1996: Suzuki tests Bridgestone's F1 tyres

Picture gallery: Bridgestone in F1, 1976-2010

2010 F1 season reviewPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

1996: Suzuki tests Bridgestone's F1 tyres
1996: Suzuki tests Bridgestone's F1 tyres

Bridgestone have bowed out of Formula 1 having supplied tyres to teams since 1997.

But their first appearance in the sport was over 20 years before that. They also supplied tyres in the first Japanese Grands Prix at Fuji in the 1970s.

While the 1976 Japanese Grand Prix is remembered mainly for the dramatic conclusion of the world championship, this was also the first F1 race featuring a car which used Bridgestone tyres.

Kazuyoshi Hoshino’s Tyrrell, entered by Heros Racing, was the sole Bridgestone runner at Fuji. The following year he and Noritake Takahara raced a pair of Kojimas at the same race, also on Bridgestones.

But the Japanese Grand Prix was dropped after that year and Bridgestone did not return to the sport until 1997. This time they weren’t just dipping a toe in the water: five teams arranged to use their tyres, though that number was cut to four when Lola disappeared after a single race.

Goodyear, who had enjoyed a monopoly on F1 tyre supply since Pirelli left in 1991, now found themselves back in competition with another tyre manufacturer.

Bridgestone enjoyed early success with the Prost team, Olivier Panis scoring their first podium in their second race at Interlagos. Later that year at the Hungaroring Damon Hill came within a lap of winning in his Bridgestone-shod Arrows.

That enticed McLaren to join the Bridgestone camp for 1998 and together they won both championships that year. Meanwhile the arrival of regulations requiring cars to use grooved tyres prompted Goodyear to leave.

In 1999 and 2000 Bridgestone were the only tyre supplier in F1. But in 2001 Michelin returned to the sport and the tyre war was reignited.

Top teams including Williams (2001) and McLaren (2002) were among the early defectors to the French tyre company. After being trounced by Bridgestone in 2002 Michelin hit back hard in 2003, only for a controversial late-season change in the rules which played into Bridgestone’s hands.

By 2004 the Bridgestone-Ferrari alliance had claimed six consecutive constructors’ titles and five consecutive drivers’ titles. But the number of other teams using Bridgestones shrunk to a small minority, as the tyre supplier increasingly focussed their efforts solely on the Scuderia.

Another rules tweak in 2005, this time banning tyre changes during races, turned the status quo on its head. Suddenly Michelins were the thing to have – except at Indianapolis.

A spate of tyre failures caused their teams to retire en masse before the start of the United States Grand Prix, resulting in a farcical race contested by just the three Bridgestone-shod teams.

Renault and Michelin broke Bridgestone’s stranglehold on championship success that year and repeated it in 2006 as tyre changes returned to the sport. But it was Felipe Massa’s Ferrari, running on Bridgestones, that won the final contest between the two at Interlagos, before Michelin quit.

Since then Bridgestone have been F1’s only tyre supplier. They have increasingly used the sport to promote the environmental credentials of their tyres, which is why since 2008 the ‘option’ tyres have been distinguished by green stripes.

But at the end of last year they announced 2010 would be their final season in Formula 1. A two-day test following the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last month marked F1’s the final appearance of Bridgestone tyres and the end of an era as Pirelli arrived to take their place.

Here’s a look back on Bridgestone’s involvement in F1 since that tentative first run at Fuji in 1976:

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Images ?? Bridgestone Corporation, Red Bull/Getty images, Red Bull/GEPA, Daimler, Ferrari spa, Williams/Sutton, Williams/LAT, Ford.com, Brawn GP, Force India F1 Team, www.mclaren.com (see individual images for further details)