Wet tyres: Have Michelin turned the tables?

Juan Pablo Montoya, Michael Schumacher, Silverstone, 2002Four years ago when rain fell on a race that meant a Bridgestone benefit. But at last weekend’s wet Hungarian Grand Prix the Ferraris, Toyotas and Williams all struggled for pace relative to the Michelin runners – even ‘regenmeister’ Michael Schumacher.

That was the third rain-disrupted race in a row than Michelin have won. So when did the tide turn? Let’s take a look at the most recent wet weather races:

Race Conditions Result
GBR ’02 Dry, then rains Michael Schumacher (B) wins. Juan Pablo Montoya leads until the rain begins to fall and the Michelin wets are useless against the Bridgestone intermediates.
AUS ’03 Damp, then dries David Coulthard (M) wins. Race begins in damp conditions – Ferrari lead by nearly six seconds after one lap but Montoya on dry tyres catches them and leads after Schumacher makes a late change to dries and is hobbled by a broken barge board.
BRZ ’03 Starts wet then dries Giancarlo Fisichella (B) wins. Race begins in heavy wet conditions behind safety car and Bridgestone drivers struggle initially due to the shallower groove of their wets than the Michelins. As the track dries the Bridgestone intermediate tyres prove ideal but ultimately the race is a lottery decided by a stream at turn three.
USA ’03 Starts dry then rains Schumacher (B) wins. When the rain first begins to fall the Michelin tyres fair better. The track then dries, which benefits Bridgestone. The rain returns more heavily forcing the use of intermediate-spec tyres which suit the Bridgestone runners perfectly. Heinz-Harald Frentzen’s Bridgestone-shod Sauber even finishes third.
ITA ’04 Starts damp then dries Rubens Barrichello (B) wins. Most drivers begin the race on dry tyres including Michael Schumacher, who spins on the first lap. As the track dries the Bridgestone tyres assert their traditional authority.
BRZ ’04 Starts wet then dries. Montoya (M) wins. Most teams start with intermediates. The Michelin drivers quickly overhaul the Bridgestone runners. As the track dries Barrichello is able to pass Raikkonen. But the Michelin drivers prevail as the pack switch to dry tyres and the Bridgestone runners, as usual, leave it late.
BEL ’05 Starts wet then dries Kimi Raikkonen (M) wins. The Michelin runners lead and win easily, the wet weather doing nothing to disturb the team’s almost unbroken run of wins in 2005. The harder 2005 compounds make the switch to dry tyres when the track dries harder to call. Some drivers persist with heavily worn, but hot, intermediate tyres rather than change to dries.
HUN ’06 Starts wet, rains again briefly, then dries Jenson Button (M) wins. The Michelin runners thrive in the initial wet phase of the race. As the track surface water begins to clear the Bridgestone intermediates are briefly superior. But as it starts to dry properly Michelin intermediates become viable, and quicker.

Michelin haven’t got a total advantage in every type of wet condition, but they have worked on the disadvantages they suffered relative to Bridgestone immediately after their return to Formula One.

Mark Webber, Williams-BMW, Spa-Francorchamps, 2005Time was that the Bridgestone intermediate was a golden tyre, a weapon that Ferrari could unleash with devastating effect in damp conditions. But today Michelin’s tyres have the edge in the cold and damp conditions.

Michelin’s full wet tyre is particularly radical and it would be interesting to see how it fares in conditions where it is wet and raining.

One thing that is certain is the difference in wet weather performance between the two tyre companies is so great that driver talent cannot compensate for it: witness Michael Schumacher’s slow laps early in the Hungarian Grand Prix.

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