A fond farewell to Michelin 17 Oct 2006
Michelin could wrap up their second consecutive title double in Brazil this weekend. If they do, it will be their last for the foreseeable future, as the French company will then be bidding farewell to Formula One racing, which switches to a single tyre supplier (Bridgestone) for 2007.
But Michelin have come and gone from the sport before. The French company first appeared in 1977 in partnership with Renault. They were winning less than six months later - courtesy of Carlos Reutemann and Ferrari at the 1978 Brazilian Grand Prix - and success with the Scuderia continued in 79, the Italian team taking both constructors and drivers crowns on Michelin rubber.
They were the sports sole supplier for much of 1981, after Goodyears temporary withdrawal left them responsible for the entire grid for seven events. Rising admirably to the challenge, the French company won 13 of 15 races.
They narrowly missed out on both championships in 1982, before Brabhams Nelson Piquet secured the second Michelin drivers title in 83. They went one better the following season, again doing the double, this time with Niki Lauda and McLaren. But then, with 59 wins, three drivers titles and two constructors crowns under their belts, Michelin unexpectedly called time on their Formula One career.
Fifteen years on the sidelines followed before, in 1999, Michelin announced their return. After testing 3000 tyres and covering over 10,000 development kilometres, the Bibendum was restored to the grid in 2001 - a supplier to five teams. Although both McLaren and Ferrari - the teams with whom they had enjoyed so much earlier success - were committed to Bridgestone, Williams marked Michelins glorious return with four wins, four pole positions and four fastest laps - quite a comeback!
Success proved more elusive in 2002, but with McLaren back on side for 2003, the French company came within a whisker of claiming another championship, as Kimi Raikkonen narrowly lost out to the mighty Schumacher-Ferrari-Bridgestone alliance. Michelin took consolation, however, from their teams seven victories (from a possible 16) and no less than 30 podiums (from a possible 48).
Bridgestone and Ferrari dominated 2004, with Michelin scoring just three wins, but in 2005 Renault and Fernando Alonso clinched the championship double and afforded the French supplier their first title in 21 years. This season Michelin celebrated their 100th Formula One win - with Alonsos Canadian victory in June - and, following Ferraris engine woe in Japan, now look on track to close their second foray into Formula One racing with yet another title triumph.
Despite the success, its a foray that has not been without drama. Midway through 2003 Michelin were forced to introduce an all-new front tyre after it was alleged their original design became illegally wide once used. Last years infamous events at Indianapolis soured relations with the FIA, whilst the 2005 retirement of longstanding motorsport director Pierre Dupasquier and the death of Edouard Michelin in a boating accident earlier this year both represented significant internal watersheds.
Last December Michelin announced they were to again withdraw from Formula One racing, blaming the proposed single-supplier regulations, which they felt removed the key reason for their participation - competition. Some will no doubt agree with Michelins thinking, but many others believe that one tyre for all will actually lead to far closer racing. One thing is for sure - the colour and passion that Michelin brought to the sport will be sorely missed.