|Trick Or Tread?|
|Bruno Persico & Christis Loizides, Italy|
In an effort to make Formula One Grand Prix racing more competitive, the FIA is banning the smooth slicks from 1998. It is expected that this will decrease racing speeds and increase braking distances to the effect that overtaking will be easier and more frequent. Television spectators will thus enjoy more action while parade-type of racing will be limited.
With the return of tread patterned dry-weather tyres in the next F1 season, both Goodyear and Bridgestone will be facing a new challenge in their tyre development programs. Ever since Bridgestone's dry-weather tyres have been revealed to be very competitive, as shown by Olivier Panis driving the Prost and Rubens Barrichello in the Stewart, Goodyear's efforts have concentrated on studying and testing a new type of tyre which would also meet the FIA new regulations.
The new specifications call for a set of three parallel grooves in the front and four in the rear tyre. According to FIA's engineers, this would allow cars to run very close at speed and facilitate overtaking by opening up braking distances, although, on the other hand, this will bring a reduction of race speed of about 4 seconds per typical lap.
Goodyear is undertaking an 'aggressive program' to create a new model of front and rear tyre with tests already ongoing throughout the year. Being impossible to cut grooves in standard dry-weather tyres for safety reasons, tread patterned tyre will have to be regarded as a new type requiring a full development program as far as design, construction and compounds are concerned. This intense research activity will certainly give way to a higher degree of competition between both leading F1 producers, with interim results worth being kept under observation. But with all the advantages that any competition in itself usually brings along, as stated by Dermot Bambridge, Goodyear's Formula 1 Public Relations manager: "We like competition. The challenge has generated a lot more discussion about tyres, and that part of motorsport will have a much higher profile in 1997. For us, that can only mean a better story."
We asked Jacques Villeneuve and Eddie Irvine to tell us what they thought of the new regulation, on Saturday morning at the Imola paddock. Their response was not as optimistic as FIA's: "The racing in itself is not going to be made easier or closer by increasing the braking distances and losing more control of the car. Overtaking has become more difficult in Formula One, not just because of the design of the cars, but because the level of driving is so much better than it used to be. Drivers are now better prepared both physically and mentally, and that is partly why it is more difficult to overtake in the races."