After the final Formula One Grand Prix of the season, at the beautiful but bizarre Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi, a surprise announcement was made. Bridgestone, the sole tire supplier for car racing's premier class, announced that they would be pulling out of that role at the end of their contract period, the 2010 Formula One season. The statement quoted "the continuing evolution of the business environment" - probably code for the global economic crisis - as the main reason for the withdrawal, as well as having achieved the goals the company had set itself for in terms of raising brand awareness and recognition.
The company emphasized that the withdrawal from Formula One would have no effect on the other series they supply, including MotoGP. But the statement by Bridgestone holds clues to the danger of a single tire series, and the good reasons to fear that the Japanese tire manufacturer could consider pulling out after its contract to supply MotoGP expires at the end of 2011.
Bridgestone Corporation (Bridgestone) today announced that it will not enter into a new tire supply contract with the FIA Formula One World Championship (F1) series; the current contract is set to expire at the end of the 2010 season.
In addressing the impact of the continuing evolution of the business environment on its decision, the company focused on the need to redirect its resources towards the further intensive development of those innovative technologies and strategic products which support the company's goals and further enhance the company's reputation as a technology leader.
Over the years, the company has benefited directly from its involvement in Formula One racing. The lessons learned through Bridgestone's successful participation have translated into innovations that can be applied to the design and manufacture of tires. In addition, its collaboration with F1 has contributed to increased brand awareness and the recognition of Bridgestone as a leader in the global tire industry. Having achieved these goals, Bridgestone is now poised to take its technological and brand building efforts to the next level.
Bridgestone is committed to supporting F1 and the series' teams through the completion of the 2010 season. The company also expressed its sincere appreciation and gratitude to the management of Formula One, the F1 teams and support staff, and the F1 fans around the world for their enthusiasm and support for Bridgestone over the last 13 years.
There are a number of phrases that are cause for concern to MotoGP fans. The most disturbing is that pulling out of Formula One will allow it to "redirect its resources towards the further intensive development of those innovative technologies and strategic products which support the company's goals and further enhance the company's reputation as a technology leader". The implication here is that supplying tires in a spec tire series is not a credible basis for promoting your company as involved in technological innovation. With the competition removed, the brand exposure generated is devalued, an accusation which is particularly painful in a series which is marketed as the technological pinnacle of a motorsports discipline.
This is not a problem that faces spec tires suppliers in production-based series. After all, Pirelli (in the World Superbike and British Superbike series) and Dunlop (in the AMA series) can claim that they are using racing of production motorcycles to develop tires suitable for the street versions of the bikes being raced. The justification for the existence of pure prototype series such as MotoGP or Formula One is technological innovation forged in the heat of competition itself. A spec tire does not sit well with that image of prototype racing, regardless of the many benefits a spec tire may have on a series.
However, in the end, the issue is still likely to come down to one of cost. Right now, Bridgestone supplies tires at considerably less than cost to the MotoGP teams, and must justify those costs internally as a marketing exercise. If market conditions tighten, or marketing and company goals change, the reason for being the sole supplier to a particular series can easily disappear, as Formula One has now found to its cost.
For more background on the repercussions for Bridgestone's withdrawal on Formula One, see the story on the outstanding Formula1Blog.com website. Formula1Blog.com are friends of MotoMatters.com, and are highly recommended, providing excellent insight into the world of four wheel racing, for those of you that are interested.