The 57th Formula One world championship begins this weekend - and for the very first time the campaign kicks off in the Middle East. The Bahraini Grand Prix heralds the dawn of another relentless season, with 18 three-day meetings spread across five continents and 226 days. Host circuit Sakhir is only the 13th - after Silverstone, Bremgarten, Buenos Aires, Monaco, Zandvoort, East London, Kyalami, Interlagos, Long Beach, Jacarepagua, Phoenix and Melbourne - to have staged the seasonal curtain-raiser.
This will be the third Bahraini GP and the 751st event in the annals of the world championship. Michelin and its partner teams took a clean sweep of the top eight
places in last year's corresponding fixture, with world champion-to-be Fernando Alonso (Renault) heading home Jarno Trulli (Toyota) and Kimi Räikkönen (McLaren-Mercedes).
The rules might have changed radically since then, with the return of V8 engines and mid-race tyre changes, but Michelin's unwavering commitment remains unaltered as it prepares to challenge for its 94th F1 grand prix victory… and defend two world titles.
Nick Shorrock, Formula One director, Michelin "We evaluated a significant number of casings and compounds during our intensive winter test programme and learned a lot about the effect on tyres of the sport's latest rule changes. We have established that the new V8 engines require a different driving technique, which impacts on tyre performance, but have addressed this and the results have been very productive.
"This year, for the first time, we were able to conduct a pre-season test in Bahrain and that was extremely useful. Normally, we are limited to testing in the cold of a European winter, when the weather tends to restrict the amount of useful running you can do per day. In Bahrain, however, we were able to run from nine until five and that gave us ample opportunity to accumulate relevant data. It also confirmed that our preparations in Europe had been very astute.
"On the other hand, although the rules were changed in a bid to reduce costs, it is disappointing to note that a tyre manufacturer such as Michelin will have to carry 38 per more stock to grands prix this season than it did in 2005. Michelin is working with six F1 partners this year, rather than seven, yet finds itself having to supply more than 300 extra tyres per race weekend.
"This weekend marks the dawn of a new F1 era. It's a step into the unknown for everybody, but Michelin has prepared with its traditional attention to detail. We expect fierce competition but, as history shows, we thrive on such challenges."
Pat Symonds, executive engineering director, Renault F1 "Bahrain is not the most demanding circuit of the year for tyres, but it does pose the teams quite specific problems. There are not many high-speed corners, which means that the overall tyre energy the amount of energy we put into the tyres during a lap is relatively low, especially compared to the second race venue in Malaysia. Instead, Bahrain's numerous slow corners mean that traction events, the acceleration phase out of slow corners are the primary constraint for tyres, so we have to pay particular attention to the rears. Of course, as the opening race of the season, Bahrain will also be the first time this year that Renault has run in anger in high temperatures."
"Michelin has tested extensively in these conditions and will be able to select the appropriate products for the race weekend. We are confident they will be able to maintain their 2005 tyre advantage at the start of 2006."
MICHELIN IN BAHRAIN
Michelin is implanted commercially in The Kingdom of Bahrain since 1983 trough its distributors Ebrahim Khalil Kanoo. EKK is providing a variety of services to Michelin Cu through 4 Michelin Tyre Service Centers and a large dealer network. EKK has 4 dedicated sales persons and 8 technicians covering the service. The techno-commercial support from Michelin is covered by one technical commercial manager who shuttles between Qatar and Bahrain.
DID YOU KNOW?
Michelin's 18 wins from 19 Formula One grands prix in 2005 represented a 94.7 per cent strike rate - up from 16.6 per cent the previous season. The company was
equally successful in terms of pole positions (33.3 per cent in 2004). Michelin also scored 83.5 per cent of the available points (up from 56.9) and recorded 82.5 per cent of the podium finishes (46.3).
Discounting Bahrain and Hungary, Michelin's leading teams qualified one second per lap faster in 2005 than they did the previous season.
In 2005, with the exceptions of Imola and Monaco, Michelin's leading teams set fastest race laps that were on average 0.8s per lap quicker than those achieved in 2004.
Melbourne, Imola and Monaco apart, the leading Michelin teams' race pace was on average 0.7s per lap faster in 2005 than it had been one year earlier.
In the final season of its present F1 crusade, Michelin needs just seven more wins to become the second tyre manufacturer to notch up 100 world championship grand prix victories. The record is held by Goodyear, which scored 368 wins between 1965 and 1998, during which time it missed only half a season.
Reigning world champion Fernando Alonso is the youngest driver ever to qualify on pole position for an F1 race (Malaysia 2003), score a grand prix victory (Hungary
2003), set fastest lap (Canada 2003) and lift the F1 title (he was 24 years, 1 month and 27 days old when he clinched the crown last season). He achieved all four feats with the Renault F1 Team and Michelin.
This season marks the 10th anniversary of the F1 debuts of Michelin drivers Giancarlo Fisichella (Renault) and Jacques Villeneuve (BMW). Both started their maiden grand prix in Melbourne, Australia, on March 10 1996.
Michelin partner McLaren celebrates the 40th anniversary of its maiden F1 appearance this season. The marque's founder Bruce McLaren fielded his first eponymous F1 chassis - the Ford-powered M2B - in Monaco on May 22 1966. He retired with an oil leak that day, but the company has since notched up 148 world championship grand prix wins.
If Red Bull Racing/Michelin driver David Coulthard takes part in the first 14 grands prix of the season, he will set a new record for consecutive F1 appearances. The Scot has taken part in every race since Brazil 1995 - an unbroken record of 175 starts. Italian Riccardo Patrese holds the 186-race record, set between Belgium 1982
and Australia 1993.