(August 8, 2005) – Michelin assigns an in-house technician to work with each of its seven Formula One partners.
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As well as monitoring and supervising all aspects of tire-related performance, they serve as the principal point of contact between each team and Michelin's dedicated band of engineers in Clermont-Ferrand.
Briton Andy Fern has fulfilled this role with Team McLaren Mercedes since 2002.
How would you describe your job?
"My role is to act as a sort of liaison officer between Michelin and McLaren. I'm not involved at any stage of the tire design process, but I supervise race or, sometimes, test activities. I make sure things run as smoothly as possible with each set of tires that's used.
"After that, I report back to our designers and engineers. I monitor every little detail and my main job is to advise the team when the time comes to select a compound for the race. Whenever the cars are on the track, I am in the McLaren garage and even when they aren't I spend quite a lot of time in there."
Are you the only Michelin representative in the McLaren pit?
"No. I am supported by assistant technicians who monitor tire temperatures and pressures every time one of the cars stops. One of our advanced design engineers is also in constant contact with Woking."
Do you keep McLaren's tire data to yourself or do the Michelin technicians collaborate?
"Michelin pools all tire data because the collective results help us to improve our tire range and deliver better performance to all partners. I stress, though, that we only exchange tire data.
Michelin's technicians have access to sensitive and confidential information about fuel loads and so on, but we are absolutely not allowed to discuss that.
It's a challenging part of the job, because we all get on very well and love to chat about the sport, but discretion is absolute. It isn't always easy, but you get used to it and there is a strong degree of mutual trust between tire technicians and partner teams."
What kind of tools do you have at your disposal during a race weekend?
"I use a laptop and several analytical tools, including a laser scanner that hooks up to a hand-held PC. This allows me to examine tire wear profiles. It's a good baseline for predicting how things are likely to evolve during the course of a weekend.
"Teams are now developing on-board pressure and temperature sensors but this is emerging technology and we still rely mostly on pressure gauges and tire probes traditional measurement methods, in other words.
"On Friday, we cut up used tire sets to check for any sign of blistering, particularly with the rears, and to measure consistency and durability. The data we accumulate during the course of the day is analysed and compared with the global Michelin results. Once I have pored over everything, I can advise on tire preparations for the race."
What is the most challenging aspect of the job?
"Other than the travel and frequent time-zone changes, the hardest thing is making a final race tire selection by Friday evening. It's a critical decision and it's tricky because the circuit won't have completed its evolution cycle. It's the same for everyone, of course, but that still doesn't make things any easier."