TOKYO (AFP) - Japanese tyre maker Bridgestone Corp said Monday it would quit Formula One next year, dealing a further blow to the sport after the recent withdrawal of other high-profile firms amid the global downturn.
Bridgestone said it would end its contract as the official tyre supplier to the FIA, raising questions over who would replace it after French rival Michelin pulled out in 2006 and US maker Goodyear left in 1998.
"Bridgestone today announced that it will not enter into a new tyre supply contract with the FIA Formula One World Championship series," the Tokyo-based tyre and rubber industry giant said in a statement.
The move comes after Toyota Motor pulled out of hosting the Japanese Grand Prix, while Honda has sold its team as the companies struggled to fight off the global recession. There have also been casualties in other motor sports.
Bridgestone has supplied tyres to F1 for 13 years and has been the exclusive supplier to the series since 2007.
Its current contract expires at the end of the 2010 season.
Bridgestone, battered by a global auto industry slump amid the economic downturn, said it was "addressing the impact of the continuing evolution of the business environment."
The firm, which vies with Michelin to be the world's top tyre maker, posted a net loss of 38.34 billion yen (420 million dollars) for January-June, a turnaround from a year-earlier profit of 37.24 billion yen.
Last month Bridgestone said it would shed nearly 900 jobs in Australia and New Zealand as it closes plants amid the worldwide slump in demand for cars.
Toyota Motor in July pulled out of hosting the Japanese Grand Prix at its Fuji Speedway circuit from next year.
Honda has sold its Formula One team while Suzuki and Subaru have withdrawn from the world rally championship. Motorcycle maker Kawasaki has exited the MotoGP and Mitsubishi is quitting the Dakar Rally.
The Japanese tyremaker, which also makes industrial rubber and chemical products and sporting goods, said it would redirect its resources toward new technologies and strategic products.
"The business environment is changing greatly," company spokesman Makoto Shiomi told AFP.
"We need to concentrate our management resources on strategic areas and technological innovation," he said, adding that one of the priorities would be development of more environmentally friendly products.
He added that Bridgestone was "not in a position to judge" which company would be the next official tyre supplier for Formula One.
Bridgestone says on its website that in 2009 it made about 40,000 Formula One tyres for 10 racing teams in its factory in Kodaira, a western suburb of Tokyo.
An industry expert said the pull-out reflects the need to slash costs -- but also waning enthusiasm for high-octane auto sports as consumer demand is shifting towards more fuel-efficient and greener cars.
"Once a car was cool for its high speed, competitiveness, design and style," said Tatsuya Mizuno, an auto analyst at Mizuno Credit Advisory. "Winning in Formula One equated with what people thought was cool.
"But now people want more environmentally friendly, fuel-effective and safe cars. Auto and autopart makers are questioning what they can gain now by spending hundreds of millions of yen in taking part in Formula One."