From Clermont to Clermont a triumphant tale
Michelin's second Formula One adventure lasted six seasons, from 2001 until 2006. During that time the Clermont-Ferrand manufacturer scooped 43 grand prix victories... and four world titles.
Competition is a way of life for Michelin it is rooted in the company's genes. It has always been and remains the ultimate research laboratory when it comes to evaluating technological innovations in extreme conditions. In short, it is a powerful catalyst for progress.
Michelin took part in its first motor race Paris-Bordeaux-Paris in 1895. Its products were fitted to an Éclair, the first car ever to run on pneumatic tyres.
The company has worked relentlessly ever since to push back new technological boundaries. When it entered its maiden Formula One grand prix, at Silverstone on July 161977, it was part of a mission to prove the superiority of its radial tyres. That race has entered motorsport folklore because it wasn't just the beginning of the Michelin F1 story: its groundbreaking radials were fitted to the Renault RS01, a revolution in itself because it was the first F1 car to feature a turbocharged engine. Rival British teams nicknamed it the "yellow teapot", but it wasn't long before turbos and radials became F1's technology of choice. Turbochargers were subsequently legislated out of the sport, but F1 tyres feature radial carcasses to this day.
Michelin scored its maiden grand prix victory in 1978, when Carlos Reutemann (Ferrari) won in Brazil. It was to be the first of many such successes and the story concluded at the end of the 1984 season, when Niki Lauda clinched his third world title at the end of a 16-race campaign during which Michelin won 14 times. The company had effectively proved the superiority of its radials and, after winning 59 times in 112 grands prix, it was an appropriate moment to bow out.
The scent of competition never ceased to excite Michelin's board of directors and so it was that, 15 years later, in December 1999, Edouard Michelin confirmed the company would be returning to F1.
The company's F1 comeback race would be the 2001 Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne and it spent the whole of 2000 developing suitable tyres. Michelin test drivers Tom Kristensen and Jörg Müller evaluated more than 3,000 tyres at various circuits and accumulated more than 10,000 kilometres the equivalent of about 20 grands prix during the year.
To make the challenge even more daunting for Michelin, several top-line teams immediately committed to use its products. BMW WilliamsF1, Renault Sport, Jaguar Racing, Prost Acer and European Minardi all signed up with Michelin and those behind the project were able to breathe a sigh of relief when the 2001 campaign ended: Michelin netted four wins and four pole positions on its return to F1.
Michelin scored "only" two F1 victories the following season, but made significant and positive advances with its range of dry-weather tyres.
That much was evident in 2003, the project's third season. Michelin was no longer a promising returnee but a serious world championship contender. Competition at this level of motorsport is ferocious and Michelin's technical progress enabled its partners to perform very strongly on the track. Michelin teams scored seven wins and 30 podium finishes. The highlight of the year was the Hungarian GP, where Michelin cars took a clean sweep of the top seven places. The company had clearly demonstrated its ability to give its partners a tyre advantage.
Such was Ferrari's margin of superiority during the 2004 F1 season that Michelin had to settle for only three wins albeit with three different chassis, a factor that underlined the company's ability to provide a tyre that worked effectively on a range of different cars.
Michelin emerged as the sport's dominant tyre force in 2005, when it won 18 of 19 grands prix. Fernando Alonso became world champion on Michelin tyres and his team, Renault F1, took the title for constructors. It was a clean sweep but, shortly before the end of the campaign, Michelin confirmed that it would be pulling out of F1 once again at the end of 2006.
Its farewell season turned out to be equally splendid, because Michelin swept to another F1 world title double with Fernando Alonso and Renault, adding nine more victories to its tally along the way.
Michelin's second F1 engagement began in Clermont-Ferrand, from where Edouard Michelin announced the news in December 1999. Seven years later, appropriately, that's where the story ended. Today, December 122006, Heikki Kovalainen completed a demonstration run through the streets of Clermont-Ferrand at the wheel of last year's world championship-winning Renault R25. It marked the last scheduled appearance of an F1 car on Michelin tyres.
From Clermont to Clermont, the wheel has turned full circle.