Last week-end’s Brazilian Grand Prix was the last F1 race for grooved tyres. Changes in the rules mean that in 2009 teams will be forced to drive on slick tyres for the first time since 1997. The return to slick tyres represents quite a challenge for tyre suppliers Bridgestone.
The movement away from slicks to grooved tyres, in 1997, served as a great learning curve for tyre manufacturers. Hirohide Hamashima, director of motorsport tyre development at Bridgestone, looked back at that time, “Developing grooved tyres was very exciting for us as we only had experience of slick racing tyres. We had the challenge of developing a tyre with a hard compound because of the structure and tread profile of the tyre, but one which gave the good grip required for Formula One. From an engineering perspective it has been a very interesting aspect of our motorsport activities. We began testing our first grooved tyres in 1997 with Damon Hill. The first tyres were a modified slick tyre to let us understand the differences and requirements of a grooved tyre. We soon found that the wear rate on the front tyre was very high, and we experienced a lot of graining, so the compound we used for this tyre would have to be a lot harder”.
Hamashima explained that as sole tyre supplier the company’s main aim now is consistency. The tyres for all teams come from the same batch in order to minimize the risk of any team gaining an unfair advantage. The next year offers a tremendous challenge as Bridgestone try to convert their experiences with grooved tyres to suit the new format. “The return to slick tyres means we can apply the lessons learnt from grooved Formula One tyres to slick Formula One tyres,” said Hamashima. “2009 should be a very interesting season.”