News and views on motorsports

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Sauber to use Michelins

It looks like what was discussed here has come to pass. Sauber have secured themselves a spot of Michelin tyres for the 2005 season. In fact, this is taking effect immediately. So the "winter world championships" will be run by Sauber with Michelins. This leaves only Ferrari as the most significant Michelin runner. However, I believe there is a rule somewhere that a tyre supplier has a maximum number of teams it can supply, which could mean that Bridgestone are looking for new teams. The grapevine points to Toyota as the most likely team. Perhaps BAR Honda too will be considering it as well.

From news report at PlanetF1, it seems that Sauber are unhappy with the way Bridgestone tyres perform in single lap qualifying. This is as far as I know, the only official reason given for the switch. It seems like a very silly reason to switch. After all, qualifying is one thing but the race is quite another thing altogether. Bridgestone as far as the 2004 season is concerned has performed magnificently during race conditions. In fact, Bridgestone was clearly the tyre to have. Ferrari used it to devastating effect. Look at the performance in Monza for an indication.

I suppose we should look at why Michelin would want to supply Sauber having so many good teams in their books already. No news reports have given any indication for this reason. I think perhaps this gives Michelin more revenues? I suppose a greater number of teams will also look good when the results come in. If every car finished 70% of them will be on Michelins. In fact the top ten would probably be Michelin runners in most races. After all, only Jordan and Minardi remain as the other Bridgestone runners. From a testing standpoint, this is probably a chance for Michelin to get even more feedback and data for development.

The conspiracy theorist in me however, thinks that Ferrari will be rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of their Swiss servants feeding them Michelin performance data. I mean, come on. Why else would their servants be switching to an inferior tyre? It just boggles the mind. During his press conferences next year, Michael Schumacher should not only thank the Ferrari team and the test drivers but also Sauber for pulling their pants down and bending over.

Jokes aside though, Bridgestone must also be reeling from this. After all, they can only rely on Ferrari for development. PlanetF1 suggests that this dissuade Ferrari to agree to testing cuts. After all, with so many Michelin runners they would be at a real disadvantage if testing were to go unchecked. Bridgestone will need all the running they can get for their tyre development. Its one thing to run simulations on a computer but real world running is still indispensible. In fact, if at the mid season, Bridgestone are not doing well, there will be enormous frustration of the fact that they can't test their new tyre developments. Look back at 1998. With unlimited testing, Ferrari were able to work with Goodyear to produce a new front tyre that helped counter the McLaren domination. With reduced testing, I don't think Bridgestone will be able to do the same, if that situation comes about.

BAR made a successful switch to Michelin in 2004. However, I believe their progress had a lot to do with the aero, chassis and engine improvements. It will be interesting to see how Sauber progress with Michelin come 2005.

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