- Auto Racing - Williams' Head expects tire conflict

Tuesday, January 30
Williams' Head expects tire conflict

LONDON -- The return of "tire wars" to Formula One could lead to courtroom drama early in the season, according to Williams boss Patrick Head.

The team's technical director said at the weekend launch of the new Williams FW23 that the lack of a clear rule definition on tire wear left the door wide open to controversy involving the two rival suppliers.

"It might well happen once and then there will be a ruling, you know the way things happen in Formula One," said the team's co-founder when asked if he expected many races to be decided in the appeal court in 2001.

"There will be a big hoo-ha about it once and one of the companies will put in a protest about the other and then there will be some sort of decision about it.

"I can't see that it will happen at every race because it will just become very boring press.

"I suspect it will happen once and I suspect that it might be early in the season."

Tires have been uncontroversial for the past two seasons with Japanese manufacturer Bridgestone supplying all 11 teams after Goodyear quit at the end of 1998.

But Michelin are returning this season, supplying Williams, Jaguar, Benetton and Prost, and the French manufacturer fears that the rivalry between the two suppliers might lead to post-race chaos.

"Nobody wants to see a driver winning the race, heading the championship and everything, and two hours later being told the wear on the tire was too high," warned Michelin motorsport boss Pierre Dupasquier last year.

Deliberate decision
Head said the ruling International Automobile Federation (FIA) had "obviously deliberately chosen not to make any definition of what constitutes a grooved tire and what constitutes a slick tire.

"I suspect it's not by accident."

Under FIA rules, Formula One tires must each have four grooves at least 2.5 millimeters deep. Slicks -- fast, smooth tires -- were banned at the end of the 1997 season in an attempt to limit top speeds.

However,the state of tires at the finish remains a grey area and last season some cars were finishing races with the grooves on their tires almost worn away, making them tantamount to slicks according to some.

No one would have been in a position to complain in 2000 but this year an aggrieved rival could question the legality of the other manufacturer's tires.

"We have seen some races, certainly last year, where Bridgestone -- very obviously knowing that they were going to be up against a competitor this year -- definitely pushed the limits on compounds," said Head.

"We definitely saw some races where some tires came off the car at the end of the races that didn't appear to have much in the way of grooves in them.

"I know Michelin tried very hard to get the FIA to at least make some comment on what basis they would decide whether a tire conformed or didn't.

"The FIA chose not to do so."