THE FINE ART OF TYRE MAKING
French rubber company Michelin returns in 2001
The Michelin & Cie company had been founded in the year 1863. From the early beginning they had their headquarters in Clermont Ferrand, that lies in the middle of France, in the massif central mountains of the Auvergne. In the sixties and seventies Clermont Ferrand was the host of the Grand Prix of France on their Circuit Charade track being a very demanding road circuit, often being called the "French Nürburgring".
Michelin had been the tyre supplier for the first ever race car winning an event called Grand Prix. That had been the Renault of Hungarian driver Ferencz Szisc in the year 1906. This first Grand Prix in history had taken place at the French town of Le Mans as a two days`event. The Grand Prix itself consisted of two rounds, one each day, being driven on dirty public roads causing a lot of punctures. The Renault had got a very great advantage, because it´s tyres could be completely taken off with the wheel for the first time, that made the often tyre changes decisive time faster than that of the other competitors.
Together with Renault, for many decades owned by the French state, and oil company elf, Michelin belongs to the most important representatives of France`s industry in the world giving decisive impulses to the country´s economy suffering under a serious crisis during the seventies and eighties of the past century. Michelin had been the pioneer in producing radial tyres for road purposes, a technology that makes tyres living longer and cars becoming safer by getting a better handling. Radial tyres also reduce the cars´ fuel consumption, a fact that had become of great importance for the first time during the energy crisis of the 1973/74 winter.
Radial tyres were unknown in Grand Prix racing until Michelin entered the scene at the 1977 British Grand Prix 1977 in Silverstone. Once again it was together with Renault. The French car manufacturer had been testing their car,at that time being the only one on the grid being powered by a 1.5 litre turbocharged engine instead of the 3.0 litre normally aspirated units used by all other compititors, since 1975. But reliabilty always was a problem until 1979. The time Renault spent in private test sessions was a useful experience for Michelin developing their radial philosophy, but behind the scenes it had been no secret, that the French tyre company had been engaged with Ferrari since 1969 for unofficial tyre testing. For 1978 Michelin officially signed a contract with Ferrari, also still remaining with Renault, and success came their way very fast: Carlos Reutemann won 4, Gilles Villeneuve 1 Grand Prix that year.
Another step forward was made the following year. Jody Scheckter in a Ferrari on Michelin tyres won the worldchampionship, his team mate Gilles Villeneuve came home second and Ferrari won the constructors` worldchampionship. The same year the turbo powered Renault cars started winning with a first triumph of Jean-Pierre Jabouille in Dijion to their credit. The age of radial tyres had begun in Grand Prix racing and also great Michelin rival Goodyear switched to that technology very soon. Making tyres always is a science, but in the case of French Michelin it is also a fine art.
Until the early 90s qualifying tyres were the great challenge for the tyre companies involved in Grand Prix racing. Only 2 sets of them per driver and session were allowed and so it was no wonder, that Ayrton Senna, who had started his Formula One career in 1984 at Toleman with Michelin tyres, became the master of qualifying. Qualifying rubber had a very short time to live, only one fast lap was possible before the set had to be put into the garbage can. For this reason qualifying tyres later were banned by the governing body F.I.A. . But, no doubt, with more than one company competing, the tyre war is still in action. Millions of US-$ can be invested into the development of engines, aerodynamics or lighter materials, the progress in reducing lap times radically comes from the tyres a lot lot faster.
The tyre companies do not fight against each other on a sporting base, they also compete on the world´s markets to convince both the car manufacturers and their customers of their products. The first should take them as the basic equipment of their vehicles sold, the last should buy them, when the car´s first set is over.
Grand Prix racing also is the perfect base for research and development for the tyre companies. That gives enormous progress to the tyres used for road purposes no laboratory can guarantee for. It is the pressure of the fastest and highest qualified competition in the world that make things go so well.
Inspite of winning 15 Grand Prix with Renault, Michelin was not able to win the worldchampionship with their fellow team of the Grande Nation. On the other hand sucess came their way with two very important teams and their very popular drivers: In 1983 Nelson Piquet won the title in the parmalat Brabham BMW and in 1984 Niki Lauda succeeded in the Marboro McLaren TAG. The finish of the Austrian against his team mate Alain Prost was the closest in Grand Prix history: Lauda was only 0.5 points ahead at the end of the championship.
Testing 2000 for Michelin: Jörg Müller (D), Williams BMW FW21B and Tom Kristensen (DK), Stewart Ford SF3
Jörg Müller in the Williams BMW FW21B testing at the BMW owned test track of Miramas in Southern France.
This is the perspective often given by Michelin to their rivals.
The past, the present and the future. Michelin head of sports Pierre Dupasquier.
Years Competing: 1977 - 1984
Grand Prix. 111
Fastest Laps: 59
1979: Jody Scheckter (ZA), Ferrari 312T4
1983: Nelson Piquet (BR), Brabham BMW BT52
1984: Niki Lauda (A), McLaren TAG MP4/2
Photos copyright by DPPI/Michelin
© 2000 by researchracing
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