A Valuable Experience – Bridgestone’s Hirohide Hamashima on his F1 years
When Bridgestone packs up its gear following the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November, a 14-year chapter in the company’s history will come to a close. Accompanying Bridgestone during its entire Formula One journey has been Bridgestone Motorsport’s director of motorsport tyre development, Hirohide Hamashima. From the very first F1 tyres developed in secret during the late 1980s right through to today, Hamashima has been a central figure in Bridgestone Motorsport’s team. Yet the role he has played in the high profile motorsport championship is one that earlier would have been hard to imagine.
When asked what his level of interest in motorsport was thirty years ago, Hamashima replies “nothing, completely nothing.” He’d only been with Bridgestone for little over three years after completing his university studies in polymer physics when it was decided to move him from passenger car tyre development to motorsports. Following several months engaged on projects in Japan, he arrived in London in July 1981 and began work with a small team whose main focus was the Formula 2 series in Europe.
After several years giving Formula 2 top priority, Hamashima’s next large project was Group C. “These were fast powerful cars,” he comments. “We did Group C in Japan plus the Le Mans 24 hours. The power and weight of these cars was far greater than the Formula 2 cars so we needed new technology to produce the tyres. The tyres were much bigger too. This was a big challenge, and in particular the centrifugal forces generated, so it was very interesting.”
The Group C project continued until 1990, after which time Hirohide Hamashima was involved in a range of other projects – and behind the scenes began work on Bridgestone’s first Formula One tyre. “Before 1996 we made an F1 tyre in secret,” he says. “We were able to test this as F1 and F2 tyres are similar in size, apart from the F1 tyre being wider. We said that we were undertaking a ‘fundamental study of the radial racing tyre’ and we obtained a budget. With this budget we made an F1 tyre, but unfortunately we had no F1 car to test them on.”
The first vehicle test utilised a modified Reynard Formula 3000 car and was driven by Paolo Ballira. As Hamashima explains, at that time Mugen Motorsports was involved with Formula 3000 but wished to experiment with F1 engines so they modified a Formula 3000 car to the same size as Formula One. For this they needed tyres, which Bridgestone provided. These November 1989 tests enabled the tyre maker to check its performance. Testing with a true F1 car, a Tyrrell 020 Honda-Mugen, began in January 1992.
Bridgestone’s board members made the decision to enter Formula One in 1995, and at that time the 1998 season was proposed being the company’s first competitive season. “The plan said we would test and develop our tyres in 1996 and 1997,” Hamashima relates. “After our first tests however, our test results were promising so Bridgestone’s president told us to ‘push, push’ and enter one year earlier than the plan said.”
During the first two seasons Bridgestone competed against Goodyear in the championship. Speaking on the tyre maker’s experience in 1997, Hamashima notes that “for the first few races we had the advantage of durability and handling, grip. This meant that cars on our tyres performed well. However, in the second half of the season, there were many power circuits, and because we were only with mid-field teams we could not fight for victories… Before 1998, we were a little bit worried about the teams. If we kept the same teams in 1998, I thought maybe we couldn’t win, if Goodyear set the tyre properly for each race, the top team’s performance would be too good. Fortunately, McLaren and Benetton came to our side, finally, so then we had good strong competitive teams using our tyres.”
In 1999 Bridgestone acted as de-factor sole tyre supplier, yet at the start of the following season Bridgestone Motorsport heard the rumour that Michelin intended to make an F1 comeback. Initially Hamashima doubted this would occur: “Michelin had a strong fundamental business in Europe. We were participating in F1 to increase our brand awareness. I thought Michelin did not need to come back to F1. If Michelin lost to Bridgestone then it is not good for them. But they made an entry, so at that time I was happy for the competition we would face. I remember big tension and pressure for us at that time.”
Hamashima describes the years supplying F1 alongside Michelin as presenting “some difficulties” yet he states his team enjoyed “a very good battle” of tyre development. “In 2006, we produced very good, almost ideal tyres, so the cars performed well. However, sometimes the cars had trouble so we couldn’t win the championship, but I think we showed better tyre performance than Michelin in that year.”
After Michelin left F1 at the end of the 2006 season Hamashima reports Bridgestone gave the teams “fair service” and “fair treatment” and stabilised production. Yet for director of motorsport tyre development, something was missing. “Personally, competition is better, it makes for quicker tyres and making a tyre when there is no competition is very difficult,” states Hamashima.
Reflecting upon the soon to end years of Formula One involvement, Hirohide Hamashima believes the Japanese company’s time as tyre supplier has been a valuable one. “Our tyre simulation technology was established by Formula 1 and this assists us with the development of all our tyres,” he commented. “We also have very good technology for evaluating the surface of a circuit which is also very valuable for us. The compound technology we have learnt is applicable to low rolling resistance tyres. Our 14 years of study in F1 is now reflected in Bridgestone’s standard production.”