The majority of companies involved in Formula 1 are players on the international stage; their names well known all over the world. That is certainly true of Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro partner, Bridgestone. Nevertheless, no successful business ever...
The majority of companies involved in Formula 1 are players on the international stage; their names well known all over the world. That is certainly true of Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro partner, Bridgestone. Nevertheless, no successful business ever forgets its roots and so this Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka has a special significance for our tyre supplier, just as the races at Imola and Monza take on an extra importance for the Prancing Horse.
Prior to this, the penultimate grand prix of the season, the Scuderia and Bridgestone spent a week testing at the Le Castellet circuit in the South of France and the main item on the agenda was tyres for this event and the season finale in Shanghai. Despite an intensive tyre testing programme which has run through most of the year, the Ferrari-Bridgestone package has, with just a few exceptions, not been competitive enough.
"One of the reasons for that situation is this year's dramatic change to the regulations," reckoned Hirohide Hamashima, Director of Bridgestone Motorsport Tyre Development. The new rules effectively required the tyre manufacturers to produce a tyre that would produce competitive lap times combined with durability over a complete race distance.
"At first, we concentrated on producing a construction of tyre that had the durability to deal with the regulations," continued Hamashima. "Of course, this is a very important factor, especially from the safety point of view. Only once we felt we had reached a satisfactory point in that side of the development, we began to work on the compound side."
"But this year we have to check the durability of a compound over a distance of around 350 kilometre, whereas last year, over that distance we could have tested three types of compound or specification."
"In effect, having to test a compound over a much greater distance has greatly increased the time it takes to evaluate a tyre compound. That is why it has taken us a long time to develop a new specification and that has delayed our progress."
Just as the team designers have been working on their 2006 cars for some time now, so too, the tyre engineers have been preparing for next season. Apart from making full use of all the data acquired during testing with Ferrari, Bridgestone will also benefit from one instant improvement next season.
Next year more the Japanese company will have more top teams on its books, which means more chassis, more wheels and more drivers to test its tyres. "This is a very important factor," agreed Hamashima. "The new teams have already indicated that they want to cooperate, not only with us but also with Ferrari as well."
"So their technical directors will all be involved in discussions and I would like to see a sharing of data from testing going on in our trucks. I believe our development speed will get much quicker because of this factor."
If the fact that Ferrari has been Bridgestone's only front-running team has proved a disadvantage this year, in the past, with different F1 tyre rules, it has proved very advantageous in other ways. Hamashima is keen for this special relationship to continue. "I would like to see this collaboration and good relationship continue in the future," he insisted.
"We learn so much from Ferrari, from its high technology knowledge and that is very important for our company in terms of developing our product. With the other teams joining us in 2006, if they wish to collaborate with us we will do so. But we will not reduce the resources we put into Ferrari."
Before the Grand Prix weekend, the Scuderia drivers will pay a visit to Bridgestone's Japanese headquarters. Always a tradition, this year Hamashima feels it will have special significance. "It is particularly important because the results this year have not been too good. Despite this, our company employees have still been cheering on our efforts with Ferrari this year."
"So, the opportunity for the drivers to visit our facility is very important for Bridgestone. One of the reasons we entered F1 was to take advantage in terms of internal motivation and direction to develop. The visit to headquarters shows the collaboration between our two companies is still very strong, even if the results have been lacking on track."
So, what can one expect from the Ferrari-Bridgestone combination at the fantastic Suzuka track. "At every race, our target is the same, namely to stand on the top step of the podium, but it will be difficult to make such a big step forward from where we are at the moment," admitted Hamashima.
"However, I feel it is important that we should put on a strong showing in Suzuka, to make a positive connection to next year's work. That is very important. At the moment, our test team with Ferrari, and particularly Luca Badoer and Marc Gené, are continuing to develop our tyres so I want to show the spectators and fans in Japan some new things and some positive signs for the future."
In the technology driven world of motor sport there is little room for sentiment and superstition, but in recent weeks, a red machine built in Italy and running on Bridgestone tyres has won two races, one of them in Japan.
Ducati and Bridgestone seem to be experiencing an upturn in performance in recent weeks in MotoGP. Is that an encouraging sign? "Of course, it is very good news," said Hamashima with a smile. "But of course, it also puts the Bridgestone Formula 1 team under more pressure!"