Michelin F1 project manager, Pascal Vasselon talks about preparing for the 2003 season, objectives for the year and lots, lots more...


Q:
Pascal [Vasselon], tell us about the winter development programme and testing...
Pascal Vasselon:
The main thing was to make the most of our latest range of tyres, which was introduced during the second half of the 2002 season. That was the focus of our development and we obtained some good results. At the same time we also worked on two new types of construction - and they look promising, too.
Q:
What about the range of tyres?
PV:
All our development work is heading in the same direction with our partner teams and we have set up a beneficial test programme. Between us we have yielded some encouraging results that have allowed us to concentrate on a range of tyres. This contains an extensive range of options ranging from soft to hard and we'll be taking five different types to the first race in Melbourne, although we anticipate that some of our partners will run on the same compound.
Q:
How much information do you tell your partner teams on each other?
PV:
Teams do not know which tyres their rivals have selected. Although all our partners contributed to the test programme that dictated the nature of this year's tyre range, things are different during the season and confidentiality is guaranteed at each grand prix.
Q:
What happens if it rains? Has Michelin moved forward here?
PV:
We have made some very positive progress in this domain, too. This year it is more important than ever to make sure your wet-weather tyres are up to the job, because you are only allowed to bring one compound per race. We have had to develop a tyre that best suits the needs of every partner team. One type of tyre cannot give optimal performance in all conditions and the wet can be very variable. This is not a straightforward issue and a degree of compromise is involved. For Melbourne we have come up with a tyre that's designed to work in a wide range of conditions, from an extremely wet track to one that's drying [not including strong rain]. It goes without saying that we will be developing specific rain tyres to suit different tracks throughout the season.
Q:
What about tyre allocation?
PV:
Drivers are allowed 10 sets of a single-specification, grooved, dry-weather tyre and 7 sets of wets per weekend. Teams that take part in Friday morning's test session will be allocated 6 sets of tyres per driver. With wet tyre choice having been reduced from 3 options to 1 since last year, Michelin will be taking about 1200 tyres to every grand prix.
Q:
How soft do you dare to go?
PV:
We don't know what's the real importance of the qualifying on Friday? Will it be essential to set the best time to be the last one on track Saturday? Things will depend on teams' individual strategies and how much fuel they choose to run, but the softest tyre won't necessarily be the fastest. An extra-soft compound could begin to wear out before the end of a qualifying lap if a car is heavily laden with fuel - and that will be exacerbated at tracks that place a high lateral load on tyres.
Q:
What are your objectives for the 2003 season?
PV:
I would like this championship to be an agreeable experience. That means having tyres that win races! Since the middle of the 2002 season, we have taken a different, more long-term approach. As a result, we have been able to come up with some innovative solutions this winter and make some big advances. These products are the result of a continuous and sustained development process. They are based on the casings that were first used at Monza and Indianapolis last season. The rule change stipulating that manufacturers are now allowed to supply customised products to each of their partners shouldn't pose a problem. Everyone will enjoy the benefits of a good F1 tyre. The ban on anti-skid brakes that comes into force at Silverstone on 20 July next may oblige us to change the centring of our tyres slightly. But it's no big deal.
Q:
In your opinion, what would be the ideal F1 tyre?
PV:
The best tyre is the one that takes the best advantage of a given rule. The rule is the same for everyone, and what's exciting is to make the rule work for you. In my view, the best type of tyre is the one that is the product of superior knowledge and technology. It's the tyre that behaves exactly as anticipated, that shows off the engineering skills of its designers. For grooved tyres, Michelin had to learn about a new concept. Grooves are a very good way to weaken tyre grip, which is the aim of the regulation. This is not something absurd; it's a difficulty to get around. It takes a little time to get an understanding of a concept like this. Even an athlete with the potential to be the best in the world could not get ready for the Olympics in six months! Today, we have made the adjustments these grooves required, and we're ready for the fight.
Q:
What is the best memory of your career?
PV:
The 1994 IRL Gold Cup championship [International DTM]. Jorg Van Omen drove a privately sponsored Mercedes-Michelin and stole the title from the big, official teams that were equipped by a rival tyre maker. Teamwork, a major challenge, and a victory to finish - that's the Michelin philosophy in a nutshell.