July 09 1999 BRITISH GP Excerpts from the press conference held by Bridgestone Motorsport at Silverstone on July 8, 1999. On the panel: Yoshihiko Ichikawa (Technical Manager, Bridgestone ...
July 09 1999
Excerpts from the press conference held by Bridgestone Motorsport at Silverstone on July 8, 1999. On the panel: Yoshihiko Ichikawa (Technical Manager, Bridgestone Motorsport); Gary Anderson (Technical Director, Stewart Grand Prix); Mike Gascoyne (Technical Director, Jordan Grand Prix)
Q. Mr Ichikawa, we understand that Bridgestone has an announcement to make here about a new tyre. What can you tell us about it?
YI: The new racing product we are announcing here is our 'Heavy wet' tyre. Following our experience in qualifying at the French Grand Prix, we decided to make the Heavy wet available at this race, in case it is necessary for the cars to qualify under conditions of heavy rain or standing water. However, under conditions of normal rain we will continue to recommend the use of the regular Bridgestone wet tyre in the current specification.
Q. Is this a completely new design?
YI: Not completely new, no. But although the design itself is the same as before, we have made the grooves a little wider to give better performance under aquaplaning conditions.
Q. Is this tyre intended for use under race conditions as well as for qualifying?
YI: I don't think so, because during the course of a long race conditions are likely to change, which would make a specialised tyre unsuitable. And as soon as the track starts to dry there would be the danger of the Heavy wet tyre developing blisters. For a race it would almost certainly be preferable to stay with the current specification standard wet tyres.
Q. Do you expect to have this tyre at every race?
YI: From now on, we will bring the heavy Wet to every race.
Q. Without Bridgestone, this year there would have been no tyres available for F1. Is the company happy to continue supplying tyres even when the regulations change as frequently as they have done in recent years?
YI: Before the start of this season, we anticipated that lap times on the four-groove tyres would slow down by just over one second, to the sort of speeds we saw in 1996. We made a very big effort to achieve that, and we seem to have made it. Whatever rules are introduced to control the specification of the tyres, our policy is to work as hard as necessary to meet the FIA's requirements. All we ask is that we be involved in any discussions about such changes, in order to reach a satisfactory agreement well in advance. Provided those arrangements are made, we are confident that we could produce a suitable tyre, even if it were to be a slick. Furthermore, although many drivers have complained about a lack of stability in the grooved tyres, I believe there has been a misunderstanding on this subject.
Q. There has been discussion recently about slick tyres. Would Bridgestone like to see grooved tyres abandoned in favour of a return to slicks?
YI: Even with grooved tyres, we have been able to provide the teams good grip. On the same basis, we believe we would be able to satisfy the requirements of the FIA -- even if we were asked to ensure a slower lap using slick tyres. It would, of course, require a very hard compound. I would like to point out that although some drivers have blamed the grooved tyres for the nervous handling of the current cars, that is not the real question.
Q. Gary Anderson, would you like to see a return to slick tyres?
Gary Anderson: This is a difficult question. As Mr Ichikawa points out, it is the grip of the tyre which dictates what the driver feels. If the tyre compound is made harder to reduce cornering speeds, then the driver will get a 'moving' feeling. But he cannot know whether this is because the tyre tread is moving, or whether it is because the tyre is sliding suddenly then gripping again. If the FIA intends to change the regulations again, then I suggest that the federation will need to spend time discussing its proposals. Both Bridgestone and the teams will have to be given a reasonable time in which to produce a product which can be tested and evaluated before it goes into production. In the past, too many decisions have been made and implemented too quickly. Instead of resolving one problem, this has simply created another. We all want to improve the competitiveness and entertainment value of the racing, but if that is to be achieved by a move back to slicks, let's ensure that plenty of time is given to the project. It cannot be done tomorrow.
Q. Mike Gascoyne, would the racing be improved by an immediate return to slicks?
MG: This is a very complex question. But I do not believe that a return to slicks, on its own, is the answer. As Gary has suggested, the one thing we don't need is a sudden knee-jerk reaction to try to improve the quality of the racing. When badly thought-out solutions have been imposed in the past, they have only rarely achieved the original objective. For the teams, sudden changes in the regulations are not desirable. It can pose too many problems for the teams to accommodate changes like an increase in the number of grooves when they are in the process of designing a new car. Looking exclusively at the the tyres, the factor required to slow the cars is to reduce the grip. This can be achieved by specifying a hard compound or by requiring grooves. My personal preference is for slick tyres, which in my opinion look much better on a top car, and I am sure that Bridgestone is capable of manufacturing a slick tyre which would give the same lap times as the grooved rubber. But I also agree with Gary that the drivers would then complain about the lack of grip, just as they do about the current grooved tyres.
