Bridgestone can reflect on a succesful first part of the 2004 season, with its flagship team Ferrari winning 12 of 13 races. Doubts during winter testing had all been proven wrong from the first Grand Prix at Melbourne on.
The technical manager of Bridgestone motorsports gives a view of the 2004 season until the Hockenheim GP, and the aims for the future.
Twelve wins from thirteen races – you must be delighted with the results so far? Very much so. During winter testing some people thought that our rival would be stronger than us this year so we made a big effort to improve our tyre performance. Right up to the first round in Melbourne people had doubts but this just served as a spring board for further inspiration and since then, we have really been able to demonstrate our improved tyre performance. All the Bridgestone teams have benefited from our strengths this year. So far, I think our efforts have paid off and twelve wins from thirteen races is an amazing achievement. We did lose Monaco which was disappointing but that just means we will try even harder in 2005!
The race at Hockenheim marked the 90th win on Bridgestone tyres since 1997. You must be extremely proud of Bridgestone's achievements in such a short period of time. Yes, to have reached 90 wins in our eighth season since entering Formula One in 1997 is a fantastic achievement. However, it is not the numbers that impress me but the race by race achievement when taken from a tyre development point of view: to know that a Bridgestone driver has taken victory on 90 occasions is very satisfying. We have already started to build on this with Michael's victory in Hungary last weekend.
One of the major challenges this year has been to produce competitive and durable tyres for hot temperatures. Do you think Bridgestone has achieved that? Last year, one of our weak points was tyre consistency and performance in hot weather conditions. We therefore put in a concerted effort to improve in that area and as a result, our tyres have performed well in hot conditions. We have made quite a lot of progress – as we saw in Magny-Cours and Hockenheim.
This year the Bridgestone tyres have been renowned for their excellent consistency in performance, enabling the Bridgestone teams to run a wide variety of strategies. Why did you choose this characteristic? What is important in the race is to finish either first or as high up as possible to claim points. Bridgestone's philosophy is that race performance is most important. A race tyre, in our opinion, should have consistent performance over a race stint. When developing tyres, we always check for consistency and if a new specification is more consistent than the control/current tyre then it will be available for further testing or even at the next race.
Is the need for initial first-lap performance overrated? No, one-lap performance is important but if you have good one-lap performance without good race consistency you can end up with a worse race result. For ultimate tyre performance we want both characteristics which is why we are trying to improve our first lap performance. However, Michael Schumacher has claimed seven of the thirteen available pole positions so we can't be too far off.
Which other areas has Bridgestone worked to improve on in 2004? Working on tyres for hot conditions has been particularly important, especially for races such as Hockenheim and Hungary. We did not experience temperatures as high as normal in Hungary, but our assessment of the tyres over the weekend showed that we would have been competitive even if temperatures had been normal. The Ferrari cars in particular were in very good shape compared to their rivals, with no blisters on their tyres after the race. First-lap performance has also been an important area for further improvement and again, the Hungarian Grand Prix showed we are on the right track. We now move on to the Belgian and Italian GPs, both of which have high speed natures. The first visit to the Shanghai circuit is obviously a new challenge for us and Suzuka in Japan is always tough on tyres because of its abrasive surface and high speed nature. And finally, we will return to Brazil where we have to consider the changeable weather conditions and grip levels, particularly on the rear tyres. So there are many challenges ahead.
How has development progressed on Bridgestone's rain tyres? Bridgestone's wet tyre performance is renowned for being very strong. Naturally we expect our rival to try to come up with an improved wet tyre so we in turn always keep pushing our development programme. Even if we have had no wet races yet this year it is important that we do not stand still. We have already made improvements to our wet tyres for this season which we believe will give the Bridgestone teams a competitive edge.
We are now in the test ban period and will not test until Monza in September. How does this affect Bridgestone's tyre development programme? The test ban means that we are unable to do any trackside testing but that does not mean we can't do laboratory test work and computer simulations. There is actually a positive side to a test ban as it enables us to use the time wisely for a thorough review of our tyre performances so far. This analysis is then used for the specifications being produced for the remainder of the season. The ban also allows our personnel to recharge their batteries and prepare themselves mentally and physically for the remainder of the season.
Last year Bridgestone had tough races in Magny-Cours, Hockenheim and Hungary and has worked hard to regain not only wins on these circuits but also to give all its teams a competitive chance of gaining points. Ferrari and Michael Schumacher have now achieved victories in France, Germany and Hungary. Just how big a challenge was Hungary? The Hungarian Grand Prix was a big challenge. I still remember Michael being lapped there last year so we very much wanted to win there this year. We worked extremely hard to ensure that our tyres for Hungary gave our teams a competitive chance and our efforts paid off. All the information gathered from the previous rounds, as well as some additional developments went towards producing the tyres for Hungary and the new specification worked particularly well. Not only was the tyre giving quick first lap performance but if you analyse the race lap times and list the laps in order of fastest to slowest, you will see that the Ferrari drivers set the top 31 fastest laps between them. Speed and consistency: a great combination for racing tyres.
What is your target for the remainder of the year? To win the remainder of the races and to keep strengthening the relationships between Bridgestone and its teams so we can develop a greater understanding of their needs. Ferrari has just won the Constructors' Championship and we are now working towards the Drivers' Championship. The end of the season is also very important for Sauber, Jordan and Minardi as they strive to win as many points as possible and we need to support them in this goal. In addition to the immediate future, we also need to start thinking about next year and the implications of changing the regulations. While they have not actually been finalised yet, it is likely that the regulations will mean that we need to prepare and test tyres with more durable characteristics. It will be an exciting challenge for us.