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Dijon-Prenois, July 5th
The most important aspect of the 1981 French Grand Prix was that it saw the return of the Goodyear Tyre Company to Formula One. It will be recalled that they withdrew entirely last winter during the fracas between Bernie Ecclestone and the Formula One constructors and officialdom. Thanks to the support of Michelin, who agreed to supply everyone with tyres for a limited time, Grand Prix racing got under way this year with everyone on a standard production racing tyre, apart from the Toleman-Hart team who had a contract with Pirelli. Immediately after the Spanish GP it was announced that Goodyear would be back, but their support initially would be limited to two top teams not on a long-term contract with Michelin. That meant Williams and Brabham, so clearly Goodyear were looking for instant success and were coming back to win, not to be philanthropic. Naturally enough Michelin responded by saying that from now on tyres would be a serious matter and development work would only be for their long-contract teams, principally Renault, Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and Talbot. So, before practice began for the French GP on the little Dijon-Prenois circuit there was quite a lot of "wheeling and dealing" on the tyre front. Goodyear were adamant, tyres only for Williams and Brabham. Michelin were persuaded to help out Lotus, McLaren and Tyrrell but the rest had to do what they could. March and Theodore agreed to buy the new Avons, Ensign found some old 1980 Goodyears in their stores and the rest had to buy the standard production racing Michelin as used by everyone earlier in the season. When everyone was on these production Michelin racing tyres it was all right, but with the favoured teams on special racing tyres and the Goodyear teams on the best that Akron could supply, the rest might just as well have been on British Bergounogne or Kelly Springfields. Hardest hit were the Arrows team for Patrese is well able to make use of good tyres, so was handicapped badly; their second runner probably did not notice much difference, as would other slow runners.