Bridgestone throws down gauntlet to F1’s Pirelli

Most fans new to Formula One can’t remember a time before Pirelli was the sole tyre supplier to the sport. Yet Pirelli stepped up to the plate when Bridgestone suddenly quit at the end of the 2010 season.

The Japanese tyre manufacturer had been F1’s sole tyre supplier since 2007 but prior to that there were two suppliers, Bridgestone and Michelin and each F1 team would decide which tyre supplier they preferred to use.



Michelin F1 “golden era”

Some F1 aficionados see this as the ‘golden era’ of racing where competing manufacturers were pushing flat out to provide their customers with the fastest and most long lasting tyres.

Pirelli are considered by those with rose tinted spectacles to be an inferior tyres supplier to Bridgestone when allegedly the racing was better with drivers pushing hard from lights out to chequered flag.

However, it was the FIA who changed the brief of F1’s tyre supplier when for 2012 they asked for tyres that degraded more quickly than previously and would reach ‘a cliff’ where the performance of the tyre would suddenly drop by several seconds a lap.

Pirelli duly obliged though to produce a tyre to such specification was a case of trial and error for the Italian manufacturer. As they pushed the envelope in there development of their thermal degrading tyre design disaster struck in 2013 at the British GP.

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Exploding Pirelli F1 tyres

Exploding tyres hit the headlines in the sports pages and they were even called “driver killers” by David Coulthard.

Despite the arrival of the hybrid cars in 2014 and their much heavier payload and the switch to 18 inch wheels along with many other F1 advances, Pirelli have on the whole met their brief with a few hiccups along the way.

Pirelli took on the role of F1 tyre supplier when nobody else wanted it. Bridgestone quit because they were sick of the endless arguments and administrative problems they experienced dealing with the FIA and the Ecclestone led commercial rights owners.

But now the BBC have reported Bridgestone are seeking a return to F1 and have entered the current tender process set to run from 2025-27.

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F1 moved on since Bridgestone era

Bridgestone have remained tight lipped on the matter refusing to confirm or deny whether they are involved in the process. Yet a number of older F1 observers are getting excited about the potential return of the Japanese tyre manufacturer.

However, times have changed since Bridgestone first became F1’s sole supplier of rubber. The cars are now over 200kgs heavier and around 60% more torquey. All of this Pirelli have knowledge of as the sport has progressed incrementally in recent years.

Further, the FIA haven’t changed the brief or specification of their tyres so despite Bridgestone claiming earlier this year they would not make F1 tyres “for the show”. It would make tyres that advertise its product without compromise.

Yet the notion of anyone being able to manufacture a tyre capable of flat out racing from lights out to chequered flag is delusional in addition to the fact this is not what the FIA want.

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Pirelli been a good partner for the FIA

Pirelli motorsport boss Mario Isola now reveals the battle to win this contract has become a lot more complex.

“What I can tell you is that the tender document was a lot more complicated than in the past,” explained Isola. “There are many sections and many elements added compared to the last one we applied for.

“There is a big part linked to sustainability, a big part linked to our ability to supply a product with certain characteristics, and a service with certain characteristics, a number of engineers. We had to work quite a lot to get all the papers needed for that.”

Isola added: “In these 13 years, we always try to do our best to fulfil the requests we had in different years.

“From 2011 there were high degradation tyres, then we had different power units, and the wider tyre, to the 18-inches. Then more degradation, and then less degradation. We always adapted our product to the different requests.



Do F1 owe Pirelli?

Pirelli clearly feel the Bridgestone challenge is real ad Isola continues in a manner almost suggesting F1 owes it to Pirelli to retain faith with them.

“On top of that, we have been very active on the promotion side and marketing side, supporting all the requests from the promoter and from the FIA.

“I believe that our role is the role of a partner more than a sponsor. And we would like to be like this.

“We want to be part of the sport not because we want to dictate anything, but because it means that we cooperate in a good way with our stakeholders, plus talking to the drivers and talking to the teams.

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Racing to change little if Bridgestone wins F1

“We have built a system that is super-efficient, to supply data to them. I was comparing a report that we did in 2011 with a report we do now and it’s incredible [the difference]. You will laugh at the one page we provided in 2011 compared to the book that we provide now.

“All of this is sometimes taken for granted, because when you do that step-by-step, you don’t realise how much you have done in this long period.”

Bridgestone will of course be facing the same tender document. Clearly now that F1’s growth in popularity has been huge year on year the Japanese tyre manufacturer wants back in on the global platform the sport offers.

Should Bridgestone prevail there will probably many who are disappointed when F1 does not return to flat out racing as it was perceived the last time they provided the F1 tyres.

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