Friday March 2nd, 2001
Bridgestone claimed the early honours in its battle with rival tyre manufacturer Michelin during Friday's practice sessions for this weekend's season-opening Australia Formula One Grand Prix.
Japanese company Bridgestone supplied the rubber for each of the fastest five cars while Michelin, back in Formula One after 17 years, made an unspectacular return with six of the slowest 10 using their tyres and two cars suffering punctures.
The left-rear tyre on Eddie Irvine's Jaguar blew during the afternoon session, just minutes before the right rear exploded on Jenson Button's Benetton.
The French company, though, was happy with its first day back after Ralf Schumacher finished fifth overall and Jean Alesi ninth. "We are satisfied with the results," Michelin motorsport director Pierre Dupasquier said.
Williams, one of four teams using Michelin tyres, echoed him, technical director Patrick Head saying: "The tyres performed very well. We've run both the prime and the option tyre and both were very stable and consistent."
Bridgestone technical director Hisao Suganuma responded: "At the moment everything is going well...but we won't be sitting back. We want to make sure our tyres continue to perform well tomorrow and Sunday."
McLaren boss Ron Dennis said the return of the 'tyre wars' promised to make this championship one of the most exciting in years.
Tyres have not been a performance factor in the past two seasons, with Bridgestone supplying all 11 teams after Goodyear quit at the end of 1998.
The first three drivers in Friday's practice all bettered Jacques Villeneuve's 1997 Albert Park lap record and the first five all went under last year's pole-position time.
"There is obviously a difference in the tyres this year, we can see it by the lap times," Dennis said.
"The feedback from our drivers is that generally it feels a bit more like a racing car and is a bit more responsive.
"But the real influence of the tyres will come in the race...and that could see a bit more exciting racing."