As Bridgestone bids farewell to F1 after fourteen successful seasons, the company's Director of Motorsport, Hiroshi Yasukawa, answered some of Pitpass' questions.
What drove Bridgestone's initial involvement in Formula One, given Goodyear had enjoyed a sole-supplier arrangement with the sport for a number of years. What happened to make the company interested in the sport?
Bridgestone's motivation to participate in Formula One as a tyre supplier stemmed from its desire to expand its brand awareness levels globally, to develop closer relations with some of the world's leading auto manufacturers and to drive and promote its own technological capabilities. The company recognised the power of Formula One some years before it actually started its full time campaign in 1997 and was careful to ensure it was ready. Several years of developing its racing tyre technology in series such as F2, F3000, GT racing, Le Mans and the DTM provided the basis for a strong foundation and with a little supplementary encouragement from various key figures in the motor racing world the decision to step up to Formula One was finally made.
Did Bridgestone change or learn anything in the wake of Indianapolis 2005?
What happened at the 2005 Indianapolis Grand Prix was a very unfortunate thing. For Bridgestone, safety is of the utmost priority and I remain very proud that our technical department produced the correct tyres. We are there to show our technology, but as tyre suppliers we also have a duty. We are there to provide a service and races should not be stopped because of us.
Having supplied Formula One for a number of years, having enjoyed success in competition against Goodyear and Michelin, why has Bridgestone chosen to withdraw from the sport?
The decision to not enter into a new contract for Formula One was a very difficult one to make and it was made at the highest level of management by the Members of the Board of Bridgestone. Ultimately, it stems from the company taking a good look at what it was doing, how its resources were allocated and taking a decision for the long term benefit of the company and its customers. Bridgestone concluded that the Formula One programme had achieved the goals it had been set and that, for the foreseeable future at least, it was time to reallocate those resources towards the development of new, innovative technologies which will bring even greater benefits to society. We are living in a changing world and Bridgestone wishes to invest further in the production of safer and more environmentally sensitive products.
Advertising campaigns draw on the link with Formula One, how is that going to change going forward?
Yes, we have utilised Formula One in our advertising campaigns over the years and although we won't be using it directly any more there is no denying that the technology transfer from our racing programme to some of our road going products remains very relevant. This year for example we launched a new ultra high performance road tyre, the Potenza S001, whose technology is partially derived from our motorsport prowess. So, where relevant, I expect we will continue to inform our customers that some of our technology is derived from our racing expertise.
However, it should also be said that our advertising campaigns will reflect our product line up and we have many different types of tyres and we would not have necessarily used motorsport anyway to promote those tyres.
What is Bridgestone's legacy in Formula One, and what involvement with motor sport does the company intend to hold in the near and distant future?
We believe that Bridgestone is leaving a very strong legacy of excellence, technological expertise and safety in extreme environments. We have also contributed to Formula One as a sport, as a premium image sponsor and we hope, as good partners with whom to work on a day-to-day level in the paddock. Furthermore, we have made great efforts to contribute to global road safety and environmental campaigns and used our Formula One programme to help promote the key messages of these campaigns.
In terms of our ongoing motorsport activities, Bridgestone still considers motorsport to be a part of its DNA and so we are still the Official Tyre Supplier to the FIM MotoGP World Championship, the official tyre of the IZOD IndyCar Series, and very much involved still in karting and domestic Japanese racing series such as SuperGT. These are Bridgestone's focus for the present time.
Would the company return to Formula One, and if so, under what conditions?
It is not something the company is considering at this current time as we are concentrating on fulfilling our new strategic direction. However we are not ruling it out and would like to think that if the circumstances were right that the door might be open to us.
What was the highlight and low point?
It doesn't seem right to dwell on any one low point as I would prefer under the circumstances to remember and celebrate what has been achieved. For me, seeing our company's branding on the circuit at the 1997 Australian Grand Prix and then taking the first ever FIA Formula One World Championship titles on our tyres in 1998 were truly momentous occasions which will remain always in my mind. But there have been so many high points I will enjoy reminiscing about them all. I will also remember the warmth and openness with which we have been received in Formula One.
We are sure that all F1 fans, both inside and outside the paddock, will join Pitpass in thanking Bridgestone for its enormous contribution to the sport over the last fourteen years and hope that one day you might return.