TOKYO—Bridgestone Corp.'s decision last fall to end its supply contract with the Formula One World Championship series after this season leaves unanswered the question of who will fill the void.
When asked, the most obvious candidates—Michelin, Goodyear and Pirelli & C. S.p.A.—all expressed no interest in entering F1. All have at some point in the past supplied F1 with tires, Michelin most recently through the 2006 season.
As of mid-January, the Federation International de l'Automobile (FIA)—F1's sanctioning body—had yet to comment on its plans for soliciting a tire supplier or suppliers for 2011 and beyond, other than to say the timing of Bridgestone's announcement will allow “the necessary arrangements to be made for the future supply of tires to the championship.”
By comparison, the FIA solicited bids for the current single supplier contract, for the 2008-10 seasons, in May and June 2006.
Muddying the situation is a transition of the FIA's leadership, with former Ferrari F1 team manager Jean Todt taking over after being elected president last October. The FIA hasn't begun the tendering process of finding a new supplier.
Bridgestone said its decision to withdraw—ending the tire maker's 14-year relationship with the FIA as an F1 tire supplier—will allow it to redirect its resources toward developing innovative technologies and strategic products that support the tire maker's goals and enhance its reputation as a technology leader.
The company did not disclose what it spends annually as F1's exclusive race tire supplier, but sources in the racing community estimate it to be in the tens of millions of dollars.
Over the years, the Tokyo-based tire maker has benefited directly from its involvement in Formula 1 racing, it said, noting that “the lessons learned through Bridgestone's successful participation have translated into innovations that can be applied to the design and manufacture of tires.”
The firm said its collaboration with the F1 series 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 added that it is committed to supporting F1 and the series' teams through the completion of the 2010 season, and also expressed 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.”
The 2010 season will require additional research and development investment, according to Bridgestone Motorsport Director Hiroshi Yasukawa, who noted there will be no in-race refueling next year, meaning the cars will start the races on their full fuel load, increasing the load on the tires. Tire changes will be permitted, but it's too soon to say how teams will approach the tire decision.
Bridgestone plans to introduce a narrower front tire as well, Yasukawa said, in an effort to re-establish better balance for the cars.
The 19-race 2010 F1 season starts March 14 in Bahrain and ends Nov. 14 in Abu Dhabi.
To find a new supplier, the FIA's World Motor Sport Council votes to appoint a single tire supplier and then instructs the FIA's Secretariat to organize a tendering process, according to FIA guidelines.
The tender is communicated to relevant manufacturers, and any company interested can then request a dossier from the FIA, which includes a form for a bid and contractual terms.
The guidelines state that interested parties send their sealed tenders by a deadline to the office of an independent Huissier de Justice. The FIA then selects the most competitive offer.