Editorial: Unintended Consequences

A chance Google mix-up earlier this week got me musing on the problem of unintended consequences. Plan for one thing, get the other. Luckily for us, unintended consequences have played a major part in making the 2005 season rather good so far.

Take Ferrari’s sudden and shocking decline in form relative to the opposition. The car may not quite be the gem its predecessors were and maybe, just maybe, Schumacher is beginning to feel the pinch a bit, but the real cause of the Scuderia’s woes this season has been their Bridgestone tyres. Ironic, given that these same tyres were the bedrock on which much of their success since 1999 has been built.

Ferrari never chose to go with Bridgestone in the first instance. When the Japanese tyre firm arrived on the scene in 1997 Ferrari, like most front runners, sided with long-time suppliers Goodyear.

But when Goodyear turned their back on F1 after the use of the somewhat preposterous-looking grooved tyres was enforced in 1998, the entire field, Ferrari included, found themselves stuck with Bridgestone from 1999 onwards.

In 2001 Michelin arrived, allied to Williams – team head Frank Williams being mindful of the beatings Michelin doled out to their rivals in the early eighties. They were quickly competitive and Ferrari seized the opportunity to court Bridgestone over the favourability of working more closely with Ferrari, even to the disadvantage of other Bridgestone-shod teams.

Bridgestone, having already won three constructor’s and two driver’s titles with Ferrari, were doubtlessly seduced by this and centred their tyre development around the needs of Schumacher. Meanwhile, more of the major teams defected to Michelin. McLaren changed after 2001, BAR after 2003 (and released damning statistics to F1 Racing magazine about how much better 2003 would have been for them on Michelins – before proving it with an exceptional 2004 season), Sauber after 2004. The only teams remaining on Bridgestone were Ferrari and minnows Jordan and Minardi.

The immediate consequence for Ferrari was overwhelmingly positive – they won the 2002 and 2004 championships by mind-boggling margins, simply because they had the very best tyres and no other team could get to their level. But the 2003 season was a warning shot – Michelin produced a more competitive tyre, and Ferrari found themselves swamped by the opposition. It took a late rule change by the FIA to swing the advantage back to Ferrari.

But that advantage has now deserted them. The 2005 rules package stipulated that tyres must last for an entire race distance and Bridgestone, with only one competitive team on their roster, have been unable to clock up enough testing mileage to produce a competitive tyre.

The Michelin teams, now even greater in number than in 2003, have been rampant so far this season. Ferrari have struggled even to score podiums.

Ferrari may be bleating that they should be exempt from a testing restriction because they run Bridgestones, but that exclusivity has been their trump card in the past. It’s just an unintended consequence that it may be about the cost them their first title in six years.

What of the Google mix-up? Ah. Yes. Let’s just say this – be very careful if you’re searching the web for information on nineties cult drama The X-Files. I’m off to clean out my Internet cache??????

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