Formula One racing's tyre suppliers on Sepang
Many are expecting Michelin to fight back in the stickier conditions of Kuala Lumpur following rivals Bridgestone's emphatic one-two with Ferrari at the opening round of the season in Australia.
The Sepang International Circuit can rightly claim to host one of the hottest motor racing events in the world. Last year ambient air temperatures of up 36 degrees Celsius were recorded during the race, whilst track temperatures reached a sweltering 53C.
"Preparing suitable tyres for Sepang presents one or two obvious difficulties, explained Pascal Vasselon, Michelins Formula One programme manager. This is usually the hottest race of the year and track temperatures can reach 55 degrees. That isnt a problem in itself, but it is not practical to test in Malaysia and we have to develop tyres for these conditions while running at European circuits during the winter, when ground temperatures are typically between 10 and 20 degrees. This makes it difficult, as conditions are obviously very different. Our previous experience and record at Sepang make things a little easier and we are getting better all the time at analysing and correlating data from various circuits in Europe to prepare for conditions like those found in Malaysia.
The 5.543km Sepang track requires tyre compounds from the softer end of the range in order to give the cars good traction and grip on the track's smooth surface. Bridgestone will be bringing approximately 1,400 tyres to the Malaysian Grand Prix this year. These comprise of seven specifications of tyres and all feature newly developed compounds to combat the high temperatures.
"We have tested long and hard for races like Malaysia and the time has come to see if we have done our homework, said Hisao Suganuma, Bridgestones Technical Manager. There are many factors to take into account when developing tyres for Sepang but consistency in the heat is one area we have concentrated on. A significant part of our winter development programme was dedicated to making sure we are competitive in the heat this year. We know we have made important improvements and I'm looking forward to showing off our progress - just as we did in Melbourne.
In addition to heat durability, tyres for Malaysia also need to be able to cope with the high speed directional changes so stability of the tyres is important for a good lap time. We finalised the tyre specifications for our teams after the Australian Grand Prix during testing in Spain and although weather conditions did hamper us a little, we got some excellent data which suggests our teams should be competitive in Malaysia."
Michelin are equally confident, especially given their excellent record at Sepang. The French company scored the first podium finish of its Formula One comeback campaign at the circuit in 2001 and has been undefeated there since 2002.
"The season is still in its infancy but Malaysia is clearly a very important race because it will help to give us a clearer idea of this years hierarchy, said Pierre Dupasquier, Michelin motorsport director. We dominated this event in 2003, when Fernando Alonso qualified on pole position for Renault and Kimi Raikkonen strolled to a comfortable victory for McLaren.
"That doesnt mean we will take anything for granted as we pursue a Malaysian hat trick, but we are confident that our six partners will have tyres that are capable of winning the race. Our main rival team performed very strongly two weeks ago in Australia but that simply inspires us in our quest to deliver ever better performance. We thrive on a challenge its part of the Michelin culture.
After one round of the 2004 season, Michelin have scored 21 world championship points to Bridgestones 18.