Spanish GP: Michelin preview

A tough test for tyres The Formula One world and its followers are looking forward to this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix, the second European event of the season, with an equal blend of fervour and curiosity. Michelin motorsport director Pierre...

A tough test for tyres

The Formula One world and its followers are looking forward to this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix, the second European event of the season, with an equal blend of fervour and curiosity.

Michelin motorsport director Pierre Dupasquier says: "People are keen to know whether the excellent early-season form of West McLaren-Mercedes and Michelin is going to upset the F1 formbook in the long term, or whether their main rival's introduction of new chassis might re-establish last year's hierarchy. What we can say for sure is that the previous race in Imola confirmed the pace of the West McLaren-Mercedes/Kimi Räikkönen/Michelin combination and we picked up another healthy helping of championship points.

"There is one point I would like to stress about Imola. Some of the TV images highlighted the state of the right front tyre of Räikkönen's McLaren. While it might have looked quite smooth to the naked eye, the tyre had picked up lots of rubber from the track and this led to the grooves filling with debris. Once the tyres were hosed down it was clear that the wear rate had been negligible.

"We have a different challenge on our hands this weekend because the Circuit of Catalunya and Imola are not at all alike. Will our tyres be sufficiently fast and durable? We'll see on Sunday, but I feel confident."

Ralf Schumacher (BMW WilliamsF1 Team driver):

"Besides being a circuit where it is quite challenging to find a good balance for the car, due to the great variety of corners it presents, the Circuit de Catalunya requires harder tyres because of the high degradation in four high speed corners which also put high demands on aerodynamic efficiency. We have been testing with Michelin so much in Barcelona, that makes me very confident they will provide us with a very adequate tyre."

Pierre Dupasquier (Michelin motorsport director):

"It is vital to have a well-sorted chassis in Barcelona and getting the set-up right can be something of a delicate exercise. The circuit features a very long main straight and also has a number of fast, testing corners that place a great strain on tyres -- an issue compounded by the nature of the track surface, which is very abrasive.

"Aerodynamic balance plays a key role because there are several quick corners that demand a high level of downforce. At the same time, however, teams have to make sure they don't run too much wing because they don't want to compromise top-end speed on the main straight, which is one of the longest in the championship.

"Finally, the lap-time penalty for a heavy fuel load at this track equates to about 0.4 seconds per 10 kilos."

Technically speaking, with Pascal Vasselon (F1 project manager)

"We carried out an enormous amount of research and development work in barcelona last winter. Following the most recent series of tests, our five partner teams have chosen four dry-weather tyre options for this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix. They feature the same method of construction but the compounds are different and have not previously been used during a race weekend."

"You have to bear in mind a tyre's contact ratio -- the percentage of its theoretical contact patch that is physically in touch with the track surface at any one time. The more pores there are in the circuit, the greater the strain will be on parts of the tyre actually making contact. In Barcelona the contact ratio is relatively small -- the load on tyres is not spread evenly and that increases wear rates."

Tailoring tyres to specific tracks is one of the trickiest areas of the design process. Because of Barcelona's abrasive nature, Michelin naturally chooses compounds from the harder sector of its range. But would it be possible to test soft tyres in Barcelona? "It would," Pascal Vasselon says, "but you wouldn't achieve a great deal. For instance, we tried our soft Melbourne tyre in Barcelona and it began to grain substantially before the end of one lap. If you wanted to make a comparison between such tyres in Spain, you could only do so in the first sector of the track."

"And if you brought a Monaco tyre to Barcelona it would probably have peaked by the time you'd reached the end of the very long Turn Three. Although softer compounds generate more grip, in Barcelona they would still be slower from lap one than a tyre that is specially designed for the track. They would suffer an extreme rate of wear for several laps, improve slightly for a short while and then deteriorate again until they were completely spent."

"Pit stops in Barcelona take about 30 to 33 seconds, which is about average for the season as a whole. As was the case in Imola, some teams might opt to run a two-stop strategy -- but three will be an equally valid race option."


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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Ralf Schumacher , Kimi Raikkonen
Teams Mercedes , McLaren , Williams