Interview with Mr. Yasukawa, Director of Bridgestone Motorsport The 2008 European Grand Prix this Sunday will mark Bridgestone’s 200th Grand Prix since its full time entry in 1997 as a tire supplier. Hiroshi Yasukawa, Director of Bridgestone Motorsport comments on this morning’s first ever running of Formula One cars on the impressive new street circuit in Valencia, Spain, and on Bridgestone’s milestone grand prix.
Mr. Yasukawa, what your first impressions of Valencia’s street circuit?
"I think the City of Valencia should be extremely proud of this circuit. Streets circuits are particularly challenging to manage and it has no doubt taken an impressively complex amount of logistical coordination to put this race together. Every new circuit experiences a few teething problems but this track has every potential to be a highlight on the Formula One calendar. The organizers have managed to construct an excellent track and paddock in a fabulous location and we are pleased to be celebrating our 200th Grand Prix here."
How was this morning’s first session? Do you think the track will pose any particular difficulties to you as a tire supplier?
"It was very exciting to see the Formula One cars take to the track for the first time ever this morning. Of course Bridgestone and the teams have all tried to prepare in advance and have done numerous simulations but it is not until you actually run that you begin to fully understand a track. From Bridgestone’s perspective we sent a team of technical staff to Valencia on no fewer than three occasions before this weekend so we had a pretty good idea what to expect from the track in terms of its layout, the surface characteristics and how these may affect our tires. Safety is always of primary concern to Bridgestone so it is standard procedure for us to raise in advance any precautionary concerns about a track but we are pleased to see that judging from this morning’s running the drivers all managed to gain a significant amount of track time without any particular problems for the tires. It looks like we will have a thrilling race this Sunday!"
How does it feel for Bridgestone to have reached the milestone of 200 races contested since 1997?
"It is incredible to think that it has been 12 years since we first entered Formula One. The time has gone so quickly but we are very proud to be celebrating our 200th race in Valencia. It is a great tribute to everyone involved, especially our technical and tire servicing team, that we have achieved such a professional and successful record in the sport" We are also very appreciative of the support all the teams have given us over this period."
What was the aim when Bridgestone originally entered Formula One?
"Formula One is not only the pinnacle of single seater motorsport but also one of the most watched sports in the world and so it made sense to be involved. At the time, our brand awareness and market share was very high in some markets, including our home market of Japan, but unfortunately it was less so in other markets, Europe for example. Entering Formula One has had a significant contribution to increasing our brand awareness and we are now known across the globe."
How has Bridgestone benefitted from its time in Formula One?
"Since entering Formula One and competing successfully against rival tire manufacturers our brand awareness in many key markets across the globe has increased significantly. Furthermore, large numbers of consumers have seen and recognized our company’s technical capabilities and the quality of our products. We have also been able to recruit high caliber staff and develop strong relationships with many of the world’s leading car manufacturers."
How is Formula One different from other motorsport categories in which Bridgestone Motorsport has competed?
"Formula One is very professional and that is reflected in the huge television broadcasting figures it achieves. With so many people watching it on television our exposure is quite significant."
Bridgestone has faced two rival tire manufacturers during its time in Formula One, how difficult were those times of competition?
"Yes, we have competed against two tire manufacturers during our time in Formula One [Goodyear and Michelin] and each of those periods contributed to some very exciting racing.
"Each tire manufacturer has its own ideas and philosophies and we have respected this and enjoyed and relished the tough fights we have had with them. Those were very good times for us. Now of course it is a very different situation but nevertheless we are enjoying working with all the teams."
What are your memories of the early days?
"It wasn’t easy and we worked extremely hard but it has to be said that seeing our tires on Formula One cars at our first race in Australia in 1997 was a special memory. And taking that first championship in 1998 with the McLaren Mercedes team and Mika Hakkinen was a great highlight. 1999 was a tough year for us as we unexpectedly found ourselves as the sole supplier. We really didn’t have enough experience but we grew stronger as a result of that time. It was also the start of a highly successful relationship with the Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro team and Michael Schumacher. Multiple championship titles were taken by them on our tires. It has been quite a journey as we now find ourselves marking our 200th Grand Prix. Our company has always had passion and strived for excellence and we look forward to challenging another 200 races."