New headache for Todt as Bridgestone wheels drop off

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The Independent Online

The new FIA president, Jean Todt, yesterday faced the first major crisis of his tenure when Bridgestone announced it will be withdrawing as the official tyre supplier for Formula One when its contract runs out at the end of 2010. Hot on the heels of the withdrawal of BMW, who had their last race on Sunday before following Honda out of competition, the news sounded alarm bells from the Middle East to the ruling FIA's headquarters in Paris as it represented another rejection of the perceived marketing value of the sport.

The decision was made by Bridgestone's board after "lengthy evaluations" and has been based on the company's need to "redirect its resources towards the further intensive development of innovative technologies and strategic products".

This is a significant blow, as Bridgestone been involved in Formula One since 1997 and, including 2009, has won 10 drivers' and 10 constructors' championships.

After embarrassment at Indianapolis in 2006 Michelin is unlikely to return, and so is Goodyear, but with South Korea joining the Formula One calendar in 2010 it is possible that the Korean manufacturer Kuomo may step up.

Further bad news is anticipated later in the week, when Toyota are expected to announce their decision also to make a strategic withdrawal.

While that news would throw Sauber a lifeline after the desertion by BMW left them without an official entry in the official 13-team list, it would be catastrophic for Toyota's 700 staff in Cologne and Tokyo, and would threaten the career of Abu Dhabi star Kamui Kobayashi just as it was getting off the ground.

The 23-year-old, who gave Jenson Button a hard time in his first two races, said: "I would probably go back to Japan to maybe work with my father in his sushi restaurant. It was like that two months ago."

As expected, Williams yesterday confirmed that Rubens Barrichello and Nico Hülkenberg will replace Nico Rosberg and Kazuki Nakajima as their drivers for 2010, when they will also switch from Toyota engines back to Cosworth.

Williams believe that the combination of Barrichello's experience and Hülkenberg's youthful vigour which won him the 2009 GP2 championship, will give them the impetus to push back to the front of the grid as cost-cutting measures start to favour efficient, independent teams.