The upcoming 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is not only the drivers title deciding race but also for the foreseeable future the last F1 race for Bridgestone tyres. The Pirelli era (and not only in F1) will begin. Here is a brief look back at Bridgestone in F1.
Bridgestone tyres appeared in F1 for the first time in 1976. The first and for almost 20 years the only driver to use Bridgestones in F1 was Kazuyoshi Hoshino (Heros Racing). He entered only 2 races – 1976 and 1977 Japanese GPs. He retired from the first one because he ran out of tyres.
The proper entry into Formula One came in 1997 ending five years of Goodyear monopoly. Bridgestone supplied 5 teams in their first year in F1 – Arrows, Prost, Minardi, Stewart and Lola (although the MasterCard Lola team never really made it).
“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.” – Bridgestone Motorsport Tyre Development, Hirohide Hamashima
In 1998 F1 introduced the grooved tyres. Benetton and McLaren switched to Bridgestone rubber. Mika Hakkinen won the drivers title, the first one for Bridgestone in only their second year in F1. This season also marked the end of the brief period of competition with Goodyear. For the next two seasons (1999-2000) Bridgestones were the only tyres in F1.
The tyre war resumed in 2001 following the return of Michelin (Williams, Benetton, Jaguar, Minardi, Prost). In the following seasons Bridgestone worked closely with Ferrari, perhaps too closely for their other customers comfort. By 2005 only Ferrari, Jordan and Minardi used Bridgestone tyres, all other teams switched to Michelins.
The 2005 season was also the season of major rule change – the tyre change ban. Bridgestone lost the title to Michelin (Alonso, Renault) as Ferrari struggled to adapt to new harder tyres. The only Bridgestone win that season came in the controversial US GP …
At the end of the year FIA announced that from the 2008 season there would be only one tyre supplier in F1. Only few days later, Michelin announced the 2006 season will be their last in Formula One as they had no desire to remain in F1 as a sole tyre supplier.
Two teams jumped the ship ahead of 2006 season (Toyota, Williams) and switched from Michelin to Bridgestone a year ahead of planned Michelin exit. The tyre changes returned, Ferrari became competitive again but the final win in F1 tyre war to date went to Michelin (again Alonso, Renault).
From 2007 on Bridgestone have been the sole tyre supplier. Obviously they won all the titles. To keep at least some fan and media interest in tyres the compulsory tyre changes were introduced with the softer compounds marked with white paint in one of the grooves. When the slicks came back in 2009 the white groove was replaced with green stripe on the side. There were some interesting moments thanks to drivers racing on different compounds (Sato vs Alonso in Canada 2007 for example) but in general it can be said that this failed to deliver.
Then came November 2, 2009 and rather surprising announcement of Bridgestone’s withdrawal from F1. Season 2011 will after many years be the first one without involvement of major Japanese automotive company in Formula One.
In 8 years (not counting the odd 1976-77 appearances) while competing with other tyre manufacturers (Goodyear, Michelin) Bridgestone won five drivers (Hakkinen 1998, Schumacher 2001-2004) and five constructors championships (McLaren, Ferrari). Hakkinen, Schumacher, Raikkonen, Hamilton and Button won while Bridgestone tyres were the only ones in F1 with one more to make the list this Sunday.