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Focus - tyre war remains intense 05 Aug 2003

Tyres.
Formula One World Championship, Rd12, German Grand Prix, Preparations, Hockenheim, Germany, 31 July 2003

Sunday's German Grand Prix saw Michelin's most successful race result since its return to Formula One racing in 2001. Cars running on the French company's rubber filled the top six places, and rival Bridgestone's hopes of a podium ended, ironically, with a puncture for Michael Schumacher.

Michelin has undoubtedly been in the ascendancy in recent races - it has won four of the past six Grands Prix - but many would argue that this has been largely down to the improvement in Williams' form. Over the 2003 season as a whole, how do the two tyre suppliers really compare?

In terms of race victories there is nothing to split them - six apiece. Bridgestone has Ferrari to thank for five of its triumphs, with Giancarlo Fisichella's arguably fortuitous win in Brazil completing their tally. Meanwhile, Michelin's successes have come courtesy of McLaren (two wins) and Williams (four).

Look at pole positions and again the Japanese and French manufacturers are level pegging. Six to Bridgestone and Ferrari, and six to Michelin, shared between Williams (four), McLaren (one) and Renault (one).

Only when it comes to points and podiums does the gap between the two start to widen. From the ten races so far this year, Michelin has claimed a total of 23 top-three finishes, compared to Bridgestone's 13. Examine the points totals and the French company has scored over double that of its Japanese counterpart, 313 to 155.

Of course, statistics alone never tell the whole story. There are countless variables behind them. For example, Bridgestone currently relies on one top team for the bulk of its success, while Michelin has Williams, McLaren and even Renault all capable of winning races.

And this year's new qualifying regulations have only added to the complexities of tyre strategy. A light fuel load, soft rubber and two or three stops; or more fuel, harder, more durable tyres and less time in the pits? With so many new tactical factors involved, comparing the ultimate performance of the two companies' products is no longer easy.

What is clear though, and what matters to the Formula One fan, is that with only four rounds of the season remaining, the tyre war is as heated as ever. Just six points separates the top two contenders for the 2003 drivers' crown - one of them on Bridgestones and one on Michelins - with only two points between their respective teams at the top of the constructor standings.

Michelin is desperate to clinch its first championship since returning to the sport, while Bridgestone will be looking to go out in style at its home race, the season finale in Japan. "We hope to exact revenge," said the latter's Hisao Suganuma after losing in Germany. Rarely has the cliché 'gripping stuff' been more appropriate.