Q. Most teams have already started to design their new cars for 2000. When do they need to know about changes to the tyre regulations?
MG: Ultimately we can do virtually anything, as we proved last year when the fourth groove was mandated at a late stage of the season. But having to make the adjustment at such an advanced stage in the season affects some teams more seriously than others.
In my opinion, changes in the specification of the tyres should only be introduced if we are sure, first, that they will improve either safety or the quality of the racing.
Q. Gary, can you imagine a change back to slicks being possible next year, if sufficient pressure were brought to bear?
GA: As Mike says, we can do virtually anything, but there must be a reason for doing it. There is no doubt, for example, that Magny-Cours was a good race, with lots of overtaking and plenty of action on the track. But the main reason for that was that the racing line, being wet, was not as important as it would normally be. In heavy rain there was as much grip off-line as there was on-line. But as soon as the weather started to dry, the racing line became more and more important. By contrast, in dry conditions the teams will spend all day Friday and part of Saturday on finding the correct line through the corners, getting the rubber down and developing their cars to qualify as high as possible on the grid. On a dry road, it not very realistic then to expect the slower cars to pass the faster ones on a dirty part of the track. It is only in the wet, with reduced cornering speeds, that passing can be done as easily as we saw it in France. But aerodynamics will always be an important factor in the performance of the racing car, unless their effect is reduced to the point where one car can follow another closely enough for that closeness not to affect the grip level of the following car.
In 1994, following the changes introduced as a consequence of Ayrton Senna's fatal accident, the cars lost 30 or 40 per cent of the downforce they had before. Then, with the introduction of the narrow-track cars in 1998, we lost another 25 per cent. But it is the job of a designer to claw back as much of the lost downforce as possible, and there is no doubt that we have recovered some of what we lost. As long as aerodynamic devices are permitted, it remains inevitable that a following car will be sensitive to the turbulence generated by the car in front.
Q. A question here for both car designers. What have been your experiences with Bridgestone tyres?
MG: When we switched to Bridgestone tyres for the first test at Suzuka last year, a couple of days after the season had ended, quite a lot of teams experienced some difficulties. In fact we had very few problems making the change and our drivers were very happy with their cars and drivers. We are now in a somewhat different situation, with one driver very competitive and happy with the tyres. Meanwhile, our other driver is struggling a bit and attributing his difficulties to the grooved tyres and the other changes which have been made to the regulations. But Bridgestone is a very professional company and Jordan Grand Prix, having made the switch, has improved its competitiveness when compared with the top runners. We have already established a very good working relationship with Bridgestone and its engineers.
GA: Stewart Grand Prix had enjoyed the luxury of running on Bridgestone tyres for a couple of seasons before I joined the team last year. Last year, the work I did with Bridgestone when I was still at Jordan last year was beneficial in terms of getting the best out of the tyre. I believe that taking that knowledge to Stewart Grand Prix helped their car on its Bridgestone tyres. One of the greatest assets of Bridgestone's product is its consistency: from set to set, then from tyre to tyre, there are no problems at all. We have
an excellent relationship with Bridgestone and we are very happy about it. They react well to what we tell them. In fact, the only dispute is the one between us and Jordan!
Q. Do you think you will you be able to challenge the top teams this year?
MG: Our performances this year, specifically with Heinz-Harald Frentzen, have gone very well and Heinz is very confident. We have to be realistic, of course, and the top two teams in the championship will be very difficult to beat. But Gary and I are struggling to make our teams 'best of the rest,' and I am sure that Rubens and Heinz-Harald, with -- I hope -- Damon Hill as well, will be at the top again.
GA: At this race we want to move up another stage. This means getting our drivers on to the second row of the grid if possible, instead of the third. But nothing is easy. The latest cars are very delicate to handle and the drivers must be very precise. I think this may explain the gap in performance between Damon Hill and Heinz-Harald Frentzen at Jordan: while Heinz has reached that understanding level of the car, the other isn't quite there yet. We have the same situation at Stewart with Rubens Barrichello and Johnny Herbert: there is nothing different in the way they do it, but Rubens has discovered the way to make his car work better than Johnny has. A good result for us would be to get one driver on the podium, and we would be pleased to get some points. Anything else would be a disappointment.