The 2001 world titles may be decided, but with three races still to go this season and tyre development for 2002 already under way, Bridgestone Motorsport's work continues apace. The company is delighted to have been part of Michael Schumacher...
The 2001 world titles may be decided, but with three races still to go this season and tyre development for 2002 already under way, Bridgestone Motorsport's work continues apace.
The company is delighted to have been part of Michael Schumacher and Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro's success, and to celebrate its fourth consecutive world championship since entering Formula 1 in 1997.
While the pressure is off for one constructor, Bridgestone Motorsport's five other teams all have their own targets for the rest of the season and the tyre manufacturer is working to help them as much as it can.
"Of course, we are very happy for Ferrari and Michael, the first champions of the 21st century, and proud to share in their victories," says Hirohide Hamashima, head of tyre development at Bridgestone. "But there are still many points to be won before the end of this season. It is our job to make sure we offer products that ensure our teams collect the maximum number of points they can between now and then."
While there is still much to play for this year, attention has already turned to 2002. The testing ban which runs from the Japanese Grand Prix until January 1 means it is crucial that as much useful data and information as possible is collected before the cars make their final track appearances this year.
The championship being decided early has not brought any particular benefit to Bridgestone, as a clear timetable of development for next year's tyres was already in place. The specification for a prototype tyre will be decided by the middle of October. This will be tested in the laboratory during November and December, while at the same time the performances of Bridgestone tyres during 2001 will be analysed.
"We have already begun a full and complete analysis of our performance this year. Careful examination of how we have performed in every race is extremely important towards developing next year's tyres," explains Mr Hamashima. "The aim is to identify our strengths but also any areas where we were not so strong. The result of this analysis will help us set the direction of tyre development for 2002, before we go into the very important indoor tests conducted during the last two months of this year." Testing will resume in January with a second prototype, developed from the work done during the winter months. Data from this testing will be analysed during January and February.
A final prototype will hit the track just before the opening race of the 2002 season at Albert Park, Melbourne in March.
It was in Australia this year that the considerable fall in lap times witnessed during the 2001 season was first seen. Although the size of the reduction has rarely been as great since, the trend in 2001 has been towards much lower lap times. Several lap records have been broken, including that of the Hungaroring just over two weeks ago when Mika Hakkinen slashed the previous fastest time.
Mr Hamashima expects this to continue in 2002. "The average fall in lap times this year has been about two seconds. This is because of an improvement in the cars as well as competition between Bridgestone and our rival. I believe about 30 per cent of the reduction is down to the development of tyres.
"I think it is fair to expect that, through a combination of car, engine and tyre development, this trend will continue next year. By how much it is impossible to predict, and from our point of view it will always be within the bounds of safety."
Mr Hamashima is pleased with the way Bridgestone's tyres have performed this year, but he accepts that improvements can be made, especially at certain circuits. "We have been particularly strong at what I would describe as 'technical' circuits, those that are slower and twistier. Our performance at tracks like Monaco and Hungary was obviously strong. There are other circuits where we were not quite as strong, so we have to work on improving our performance there, especially at those tracks that are dominated by straights."
As the wins at Magny-Cours and Hungaroring proved, and contrary to speculation, Bridgestone has not been at a disadvantage in hotter temperatures. Both races, won by Michael Schumacher on Bridgestone tyres, took place in extreme heat. "Although Canada and Germany were also hot weather races, I think the fact that we did not do as well was not down to the weather. It was more a case of track characteristics. It was just coincidence that it happened to be hot," explains Mr Hamashima, adding: "You only have to look at the results to see that high temperatures do not have a negative impact on our performance."
In the wet, Bridgestone advantage has been clear to see, but there will still be improvements for 2002. Says Mr Hamashima: "Our performance in the wet has been pleasing as we have been very competitive. We are satisfied with our wet tyres, which were developed using our computer-based hydro-simulation technology. However, we have a winter programme which will improve further our wet tyre performance."
An important aspect of developing next season's tyres is continuing the close working relationship with Bridgestone's teams. Says Mr Hamashima: "The sharing of information is important to both sides - the car designers need to know what direction we are going in in tyre development and they help us by giving us the information we require about car development.
"We are all working towards the same goal, and of course Bridgestone's success is in part dependent on our teams' success. We all want to be the best."