Bridgestone Previews the Australian Grand Prix
The 2009 season of Formula One looks set to usher in a new era for the sport, with rule changes aplenty, a newly-formed and perhaps, dare we say, competitive team for perennial underachiever Jensen Button and – most interestingly in this writer’s opinion – the return of slick tyres from Bridgestone’s Potenza brand for the first time in over eleven years. It is the tyres that are at least partially responsible for the radically overhauled cars this year, which are sure to catch the eye. The latest aerodynamic regulations, designed to reduce downforce, mean that the cars look very different from their counterparts of twelve months ago. Round one of the 2009 World Championship gets under way with the ING Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park on 29 March.
Since slick tyres require a new method of marking to designate between compounds, as the previous method of painting one of the grooves with a white line no longer applies, Bridgestone has used the opportunity of launching a new system to show its continued support for the FIA’s Make Cars Green campaign by marking the softer of the two dry compounds available for each race with green sidewall markings. The now renamed “wet” tyre (formerly “extreme” tyre) will also feature a green line in a central groove. As before, two compounds of tyre will be available for every grand prix, with the requirement that both are used in the race. In a change from the previous allocation philosophy employed for the past two seasons, Bridgestone will now bring non-consecutive allocations to most events. For the Australian Grand Prix the medium and super soft tyres have been selected from the range of hard, medium, soft and super soft.
Albert Park is traditionally a challenging venue. In addition to the notoriously variable Melbourne weather, the track surface changes significantly over the course of the race meeting as it is only used for motorsport once a year. The track features 16 turns over its 5.3 km and is a compromise circuit in its layout with low downforce desired down the straights, but higher downforce requirements through the turns. High lateral forces mean high levels of energy and heat are dispersed through the tyres.
Hirohide Hamashima – Bridgestone director of Motorsport Tyre Development, talked about the changes and how they have affected Bridgestone’s plans: “The move to slick tyres is significant, although Bridgestone have a lot of experience with these tyres from many different race series so we are confident that we can produce good racing slicks. We are making these tyres to the same sizes as we had with grooved tyres, but this means there is a new front/rear grip balance. The teams will therefore have to work hard to get a good set-up, particularly with the varying surface of Albert Park, and we will be working closely with everyone to achieve this.
“We have sought to allocate one tyre which has a lower working range and one which has a higher working range. This means that, even more than before, competitors will have to think long and hard about how they use their tyres, and there will be good rewards for those who make the best choices.”