Michelin is 'totally committed' entering final F1 season
Groupe Michelin is preparing for its last Grand Prix season after annoucing that it would not return to Formula One racing in 2007. (The Federation Internationale De L'Automobile, or FIA, is planning to switch to a single tire supplier after the 2006 season.)
But Michelin is not giving up on this season, as the company's Formula One director, Nick Shorrock, reveals.
Q. How has Formula One's switch from V10 engines to V8s affected the loads to which tires are subjected?
A.: "Our tires are subjected to a reduced load on the straights, where speeds are lower than before. There is a possibility that cars will slide more when cornering, because drivers are using a different technique to get the best from their new engines, but so far vertical and lateral loads seem to be about the same as they were in 2005."
Q. Does a lighter, less powerful engine mean you can plump for softer tire compounds?
A.: "Initially, with cars apparently more prone to sliding around, it wasn't clear that this would be the case, but as testing as progressed there is generally a tendency to use softer compounds than we did in 2005."
Q. The latest regulations are designed to cut cornering speeds. Won't softer compounds make the cars faster?
A.: "It looks as though overall lap times will be slower this season, but in some instances cornering speeds might indeed be a little faster than before. That's not just a function of the tires -- the V8 engine requires less cooling than a V10 and allows more efficient aerodynamic packaging."
Q.: Typically, what is likely to be the difference in lap times between 2005 and 2006?
A.: "It will vary according to the nature of the circuit and will be more pronounced at high-speed tracks. At the moment 2.5 seconds per lap seems to fairly typical, although this will doubtless be reduced as engineers fine-tune their cars."
Q.: Is Michelin starting with a clean sheet of paper this season, or can you draw on data from 2004/2005?
A.: "It certainly isn't a fresh start. Last year there were a number of developments, particularly with regard to tire safety, that can be carried over into the new season. We have also been looking at some 2004 compounds that didn't work as well as we had hoped at the time, but which seem to suit the latest regulations.
"We are still in the throes of analyzing everything and I‘m sure there are many more evolutions to come. During the first of the winter tests we were simply finding our feet. Since then, we have made solid progress and have started to work on the tires we will use in the opening Grands prix of the season."
Q.: Michelin dominated in 2005. Do you expect your main rivals to be more competitive this year?
A.: "Michelin actively sought more balanced tire distribution in F1 for 2006 and has achieved that. It would be exceptional if we were to repeat last season's magnificent results, but being realistic we anticipate that some of our keenest rivals will up their game.
"We don't expect it to be easy, but we are confident that we can win again this season by offering our partners high performance products that will play a contributory role in their future successes."
Q.: "Have your working methods with the teams changed at all?
A.: "No. Everyone is going about their business in the usual, professional manner -- as they always do. That has been a constant since we returned to F1, just as it is in all the other disciplines in which Michelin is involved.
"It's certainly true that there has been a very open exchange of information between our partner teams so far this year. We are all working together to accumulate valuable data as quickly as possible. There has been some very productive collaboration and there is a real sense of team spirit."
Q.: When did the manufacturing process begin for the 2006 tires?
A.: "November -- but you have to remember that the regulation regarding the reintroduction of mid-race tire changes wasn't confirmed until October 24."
Q.: How many tires will you have tested before the season begins in earnest?
A.: "About 16,000 -- we run about 2,000 at each of eight major test sessions. At present we are testing about five-six compounds and four-five casings at every test."
Q.: Have you actually finalized tire selection for any of the opening races?
A.: "Our first job has been to develop tires that provide consistent speed, durability and balance on a 2006-spec chassis. We are now in the process of tailoring the rubber to specific tracks.
"The weather in southern Spain is now milder, which gives us a better baseline for forthcoming races such as Bahrain and Malaysia, although our experience enables us to extrapolate information very accurately even when we test in cold conditions."
Q.: Michelin is withdrawing from F1 at the end of the 2006 season. How will this impact upon the development program?
A.: "It won't. Everybody remains totally committed -- and our advanced research team will be able to focus all its efforts on this year, rather than dividing its time between the present season and longer-term projects."
Q.: How do those in Michelin's motorsport division feel about the decision to quit F1?
A.: "Formula One is widely regarded as the pinnacle of motorsport and Michelin has done a very good job since it returned in 2001, particularly last year. It's a pity that we won't be carrying on, but everyone here understands the reasons why.
"Next year, all of the F1 personnel will move on to new, equally challenging roles within Michelin. In the meantime, our motivation is as strong as ever."