Bridgestone starts a new era in Formula One as slick tyres return to Grand Prix racing for the first time in over eleven years when round one of the 2009 FIA Formula One World Championship gets under way with the ING Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 29.
Bridgestone Potenza slick tyres are just one of the new aspects on the radically overhauled Formula One cars which will line up for the first race of the season, as the latest aerodynamic regulations - designed to reduce downforce - mean that the cars look very different from their counterparts of twelve months ago.
Slick tyres require a new method of marking to designate between compounds, as the previous method of painting one of the grooves with a white line no longer applies. Bridgestone has used the opportunity of launching a new system to show its continued support for the FIA's Make Cars Green campaign, by marking the softer of the two dry compounds available for each race with green sidewall markings. The now renamed 'wet' tyre (formerly 'extreme' tyre) will also feature a green line in a central groove.
As before, two compounds of tyre will be available for every grand prix, with the requirement that both are used in the race. In a change from the previous allocation philosophy employed for the past two seasons, Bridgestone will now bring non-consecutive allocations to most events. For this grand prix the medium and super soft tyres have been selected from the range of hard, medium, soft and super soft.
Albert Park is traditionally a challenging venue. In addition to the notoriously variable Melbourne weather, the track surface changes significantly over the course of the race meeting as it is only used for motorsport once a year. The track features 16 turns over its 5.30 km and is a compromise circuit in its layout with low downforce desired down the straights, but higher downforce requirements through the turns. High lateral forces mean high levels of energy and heat are dispersed through the tyres.
Hirohide Hamashima - Bridgestone Director of Motorsport Tyre Development, said:
What are the significant changes for 2009 from Bridgestone's perspective?
"The move to slick tyres is significant, although Bridgestone have a lot of experience with these tyres from many different race series so we are confident that we can produce good racing slicks. We are making these tyres to the same sizes as we had with grooved tyres, but this means there is a new front/rear grip balance. The teams will therefore have to work hard to get a good set-up, particularly with the varying surface of Albert Park, and we will be working closely with everyone to achieve this."
How big a challenge will it be for competitors having a non-consecutive allocation?
"I think it has the potential to be a big challenge. We received many requests last season to make the difference between the two compounds greater, so we have attempted to do this by not only having a different compound stiffness, but also varying the temperature working range of the tyres. We have sought to allocate one tyre which has a lower working range and one which has a higher working range. This means that, even more than before, competitors will have to think long and hard about how they use their tyres, and there will be good rewards for those who make the best choices."
Stats & Facts
Number & Spec of tyres brought to Australia 1800 (intermediate & wet, medium & super soft dry)
Pole position time 2008: 1min 26.714secs (Hamilton)
Fastest race lap 2008: 1min 27.418secs (Kovalainen)
Top three 2008: Hamilton, Heidfeld, Rosberg