Bye Bye Bridgestone!
At this afternoon’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Bridgestone will officially say sayonara to Formula One. The Japanese tyre manufacturer has been working in the sport tirelessly (geddit?) since 1997, being the sole supplier of rubber since 2007.
They will have completed 242 Grand Prix by the time they have finished the race this afternoon.
“Abu Dhabi is likely to be an emotional weekend for everyone at Bridgestone Motorsport as this will be our final race” said Hiroshi Yasukawa, Director of Bridgestone Motorsport.
“I have been involved in Bridgestone’s motorsport operations since our very first limited entry in the 1976 and 1977 Japanese Grands Prix and pushed hard for our full time entry which finally came in 1997.
“In this time Bridgestone has grown enormously as a company, with Formula 1 showcasing our company’s strength and qualities on a world stage to an enormous audience.
“I have attended well over 200 races myself and have made so many good relationships with the participants in this wonderful sport. Next year will be very different for me and for all of my Bridgestone Motorsport colleagues.”
Bridgestone joined at the Australian Grand Prix of 1997, producing tyres for Prost, Lola, Stewart and Minardi.
“We entered the sport in 1997 against a very experienced competitor in Goodyear, who had contested so many races before, yet we were able to be competitive in our first season, even when most of the front-running teams were running on our rival’s products.” Hirohide Hamashima, head of tyre development said,
“We scored points in our first race and the first Bridgestone podium came in our second race. We even came very close to a win with Damon Hill in the Arrows Yamaha at Hungary so this was a very good debut for us.”
At the end of the season, Goodyear walked away from F1 and Bridgestone became the sole tyre supplier. They would remain in this position until 2001, when Michelin came into the sport.
“From 2001 to 2006 we battled hard with Michelin,” continued Hamashima.“Our engineers in Japan and at the track were dedicated to winning and we learnt so many things in this period.”
Many top teams left the supply of Bridgestone for Michelin who had percieved to have created better tyres. Ferrari stuck with the Japanese manufacturer and delivered drivers and constructors titles between 2000 and 2004 with Michael Schumacher at the wheel. In 2005 and 2006 however Fernando Alonso, Michelin and Renault would be the success story.
The tyre war saw increasing budgets and controversy. At the 2005 United States Grand Prix the tyre war came to a head. The cars on Michelin tyres all completed the parade lap of the race and returned to the garages leaving just 6 cars on the starting grid for the race. Nothing like this had been seen before, or thankfully since. Fans were outraged, Bernie Ecclestone too was fuming. The reason behind it was the Michelin tyre sidewalls were alleged to be not strong enough to cope with the banking at the Indianapolis circuit, so in order to keep within safety regulations they pulled out of the race.
At the end of 2006, Michelin walked away from F1 and Bridgestone once again became the sole tyre supplier. It was at this time, the soft/hard compound tyre rules came in and the white stripe was added to the grooved tyres to show which driver was on which compound. The move, designed to spark greater creativity in pit stop strategy and spice up the spectacle with fans remains with us today. At the 2008 Japanese Grand Prix, green stripes were added to the tyres in order to make greater awareness that Bridgestone were being a “green” and “carbon friendly” company.
For 2009, the big news was that grooved tyres were gone and slick tyres were returning. A big hit with the fans, the soft and hard tyre compounds have provided two seasons of classic racing and championships.
Pirelli are set to take over from the start of next season, so its farewell and thanks to the Bridgestone Tyre Company for all the time, money and effort they put into creating such a vital part of our sport.
Thanks, and goodbye Bridgestone!