Bridgestone is a Japanese multinational tyre manufacturer. It was founded by Shojiro Ishibashi in 1931. The company started investing in motorsports in the 1980s. They developed race tyres for Formula 2, Formula 3, Formula Ford, Karting, and others. Bridgestone has supplied tires in Formula 1 since 1997. Before that, the company produced tyres for Japanese F1 entrants like Heros Racing and Kojima at the 1976 and 1977 Japanese Grand Prix. However, it was a one-off.
In 1995, Bridgestone decided to enter F1. The Japanese company wanted to supply tyres for the sport. The CEO, Yoichiro Kaizaki, focused on improving the company’s value, especially in the European market. They were inferior to Michelin, their arch-rival (Michelin is a French tyre manufacturing company). Bridgestone was about to enter F1 in 1998, but due to advanced development, it was moved forward to 1997. Hiroshi Yasukawa, the company’s general manager of the Motorsport department, made the best use of the experience and network he acquired through F2 and implemented it in Formula 1.
The first F1 world title with Bridgestone was won by Mika Hakkinen and McLaren-Mercedes in 1998. The company saw success in the highest level of racing as the users won five Driver’s championship titles and five Constructor’s championship titles in 1998, and from 2001 to 2004. Bridgestone competed with Goodyear (an American tyre manufacturing company) from 1997 to 1998 and Michelin from 2001 to 2006.
Goodyear left the sport in 1998 after a 24-year stint. By the end of the 2006 F1 season, Michelin also left Formula 1 after winning their last two championships with Renault. This made Bridgestone the sole tyre supplier to the Formula 1 World Championship from 2008 to 2010. It was a good run for the Japanese company with Ferrari and F1 legend Micheal Schumacher. Ferrari was a loyal customer of Bridgestone in the early 2000s and won four F1 world titles with them.
Bridgestone introduced the tyre compounds to add a strategic element to the sport. This is a concept still used in F1 today. Back then, they were popularly known as the “prime” and “option” tyres. The former was the hard and long-lasting compound tyres. “Option” was the soft and fast compound tyres. There were ways to distinguish the two. The soft compound tyre had a white stripe painted in the middle groove. However, it later changed to a green stripe painted on the side of the tyre.
Why did Bridgestone leave F1?
Bridgestone announced they would withdraw from Formula 1 at the end of the 2010 season. In 2009, Slick tyres were reintroduced in F1. Bridgestone had an expense of $70 million producing F1 tyres. And the costs to develop slick tyres were higher than they expected. Bridgestone felt they were no benefit to being F1’s tyre supplier except for a small increase in marketing.
The Japanese company did not get the expected return investing in F1. They faced an increase of 40% in their annual supply demand, but they did not get 40% more exposure. All this led to their decision to stop their investment in developing F1 tyres after 2010. Bridgestone Motorsport director Hiroshi Yasukawa put a statement saying “The decision made by the board of directors comes after considerable and lengthy evaluations and has been based on the company’s need to redirect its resources towards further intensive development of innovative technologies.”
The statement further read, “Our sincere appreciation is extended to Bernie Ecclestone and Formula One Management, the Formula 1 teams with whom it has been an honour to work alongside and the many F1 fans who have followed our activities over the past 13 years.” However, Bridgestone continued as the tyre supplier to the GP2 Series and the GP2 Asia Series. The Japanese company had a significant influence on Formula 1 and its rules. After Bridgestone quit F1, Pirelli became the sole tyre supplier.
Sugantha Meena is a Motorsports writer at Firstsportz. She follows Formula One religiously. Her love for Mercedes AMG Petronas and Sir Lewis Hamilton is immense. She holds two degrees, M.A. in International Relations & B.A. in Sociology, from Stella Maris College, Chennai. Apart from Motorsports, she is interested in Football, a proud Manchester United fan. During her free time, she loves to read, cook, listen to music, watch movies and spend time with family and friends.
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