Bridgestone prepare for their Formula One finale 09 Nov 2010
After 14 continuous seasons at the pinnacle of international motorsport, Bridgestone will make their final Formula One appearance at this weekends Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. At the end of the Yas Marina race, the Japanese tyre company will have contested a total of 242 Grands Prix since making their fulltime Formula One entry at the 1997 Australian Grand Prix. And there will have been 175 wins, 168 pole positions and 11 drivers' and constructors' championships attained with Bridgestone Potenza tyres.
"Abu Dhabi is likely to be an emotional weekend for everyone at Bridgestone Motorsport as this will be our final race," says 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 fulltime entry which finally came in 1997.
"In this time Bridgestone has grown enormously as a company, with Formula One 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's primary reason for their F1 entry was to enhance the awareness of their brand, and for this to be effective, Bridgestone's Formula One tyres had to demonstrate strong performance. In charge of the technical development over Bridgestone's 14 years in F1 is director of Bridgestone Motorsport Tyre Development, Hirohide Hamashima.
"Formula One was a big challenge for our company," says Hamashima."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.
"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."
Goodyear left Formula One racing at the end of 1998, leaving Bridgestone as the sole supplier.
"Our initial entry to Formula One came a year earlier than initially planned and after just two seasons in the sport we had to supply the entire field," explains Peter Grzelinski, Bridgestone Motorsport service manager. "This was a big challenge for us, but Bridgestone responded well. We had two seasons where we could refine all our practices and methodology before the next challenge came."
In 2001 Michelin entered Formula One racing as a rival tyre supplier to Bridgestone, and a period of intense competition followed.
"From 2001 to 2006 we battled hard with Michelin," says Hamashima. "Our engineers in Japan and at the track were dedicated to winning and we learnt so many things in this period."
Bridgestone tyres shod the constructors' and drivers' champions four times in this period, whilst Michelin tyres equipped the winning constructors' and drivers' champions twice.
After Michelin's departure at the end of the 2006 season, Bridgestone were the sole tyre supplier in 2007, before being appointed as the official tyre supplier to the FIA Formula One World Championship from 2008-2010.
"Our second period of being the only tyre supplier in Formula One was characterised by intensely close championship battles," says Hamashima. "We concentrated on our quality control to ensure that the tyres supplied to all teams were the same, allowing these close championship battles, which provided a fantastic spectacle for Formula One fans around the world."
Whilst 2010 is the final season for Bridgestone in Formula One racing, the legacy left for the company is enormous.
"Bridgestone has gained significantly from our involvement in this fabulous sport," says Yasukawa. "But we have also tried to benefit society as a whole by working with the sport's governing body, the FIA, with its road safety and environmental campaigns. We hope everyone will enjoy our final Grand Prix as much as we do."