After 15 years away from F1, Bridgestone has successfully passed the technical scrutiny administered by the FIA and is now considered eligible to be the F1 tyre supplier after the first phase of tender.
The second phase revolves around the commercial aspect, since the supplier also functions as an official partner of the F1 organisation, contributing a significant fee that is eventually divided among the teams. The partnership extends beyond the financial contribution and includes elements like track signage, race title sponsorship, and other finer details such as the number of guest passes the company is allotted.
With F1 having the leverage to incite a bidding competition, the rival companies have been compelled to escalate their offers in a bid to outdo one another.
The decision, however, won’t solely depend on the best financial offer. Insights from F1’s chief technical officer, Pat Symonds, will also play a key role. The teams, meanwhile, have no decision-making authority and can only voice their opinions through informal discussions with F1 chief Stefano Domenicali or the FIA.
The ongoing tender process, which began on March 20, covers the 2025, 2026, and 2027 seasons, with an option for 2028, and includes F2 and F3 as part of the deal.
Those vying for the tender must commit to achieving specific targets as outlined by the FIA. These objectives, arrived at through discussions with commercial rights holders and teams, aim to ensure optimal performance, minimize overheating, and maintain low degradation, while simultaneously allowing for strategic variations.
The FIA has also made it clear that an environmental impact analysis of the tyres used in F1 is required from potential suppliers, and the winning bidder will be expected to showcase best practices and innovation in terms of the entire tyre life cycle.
The last tender invitation was issued in 2018 for the 2020-’23 seasons, which Pirelli managed to secure, fending off a bid from Hankook.
The 2021 season was originally planned to introduce new rules and 18-inch tyres, but the change was delayed to 2022 due to COVID. As a result, Pirelli was granted an extension to 2024, giving it a minimum of three years to race with the 18-inch tyres into which it had invested heavily.
Upon its conclusion at the end of 2024, Pirelli’s competition will not come from Korea this time, but from Japan.
Bridgestone’s credibility is indisputable, and many within the paddock have firsthand experience of collaborating with the company, including Domenicali, who had a crucial role at Ferrari during their period of dominance.
Bridgestone’s prior F1 tenure spanned 14 years, from 1997 to 2011, punctuated by periods of rivalry with Goodyear and Michelin, and solidified by a strong alliance with Ferrari that helped Michael Schumacher secure numerous world championships. Bridgestone has since remained active in other racing formats, most notably in the Japanese Super GT series, and now believes the time is ripe for an F1 comeback.
A major complication is that in 2026, the second year of the upcoming contract, there will be a dramatic shift in the technical rules, which will necessitate an equally drastic change in the tyre requirements.
This means Bridgestone must concurrently develop tyres for the current cars to be used in 2025, when downforce levels and corresponding loads will be higher than they are now, and a substantially different product for 2026, even before those cars exist.
With the 2025 season less than 20 months away, Bridgestone faces a formidabletask should it be selected. What remains unknown, possibly only to the FIA via the tender bid, is the extent of preparatory work Bridgestone has already undertaken. They can conduct extensive R&D off the track before their products hit the road.
On-track testing presents more challenges. If Bridgestone wins the 2024 tender, they will naturally take over the in-season testing programme currently operated by Pirelli. This programme is spread across the 10 teams and is protected by FIA regulations. The arrangement will allow all teams to experience the Bridgestone tyres before they’re officially used in 2025.
Yet, with testing days scarce and only available from next season, Bridgestone will need extensive track time for private testing. This needs to commence this year, likely within weeks of the tender decision. This will necessitate a test car, ideally a 2022 model from a current team, which could complicate matters.
When Pirelli launched its F1 test programme, it utilized cars from Toyota, who had recently exited F1. Over time, this car became less current, and Pirelli had to secure a newer model from a current team. The decision stirred controversy as rivals perceived that the chosen team might gain an unfair insight into Pirelli’s products.
With F1 becoming even more competitive over the last decade, the debate over the testing car and the logistics of Bridgestone’s testing programme are likely to be even more contentious this time. Furthermore, the team involved in testing will be included from the very inception of the development, heightening concerns about possible advantages.
According to Pirelli’s Mario Isola, it will not be a simple task for Bridgestone.
“If you have only one team testing for you, you’ll naturally develop something suited to that car,” he says. “The other issue is that convincing a team to use a driver not under their influence is difficult. They’ll want a driver connected to their team. It’s not an ideal situation.”
Securing a testing car is just one of numerous hurdles. Bridgestone also needs to develop the tyres, increase manufacturing capacity, and assemble the team that will manage track operations. The company has yet to reveal whether it’s ready to confront these demanding challenges.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Bridgestone F1 tyre supplier bid
What is Bridgestone’s potential role in Formula 1?
Bridgestone is in the running to become the tyre supplier for F1, following a successful technical vetting by the FIA.
What is the next phase for Bridgestone in becoming an F1 tyre supplier?
The next phase for Bridgestone is the commercial side, which involves becoming an official partner of the F1 organization and investing a substantial fee that will eventually be shared with the teams.
What challenges will Bridgestone face if it wins the F1 tyre supply contract?
Bridgestone will face significant challenges such as developing tyres that meet changing technical requirements, escalating manufacturing capacity, and establishing a team to manage track operations. In addition, they’ll need to conduct extensive track testing with a current model car, which may stir controversy among the competing teams.
What is the expected duration of the upcoming tyre supply contract for F1?
The upcoming tyre supply contract will cover the 2025, 2026, and 2027 seasons, with an option for 2028.
Has Bridgestone been involved in F1 previously?
Yes, Bridgestone has previously been involved in F1, with its last stint lasting 14 years, from 1997 to 2010. During that period, it also had a close relationship with Ferrari, helping them to numerous world championships.