[The massive challenges Bridgestone will face if it lands F1 deal
Bridgestone, which has been absent from F1 for 15 years, passed the technical vetting undertaken by the FIA, and has been deemed qualified to be the F1 tyre supplier following the initial tender phase.
Phase 2 is the commercial side, as the supplier is also an official partner of the F1 organisation, paying a substantial fee into the pot that is eventually split with the teams. It’s not just about the headline amount, but also how much track signage the deal involves and how many races receive title sponsorship, all the way down to details such as how many guest passes the company receives.
F1 has been able to run a bidding war, with the two companies obliged to up the ante and try to match or outdo their rival.
It won’t just be about the best commercial deal, as F1 has had insight from F1’s own chief technical officer, Pat Symonds.
The teams have no say in the matter other than airing their views through informal conversations they may have had with F1 boss Stefano Domenicali or the FIA.
The current tender process was launched on March 20, and it covers the 2025, 2026 and 2027 seasons, with an option for 2028. F2 and F3 come as part of the deal.
Those applying for the tender have to promise to meet the detailed targets that are set out, and which the FIA notes “have been agreed through consultation with the commercial rights holders and the teams, and are designed to ensure a wide working range, minimise overheating, and have low degradation whilst also creating the possibility for variation in strategy”.
The FIA has also made it clear that “the tender will also require potential suppliers to supply an analysis of the environmental impact of the tyres used in F1, and the successful bidder will need to demonstrate best practice and innovation when considering the complete life cycle of the tyres.”
The last invitation to tender was launched back in 2018, to cover 2020-’23, and Pirelli successfully fended off a bid from Hankook.
The 2021 season was meant to see F1 switch to new rules and 18-inch tyres but COVID delayed the change to 2022.
As part of the fallout from that in March 2021, Pirelli was awarded an extension to 2024, to give it at least three years of racing with the 18-inch tyres into which it had invested so much effort.
When that concludes at the end of 2024, Pirelli faces competition this time not from Korea, but from Japan.
There’s no doubting Bridgestone’s credentials, and many in the paddock have first-hand experience of working with the company – not least Domenicali himself, who was a key player at Ferrari during the Italian team’s years of domination.
Michael Schumacher with the new Ferrari F2004
Photo by: Sutton Images
Bridgestone’s last F1 stint lasted for 14 years. The company arrived in 1997, and initially spent two years in a war with Goodyear. It then had two seasons as sole supplier in 1999 and 2000 before Michelin arrived in 2001 and an even more intense battle began.
Bridgestone forged a close relationship with Ferrari over the six years of that fight, helping Michael Schumacher to a string of world championships. After Michelin’s departure, Bridgestone was sole supplier again from 2007 to 2010, before ceding that role to Pirelli in 2011.
Since then, it has remained active in other forms of racing, most notably in the Japanese Super GT series. And now it has decided that the time is right for a return to F1.
The big complication is that in 2026, the second year of the upcoming contract, the technical rules will change dramatically and thus so will what is required from the tyres.
In other words, Bridgestone will first have to develop tyres for the current cars to use in 2025, when downforce levels and so loads will have edged higher from where they are now. And almost in parallel, it has to create something very different for 2026, before those cars actually exist.
Given that the start of the 2025 season is less than 20 months away Bridgestone clearly faces a huge challenge if it does get the nod. What we don’t know, but perhaps the FIA does from the tender bid, is how much work it has already conducted. It can do a lot of R&D in the factory and on rigs before taking its products on track.
Circuit testing is the tricky bit. If Bridgestone wins the tender in 2024, it will obviously take over what is currently Pirelli’s in-season testing programme, which is split across the 10 teams and is enshrined in the FIA regulations. That will at least allow all of the teams to get a taste of the Bridgestones next year, prior to racing with them in 2025.
However, those test days are few and far between, and only available from next season. Bridgestone will need a lot more track time for its own private testing, and it has to start this year, probably within weeks of the tender decision being made.
And that means having a test car, and to be at all representative it will have to be a 2022 model from a current team. And that is likely to open up a can of worms.
