San Marino GP: Michelin preview

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After a hectic schedule of three races on as many different continents in less than a month, Formula One returns to its heartland this weekend for the San Marino Grand Prix – the European season’s traditional starting point.

The 4.933-kilometre (3.065-mile) track is situated on the outskirts of the town with which it shares its name. It hosted its first F1 world championship event in 1980 – when the Italian GP was moved away from Monza for the only time in its history – and has been a permanent fixture on the calendar ever since.

When the Italian GP returned to its traditional home the following season, the San Marino GP title was created for Imola. The race is named after a small republic – allegedly the world’s oldest – that is located not far from the track and is home to 28,500 people.

On May 3 1981, Nelson Piquet (Brabham-Ford) won the inaugural San Marino GP on Michelin tyres. Bibendum triumphed here again three years later, during the final season of its original F1 adventure, thanks to Alain Prost (McLaren-TAG turbo).

When Michelin returned to the sport in 2001, it took just four races to resume its winning ways. Imola was the venue and Ralf Schumacher – then driving for the BMW WilliamsF1 Team – left his rivals trailing. Schumacher was also Michelin’s leading runner in last season’s corresponding fixture, when he took his Williams-BMW to third place.

Although the circuit has a reputation as a Ferrari stronghold – the team’s factory is nearby and the spectator banks tend to be a sea of red – Michelin and its seven partner teams can approach the first of this season’s 11 European F1 races with absolute confidence. Unbeaten so far this season, Michelin will be chasing its fifth consecutive F1 victory – and its 79th in all – at Imola.

Pierre Dupasquier, Michelin motorsport director:

”The first three grands prix of the 2005 season have been very rewarding for Michelin. Our excellent results are the fruit of much dedicated work carried out by our research and development teams. During the winter, we conducted countless computer simulations using refined mathematical models. Our systematic approach allowed us to evaluate many, many tyre options – and only the most promising made it as far as the track-testing stage."

“All this work resulted in some fresh constructions and compounds that were tailor- made for the latest regulations. I’m not sure that people appreciated the full extent of our labours: we weren’t simply creating tyres that maintained strong, consistent performance over a full race distance – they also had to be compatible with chassis that had been significantly altered in terms of aerodynamic downforce."

“Our development programme benefited a great deal from work we conducted in parallel with our seven partner teams, which allowed us to analyse and compare all their feedback. Furthermore, our strenuous preparations helped to broaden our research team’s field of expertise."

“The rule that permits tyre companies to compete against each other in Formula One drives our constant quest to come up with new ideas, to develop them and to remain ahead of the competition. It also creates a valuable baseline that enables us to assess the quality of our work. Michelin applies the same competitive philosophy to every motorsport discipline in which it competes."

"In addition to our recent F1 successes, last weekend’s victories in the New Zealand round of the World Rally Championship and the MotoGP season-opener at Jerez have given us added cause for satisfaction."

“For this weekend’s race at Imola, which marks F1’s return to Europe, we have taken into account the frequently fierce braking and the aggressive approach drivers tend to take with the kerbs. We also had to bear in mind the track’s distinctive characteristics, because the surface isn’t uniform around the lap’s full length."

"The tyres specifications we have selected have been developed with the aforementioned factors in mind. They are all new and they have not been used this season.”

Driver perspective:
Jarno Trulli, Panasonic Toyota Racing:

"We have enjoyed a very successful opening to our 2005 campaign, with two podiums in three races, and Michelin has helped by providing highly competitive tyres. Our test drivers Olivier Panis and Ricardo Zonta worked on Michelin tyre evaluation at Paul Ricard recently, which allowed us to replicate the cooler track conditions that we will face in San Marino."

"Imola can be a hard circuit for tyres - particularly on the first day, when the surface tends to be really dusty.” "Like most teams, we are introducing a revised aerodynamic package for this first European race of the season, but Imola has traditionally been a tough track for Toyota. I prefer to keep my feet on the ground and will wait until we start running in earnest before gauging our competitiveness."

Technical focus
“Handling the pressure”

There is much more to Formula One rubber than a simple blend of compound and construction. Manufacturers fine-tune countless parameters during the design process – and must also understand how to gauge the correct pressure level when a tyre hits the track.

Formula One chassis run with significantly lower tyre pressures than everyday road cars. Typically, they are inflated to 1.0-1.5 bar – and with good reason. Lower pressures generate higher levels of grip, because they allow tyres to change shape more readily and adapt themselves to a circuit’s contours.

The correct pressure varies from track to track and striking the right balance involves a degree of delicate compromise. For instance, pressures might be raised or lowered to accommodate particular circuit characteristics, such as high-speed sweeps or, at the other end of the scale, slow corners. Teams often experiment with tyre pressures and might run different levels front to rear in order to adjust the balance of their chassis. Drivers are very sensitive to such subtle variations.

With mid-race tyre changes having been outlawed, engineers have devised ways to adjust pressures very quickly during refuelling stops – a factor that can significantly influence the way a car handles. Michelin determines the most appropriate tyre pressures according to the nature of each circuit.

The company’s seven partner teams endeavour to remain within the accepted tolerances while minimising tyre wear and optimising chassis balance. It’s a complex equation – but then F1 has never been an easy sport.


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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Jarno Trulli , Ralf Schumacher , Olivier Panis , Ricardo Zonta , Nelson Piquet
Teams Ferrari , McLaren , Williams , Toyota Racing