Michelin's preparations for its entry into the Formula One arena in March 2001 took another step forward with a three-day test last week at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain. Four teams ran on the French manufacturer's tires - the three that completed Michelin's test schedule in Jerez earlier in the month were joined by the Prost Grand Prix team. Almost perfect testing conditions allowed Michelin to follow an exact schedule of casing construction and compound tests.
Michelin ran with the following teams at Barcelona: BMW WilliamsF1 Team, represented by Ralf Schumacher, Juan Pablo Montoya and Marc Gené ; Jaguar Racing, with Eddie Irvine and Luciano Burti ; Benetton Powered by Renault Sport with Giancarlo Fisichella and Jenson Button ; and Prost Grand Prix, running on Michelins for the first time, with Jean Alesi at the wheel. In addition to the tire test program, all the teams continued their own schedule of engine or aerodynamics testing, and many also used the occasion to try out young drivers.
With conditions at the circuit dry throughout the three days and with ground temperatures rising from about 60 F mid-morning to about 80 F by mid-afternoon, Michelin was able to complete its planned tire test schedule with most teams within the first two days. This gave the company the possibility to do some all-important endurance testing on the third day.
Barcelona is one of the hardest circuits on tires, with a very abrasive surface and a layout with several long right-handers which put the front left tire under increased loading. Overall, the Michelin engineers were happy with the results. Michelin's F1 Manager Pascal Vasselon said: "I'm pleased with the way things have gone here. We've been able to get through all the tests we wanted to and although lap times cannot genuinely be compared with times from other tests or of course this year's race, we would seem to be not too slow at this track. What is more important is that the lap times have been very consistent."
The BMW WilliamsF1 Team had three cars present at the test for its three drivers. Unfortunately, Ralf Schumacher was unable to complete the full program as he was diagnosed as suffering from flu, although he did complete more than 100 laps over the two days he was present. Of the session, WilliamsF1 Test Team Manager Tim Newton said: "We have been working closely and diligently with our partner Michelin in an effort to optimize the package to a race specification standard."
Jaguar Racing's Eddie Irvine completed 115 laps in the two days he was scheduled to be present, with Luciano Burti joined by German driver Andre Lotterer on the third day of testing. Burti said, "The test in Barcelona this week has been very productive. I have been out in the R1b and have been testing Michelins tires. Considering where we are at this point in the season, the R1b project is going very well. We have had a couple of teething problems but nothing major and I have managed to complete a race distance this week, which is encouraging. The gearbox is working very well as is the engine which are sometimes the problem areas when developing a new car.
"At Jerez, we had wet weather and the Michelin tires were very quick so I think they are going in the right direction. In the dry, we were a little slower so I feel there is some work to do but it is always going to be difficult entering Formula One when their opposition have the experience of four years in Formula One. I think we will really know the difference when we get to Melbourne and begin qualifying and the race and see who is the stronger in each area."
In the Benetton Powered by Renault Sport camp, Giancarlo Fisichella and Jenson Button both tested Michelin's latest tires in their B200 cars. In an agreement between the team and Minardi, they also gave the opportunity to Fernando Alonso to run in the car, in order to complete the necessary mileage to obtain his superlicence.
Prost Grand Prix's Jean Alesi was pleased with his first acquaintance with Michelin in F1. "I have to say above all that I am very pleased about the agreement between our team and Michelin. My first impressions are very positive. When you work with the people from Michelin, you get the feeling that they really listen to what you say. Technically, we have already this week seen the undeniable quality of their tires, but the simple fact of working with Michelin delights me!"
Michelin's Competition Director Pierre Dupasquier commented: "We've got some more important mileage under our belts with 'real' F1 cars and drivers. It's also important to be able to test at one of the circuits that will be used next year. The series of tests (Jerez, Barcelona and Estoril) before the end of 2000 should give us the right base to start our 2001 test program. However, I can only keep stressing that we can only assimilate a certain amount of knowledge before the first race and we face some very serious and experienced competition. There remains a huge hill to climb and I don't expect to see us winning or taking pole before 2003!"