By Karl Ludvigsen, England
Autosport-Atlas Senior Writer
The European Grand Prix highlighted once more the key role the tyres are having this season and, true to Michelin's predictions, the teams have been blaming their tyres for many of their problems. Karl Ludvigsen looks at the winners and whiners of the Nurburgring race
As self-appointed chairman of the 'Stop Kimi Club', I took a lot of satisfaction from the last lap of the last Grand Prix. Again we had three authentic Nice Guys on the podium. This was the first real race of all the contestants this season, with Juan Pablo Montoya back in the saddle, Ferrari with their latest equipment, and BAR back in the fight on a track that didn't greatly favor one team over another. It was a result that said that - Monaco excepted - Renault have the hang of the new tyre rules, BMW Williams are getting their act together, and Ferrari will still be a force to reckon with.
Speaking of Monaco, what a relief it was to get away from the Principality with all its hype and posing to the uplands of Germany's Eifel region with its cows, campers and caravans. I mean, diamonds on helmets and Star Wars characters in the paddock - give me a break! As well, the change from Monaco to Germany showed what a difference a TV director can make. At the 'Ring we had tremendous coverage of an action-packed race, not least with multi-angle replays. As Monaco proved, it's no use having all these battles up and down the field if the director doesn't want to show them to us.
One expectation for the season has been fulfilled in generous measure. I refer to the forecast, back in February, that drivers and teams may tend to blame their tyre providers for any drop-off in car performance. Making this prophecy, Michelin's Pierre Dupasquier said that the responsibility for maintaining rubber in good shape throughout a race wouldn't be the sole responsibility of the tyre markers.
"For tyre suppliers," said the Michelin front man, "there is a risk that drivers and engineers will have an inclination to blame their tyres for any performance drop-off as a race nears its conclusion. But the key thing is to devise a set-up that allows a set of tyres to last a full race distance. Clearly, some teams and drivers will manage this better than others - even if they are running identical compounds. Traction control will be critical, too. If a system generates too much wheelspin through being incorrectly programmed, it could ruin a set of tyres by mid-race.
"We don't yet know how temperature fluctuations and different track layouts might affect the latest compounds," Dupasquier added back in February. "People talk blithely about the new-generation tyres being 'hard', because they equate that with durability, but reality is not that simple. By nature, harder tyres last longer but they don't generate a high level of grip. That causes a car to slide around, which accelerates tyre wear. It's a vicious circle."
What predictions these were! Three months later they look perceptive indeed. True to Dupasquier's expectations, teams have indeed been blaming their tyres for many of their problems of pace and reliability. The Frenchman's warning was, obviously, in the context of his company's participation in racing.
Back in Clermont-Ferrand his executives from Edouard Michelin on down won't be thrilled if race after race the problems of teams with poor set-ups and strategies are attributed to their tyres, as if they and they alone were to blame for poor results. This could place in jeopardy the continued support of Formula One racing, not only by Michelin but also by any other tyre producer.
To be sure, Bridgestone, after the problems experienced by Ferrari in Malaysia, fell on its corporate sword and accepted responsibility for poor performance. Famous as it is for its close relationship with the Italian team, Bridgestone won't be wanting to accept the blame for its mid-field running much longer. After its latest tests of new compounds it should have found the right formula in time for the North American races.
Speaking of Japanese companies, isn't it impressive how well the Europeans have counterpunched? Thanks in no small measure to Honda's past achievements, there's a perception around that when the Japanese come into Formula One, they're very hard to beat. It's only a matter of time, some say, until Toyota tops the heap.
You wouldn't guess it from the results at the Nurburgring.
In the European Grand Prix's points-scoring positions, the only Japanese achievements were third for Bridgestone and a lowly eighth for Jarno Trulli's Toyota. The Europeans hogging the limelight included Michelin, Renault, BMW, McLaren, Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari and, remarkably, Cosworth.
This is a pretty impressive performance for the Old Guard of Formula One. Renault, after all, won the first-ever Grand Prix race 99 years ago! Louis Renault, a great racing enthusiast in his youth, would be proud of what his company is achieving 61 years after his death.