Bridgestone and Michelin on racing in the desert
The Bahrain Grand Prix is the first of two new races on the 2004 calendar and will present some never before encountered challenges to Formula One racings two tyre manufacturers.
Along with their partner teams, Bridgestone and Michelin have had to study the nature of the circuit and its track surface as closely as possible using computer simulation programmes. This, along with simulation tests, has allowed them to prepare the compounds and constructions they feel will be best suited to the conditions.
Bridgestone will be transporting 1,400 tyres to the Sakhir circuit. The Japanese company will once again be using its newly developed hot weather compounds and technicians have already narrowed the choice of specifications for Bahrain down to four for their four teams.
"The first half of the Sakhir circuit features tight corners whilst the latter half consists of several high speed directional changes, said Hisao Suganuma, Bridgestones Technical Manager. From a tyre point of view this means that we need good tyre stability. As long as large amounts of sand have not blown on track, we expect the surface to be smooth, requiring a mid to soft range compound.
And of course, we have had to think carefully about temperatures because whilst we expect track temperatures to be above 50C, ambient temperatures may not rise above 30C. This is because the dark colouring of the tarmac surface will retain heat. We therefore need to prepare tyres again with good grip and heat durability. Following our encouraging results from Malaysia, we think we have just the tyres for the job."
Michelin are similarly satisfied that they are as prepared as they can be for the challenge of Bahrain. It might be hot, but our investigations indicate that the circuit wont place particularly extreme loads on tyres, unlike tracks such as Barcelona, said Pascal Vasselon, the French companys Formula One programme manager. We plan to take three dry-weather tyre options, both from the middle segment of our range.
Our calculations suggest that the fuel penalty will be somewhere between 0.3s and 0.35s per lap for every extra 10kg, but it is difficult to come up with a precise figure until the cars have turned a wheel in anger. Preparing for events such as this adds an interesting new twist to the season and I am confident.
The one factor that everyone is talking about in reference to Bahrain is the sand, and both Bridgestone and Michelin admit it is one of the few things they cannot totally prepare for.
As for sand - we just don't know, said Suganuma. It is difficult to predict what will happen but if sand does get on to the track, then grip will be reduced. But, this is just one of those "X" factors you cannot control.
Pierre Dupasquier, Michelins motorsport director, added: "We dont know much about what lies ahead, although it will definitely be hot and there is a risk that sand will blow onto the track, a factor that will significantly decrease the level of grip and accelerate the rate of tyre wear. What I can say for certain, however, is that Michelins extensive pre-race research has allowed us to prepare as thoroughly as possible.
Michelin will be hoping for their first victory of the 2004 season in Bahrain, having lost out to Bridgestone at the opening two rounds. They have, however, outscored their rivals so far by 44 points to 34.