JANUARY 31, 2003
Bridgestone heading for trouble?
Minardi team principal Paul Stoddart has complained to the FIA about Bridgestone which he says has breached its obligations to Formula 1 by failing to supply tyres to Minardi.
"We are left with no choice but to make an official complaint to the FIA as we believe Bridgestone is in clear breach of its obligations under the FIA F1 2003 Sporting Regulations. After three-and-a-half months of trying to negotiate an agreement, I think the situation can be best summed up by the fact that not once during this time, despite repeated attempts, have I been able either to arrange a meeting or even speak to Bridgestone director of motorsport, Hiroshi Yasukawa. I simply cannot believe that a company of Bridgestone's standing could treat any customer in this way."
The FIA regulations on tyre supply are very clear on this issue. Article 78 of the Formula 1 Sporting Regulations states that "no tyre may be used in the championship unless the company supplying such tyre accepts and adheres to the following conditions: two tyre suppliers present : each of them must, if called upon to do so, be prepared to equip up to 60% of the entered teams on ordinary commercial terms".
It seems to be fairly clear from statements made by Stoddart that Bridgestone was "called upon" to supply tyres to Minardi as long ago as October 17. At the time Bridgestone was planning to supply five teams in 2003: Ferrari, Sauber, Jordan, BAR and Arrows. The other six teams (Williams, McLaren, Renault, Toyota, Jaguar and Minardi) had been using Michelin rubber in 2002, but Minardi did not want to continue and so asked Bridgestone for tyres. The team did not receive any offer from Bridgestone until two days ago, and that was a request for a seven-figure sum of money for tyres for the year ahead. Stoddart argues that this is not "ordinary commercial terms" because none of the other teams have been asked for a similar deposit. As a result Minardi has been running for the last two days on Avon Formula 3000 slick tyres which are very different from the grooved slicks used in F1 and in consequence the team has not been able to gather as much data as it had hoped.
"Because of Bridgestone's total lack of communication and cooperation over this matter, we have wasted two valuable days of pre-season testing here in Valencia," Stoddart said, "something that in the current climate, Minardi could ill afford
The whole affair seems to be decidedly odd as the rules are very clearly phrased and there is no question that Minardi has a right to request a supply of tyres and Bridgestone must agree to supply them. It seems clear that the Japanese company does not want to have to bother with an extra team, but it is, nonetheless, obliged to do so as part of its commitment to Formula 1. The company is enjoying an enormous amount of good publicity thanks to the success of Ferrari, and in the circumstances, supplying tyres to Minardi does not seem a huge price to pay. But there appears to have been no effort to address the problem. Given that Bridgestone can be forced to supply Minardi it would probably have been wiser to have just done a deal and enjoyed the income and a cordial relationship with the team. At best the fact that the issue is in the newspapers and that Minardi had to run on Avons is a major tactical error by the management of Bridgestone Motorsport.
The only possible defence for Bridgestone is the argument that demanding a huge sum of money could be considered as "ordinary commercial terms". This is something that the FIA will have to decide. If the federation concludes that Bridgestone has failed to meet its requirement as laid down by the regulations the company could face a sanction. That sanction could be anything from a reprimand or a fine to exclusion from the World Championship.
Whatever the case the whole interlude could have been avoided.
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