Akron tire company to run qualifying tires for the first time this year to see the kind of leap we can expect if there is to be a tire war next year. Goodyear is doing the work as it expects Bridgestone and possibly even Michelin to arrive in F1 next year.
Goodyear is so aware of the Bridgestone threat that last weekend Stu Grant - Leo Mehl's replacement as Goodyear's head of worldwide racing - flew in from America for talks with F1 bosses, notably Bernie Ecclestone.
Ecclestone is believed to be keen on introducing a single tire supplier in F1, but some of the teams - notably the bigger operations which will have both financial and performance gains in the case of a tire war - refuse to agree to an auction among the tire companies for the contract to supply F1.
The FIA is believed to be keen to stop a tire war as this would cause serious problems in terms of safety, would add another variable which could disrupt the F1 show, and would be much more expensive for the smaller teams. The F1 circus currently pays around $600 a tire, but Goodyear tends to allow teams to build up credit. In the past this has led to problems with teams which have been short of money. Goodyear is believed to be warning teams that prices will not only go up dramatically, but also they will be supplied only if paid for.
Bridgestone, which says it will enter F1 in 1998 but is expected to arrive at the start of next year, was well represented at Imola with Bridgestone Motorsport boss Hiroshi Yasukawa being joined by tire designer Hirohide Hamashima. We understand, incidentally, that although McLaren has not had direct talks with Bridgestone there has been considerable contact between Bridgestone and Mercedes-Benz - the two companies already working closely in German touring car racing.
As a result of the tire situation we can expect to see some dramatic lap times being recorded in the next few days.