Michelin's monopoly milestone

Michael Schumacher might have made a modest start to his 2003 Formula 1 campaign, but Michelin did not. Although the pace of the Bridgestone-shod Ferraris was clear to see, history will show that the podium of the 2003 Australian Grand Prix was - for the first time since it returned to grand prix racing two years ago - comprised exclusively of Michelin runners

Michelin's monopoly milestone

The tyre companies traded punches through practice. McLaren (Michelin) occupied the top of the times on Friday, while on Saturday it was BAR (Bridgestone), with Renault (Michelin) taking the honours in the second session. First qualifying went to Michelin - with six partner teams in the top 10 but final qualifying - the most significant session of the weekend so far - was a disaster, with just three out of the top 10 on French rubber.

Equally worrying for Michelin was the fact that up until Saturday qualifying only two of the five available compounds had been taken up by the teams. In final qualifying that rose to four and these would be the tyres used for the race. But evidence that the alternatives were only complicating matters, and not offering teams the solutions they were after, was inconclusive.

McLaren, Renault and Jaguar blamed driver error for their poor qualifying performances under the new one-shot format, while the traditionally slow-off-the-mark (on GP weekends) Williams team had only just begun to show its pace.

The track was damp on race day but a strong wind rapidly dried the surface and changed everything. Having opted for wet tyres in warm-up, eventual race-winner David Coulthard pitted for dries on the second lap of the race, while Juan Pablo Montoya, who started on dries, twice had a comfortable lead wiped out by the Safety Car. In the end Michelin drivers occupied six of the top eight finishing positions.

Michelin's motorsport director Pierre Dupasquier was modest about the outcome: "Today's result was partly affected by the weather and partly by the Safety Car periods, so it is hard to draw any firm conclusions, but it is clear that our tyres were fast, consistent and very durable."

What happens at the next race in Malaysia will be particularly interesting from a tyre point of view. In 2002 the French manufacturer enjoyed its best advantage over Bridgestone there.

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