Did Bridgestone compromise McLaren?

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes, Istanbul, 2008, 470150

A mistake by Bridgestone, Formula 1’s sole tyre supplier, created additional problems for McLaren this weekend. Even before the race got underway the Japanese manufacturer was openly admitting it had brought the wrong choice of compounds.

It chose the same combination of medium and hard tyres it brought last year, despite the race being much earlier in the calendar this year and therefore held in cooler conditions. Hirohide Hamashima, the director of Bridgestone motorsport tyre development, said yesterday:

I think for next season maybe we have to shift the [compound] one position softer. It is about 10-15 degrees [C] lower than we expected, so especially the medium compound has some graining until about 10 laps, then it vanishes gradually.

Hamashima denied this had caused any problems for the teams:

We have checked the car data from every team, and so far we have seen no problems. Last year we found the small problem on the Friday, but now we are very happy and we don’t face any trouble.

But according to McLaren that was not the case. Ron Dennis said after the race:

There was some internal delamination which Bridgestone were very good at picking up. We didn’t want to have any tyre failure. It was possibly okay to run two stops, but it was a bit more severe on Lewis’ and we put drivers’ safety first.

Lewis Hamilton added:

The reason we went with the three stopper was that Bridgestone were concerned. They thought the tyre was going to fail like it did last year and they made us do a three-stop as it was the safest route to go. Unfortunately that put us in not such a strong position to win the race.

Were the two problems related? If they aren’t then why did Hamashina claim they hadn’t had any problems? (If Dennis is feeling particularly paranoid, he may point out that it is not his cars that appear in Bridgestone’s television adverts, but those of a certain leading rival.)

It’s not easy to say how far was this Bridgestone’s fault and how far was it McLaren’s, although Bridgestone clearly made a mistake in the first place by failing to appreciate how different the conditions would be in Istanbul in May instead of September.

The difference in driving styles between the two McLaren drivers further complicates the picture. Hamilton is much harder on his tyres than most drivers including team mate Heikki Kovalainen. At the same circuit last year he suffered a tyre de-lamination during the race.

According to Dennis and Hamilton, they opted for a three-stop strategy out of concerns over safety at Bridgestone’s insistence. Under similar circumstances at Interlagos last year McLaren stuck to a short-stint strategy out of concerns that the tyres would not last, and Hamilton potentially lost the world championship because of that decision.

McLaren still haven’t gotten to grips with the rubber supplied by Bridgestone, but the tyre supplier’s mistake this weekend didn’t help.

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