Motor racing-Bridgestone gear up for final lap of Suzuka

SUZUKA, Japan Fri Oct 8, 2010 11:26am BST

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SUZUKA, Japan Oct 8 (Reuters) - Bridgestone motorsport boss Hiroshi Yasukawa enjoyed a trip down memory lane on Friday as Formula One's official tyre supplier prepared for a home farewell after 14 seasons on the starting grid.

Recalling how he watched the first motorcycle race at the Honda-owned Suzuka circuit as a schoolboy in 1962, and then in later years came to rub shoulders with some of motor racing greatest champions, Yasukawa will clearly miss Formula One.

"In 1976 and 1977 we supplied our tyres twice to Formula One in Fuji and at that time our dream was that one day we would come into Formula One," he said after Japanese Grand Prix practice.

"Always I had a dream that one day I wanted to join Formula One. Then in 1997 we started and in 1998 we got the world champion with Mercedes Benz McLaren and at that time we had very good competitors.

"Now (we are) just by ourselves and very unfortunately we are going to stop at the end of this season."

For the last three seasons, since rivals Michelin departed, Bridgestone have started every race knowing that their products will both win and lose -- sweeping every podium and bringing up the rear in equal measure.

They have won 171 races and 10 respective driver and constructor championships.

CHANGING FOCUS

A pavilion at Suzuka documents for Japanese fans the highs and lows of the company's time in the sport and seven-times world champion Michael Schumacher visited the company's Tokyo headquarters earlier in the week.

Schumacher, now with Mercedes but once dominant with Ferrari, won 58 races on the tyres and scored more points than any other driver.

When the season ends in Abu Dhabi in November, Pirelli will take over as new sole supplier and Bridgestone will focus mainly on MotoGP, IndyCar and Super GT.

The company's F1 exit follows that of Toyota Motor at the end of 2009 season and Honda in 2008.

Yasukawa said Bridgestone's investment, estimated to have peaked at about $100 million annually including research and development, had paid off since he first asked F1 Supremo Bernie Ecclestone about buying advertising space at races.

"I contacted Mr. Ecclestone and Bernie asked how many races did we want to buy signboard space for, and I said, 'all races'," he told Reuters with a chortle. (Editing by Peter Rutherford; To query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)

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