In theory 2010 is Bridgestone’s last year in the sport, although there’s been very little in the way of public discussion about potential replacements. There are certainly ongoing efforts behind the scenes to persuade the Tokyo management to change its mind, although it’s not yet clear how likely that will be.
The irony is that in PR terms tyres will very much be in the spotlight this year, perhaps to a greater extent than any season since 2005, when both Bridgestone and Michelin had to make a single set of tyres last a whole race distance.
This year there’s a different set of challenges. The first is that the fronts are 20mm narrower, for the simple reason that when the change was made from grooves to slicks, Bridgestone wanted to keep a check on the amount of rubber in contact with the track.
However they couldn’t downsize the fronts last year because the teams had already begun designing their cars around the standard size front. That’s no longer an issue this year, as designers have had plenty of lead time, so the fronts have duly shrunk.
The other big novelty for 2010 of course is the ban on refuelling. That has two effects. Firstly the huge extra weight that the cars carry at the start puts extra stress on tyres, and secondly fuel no longer plays any role in determining strategy. It’s now all about managing tyres and making the best use of the rule that forces everyone to use option and prime at some stage during the race.
In addition, only last week we got confirmation that those who make it through to Q3 now have to start the race on the set of tyres on which they qualified. That’s going to have a massive impact. Tyres are the new fuel load, you might say. Last year it was all about how much fuel the Q3 runners would put into the tank as they balanced out the requirement to qualify at the front against the need for a good race strategy. Those outside the top 10 could look at the shape of the grid, and then make a call on fuel loads.
Now, exactly the same will happen with tyres. And as with fuel loads we’ll probably see those who just scrape into Q3 making conservative choices, qualifying on the harder tyre and accepting ninth or 10th place in the basis that it will be a better choice for the start.
The teams had their first experience of the 2010 soft and supersoft tyres at Valencia last week, but the real test will come at Jerez, where they will try the softs, mediums and hards at a track which is much more punishing on the rears.
In a press release from Bridgestone last week its technical manager Tetsuro Kobayashi made some interesting observations: “Of course, being a new sized front, the front construction has been slightly modified but the other main change this year has been a change to the rear tyre construction in order to increase its durability. There has also been some modification of the tyre compounds in order to manage the expected longer stint lengths and to provide quicker warm up times in comparison to our 2009 compound range.”
Bridgestone has done its homework but then, but he also said that 2010 downforce levels are already higher than anticpated, hinting that the tyres may be more marginal than had been thought.
Kobayashi-san also gave an insight into the testing programme: “Valencia is a less severe track compared to some, and although it has a slightly rough surface, we are able to use our softer compounds. One interesting factor at Valencia however is the front tyre graining caused by the lateral forces, which makes it a good track for us to evaluate the graining resistance of our front tyres. This is in contrast to the Jerez track, where teams will next test, which is much more severe, especially on the rear tyres. So we will be able to check our rear tyre performance more thoroughly next week.”
In other words the teams will get their first proper taste of how the rears will stand up when running those 170kgs plus fuel loads. Clearly, some may struggle more than others to keep the tyres alive. Depending on how much leeway they have to dial such problems out of their car before the season starts, that critical comparison between teams may ultimately have more relevance than any outright lap times at Jerez. Should be an interesting week…
For more thoughts on the Bridgestone situation check out: http://formula-one.speedtv.com/article/cooper-tires-will-be-the-key-in-2010/