Pedro de la Rosa, Pirelli Toyota TF109
Photo by: Pirelli
When Pirelli kicked off its F1 test programme it lucked in as Toyota closed its F1 operation at the end of the 2009 season, and its cars were now redundant. It was a handy arrangement as the TF109 was a near-current car, and yet it was neutral, as Toyota was no longer racing.
However, after contributing to the development of the 2011 and 2012 tyres the Toyota became rather less current. Downforce levels changed, while one of the main drawbacks was that it came from the refuelling era. It thus had a small tank, and could not be run with a representative heavy fuel load.
Pirelli needed a newer alternative, and that meant doing a deal with one of the teams. In March 2012 it was confirmed that the recently renamed Lotus had agreed to supply a 2010 Renault R30, albeit adapted to simulate the then-current aero regs.
“It was super complicated,” recalls Pirelli’s Mario Isola. “In the second year the Toyota was no more available, they were also running out of parts. And obviously, we had to find a car that was in the championship.
“So the Renault was available at the time. It was not a top, top team. And obviously our choice was not to have a top team, to not give an advantage to any top team. But at that time, we had a lot of discussion about the advantage.”
Inevitably, one team potentially getting extra insight into Pirelli’s products caused some upset among rivals.
Pirelli was moved to write a letter to the teams stressing that the Renault was run by the Lotus show car crew, and that the data from the testing was not passed to the main race team.
It also went to great lengths to stress that the majority of the data was handled not by Lotus, but passed directly to Pirelli via an independent infra-red system run by a German company called Rennwerk set up by former Toyota employees.
The letter even included a diagram to show the flow of data and how Pirelli and Rennwerk controlled it, with Lotus only involved in the essentials of running the car.
Most intriguingly the letter offered an invitation to teams to send representatives to observe any test. They were only allowed to talk to one Pirelli representative and were not allowed inside the garage, but every effort was made to make them feel welcome – even the provision of wi-fi, somewhere to work, and a free lunch!
F1 Pirelli Test: Jaime Alguersuari
Photo by: Pirelli
However the mumbling about Lotus gaining an advantage never went away, and indeed it was encouraged by the fact that in 2012 and through 2013 Kimi Raikkonen became a podium regular, and even won a couple of races.
Over the last decade, F1 has become even more competitive and the stakes are now arguably even higher, so one can imagine that the debate over what car is used and how Bridgestone’s testing programme works will be more intense than last time.
Consider too that when the Renault test car was introduced, the teams had already raced for a year on Pirellis.
This time around, whichever team takes part will be involved right from the start of the initial development, so rivals will be even more wary of a possible advantage being gained.
Isola believes that it won’t be easy for Bridgestone to make it work.
“If you have only one team that is testing for you, it’s normal that you develop something that is for that car,” he says. “The other point is that if you use a car of one team, it is difficult to convince the team to use a driver that is not in their area of influence.
“So obviously, they want a driver that is their driver. It doesn’t matter if he is a race driver, or a test driver or another driver, but he’s connected to the team. It’s not an ideal situation.”
The test car is just one of the many challenges. Bridgestone not only has to develop the tyres, it also has to get its manufacturing up to speed and put together the team that will run operations at the track.
Pirelli tyres and wheels outside of the Alpine garage
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
“It’s not going to be easy, it’s not easy at all,” says Isola. “And don’t forget you are also to develop a wet tyre, you have to develop an intermediate tyre, plus a wind tunnel tyre. There is a list of activities that is quite big.”
Pirelli hasn’t always had a smooth ride over the last few years, and teams and drivers have sometimes grumbled about its products. That has generally faded, although drivers still complain about overheating in traffic.
Bridgestone’s association with the much-missed V10 and V8 era lends a certain nostalgia to its bid, but that won’t necessarily equate to a better tyre or better racing in 2025 and beyond. A change may sound attractive, but as one F1 insider said in Austria: “Be careful what you wish for.”
Perhaps the biggest deciding factor is that F1 will have new cars and power units in 2026, and with interest building worldwide, it cannot afford to drop the ball. Will introducing a new tyre supplier in 2025 be one change too many?