It’s no secret that Formula One cars are built differently, but how hard are F1 tyres exactly? Ever since its historical first world championship race in 1950, Formula One has always been about engineering and technology.
Through the years, Formula 1 tyres have evolved and undergone changes over time. At first, several manufacturers provided tyres to Formula 1 teams. From Goodyear to Avon, they all had their fair share of Formula 1 fame through the years.
The first ten years or so saw Formula 1 cars equipped with tall, thin and featured tread tyres. During the 1960s, the tyres became flatter and also wider. The rear and front tyres were the same size back then. As the end of the decade approached, however, larger rear tyres started to take over.
Formula 1’s tyre technology took off with the debut of slick tyres in the 1970s. They first appeared at the Spanish Grand Prix in 1971. The playground was Goodyear’s turf during the mid-seventies thanks to their cross-ply slicks and it lasted until Michelin’s entrance to Formula 1 in 1977. This also kickstarted the downpour of tyre manufacturers to join the popular motorsport.
As new tyre manufacturers joined the fun, fierce competition also raged.
The first tyre blankets were used in 1985. The blankets are used while the car is on the grid and in the pits to warm up the tyres. In the absence of this prior heating process, the tyres would only last an average of two laps before they got their prime working temperature.
Grooved tyres entered the scene in 1998. Front tyres with 3 grooves and rear tyres with 4 grooves were the standard.
After all those years, however, Formula 1 decided to ban tyre changes during the race. This led manufacturers to make tyres out of harder compounds with the sole purpose of lasting a full race distance of around 200 km. this wasn’t received lightly by the masses and so, in 2006, tyre changes returned to the game.
Tyre manufacturers then left the sport one by one, with Pirelli becoming the only tyre company to supply all of the tyres in Formula 1 to this day.
Now that we have the brief history of Formula 1 in place, let’s take a look at the technicalities that make these tyres that are basically the legs of the exhilarating motorsport.
How many types of F1 tyres are there?
Pirelli, the sole tyre supplier for Formula 1, supplies the teams with three compounds out of five slick compounds and three colours at each race. The range is numbered C1, C2, C3, C4 and C5. C1 is the hardest and C5 is the softest. The compounds are Pirelli’s solution to greater consistency during a full race. There are also two wet options: Cinturato Green intermediate and Cinturato Blue full wet tires.
The compounds play individual parts in a race and careful planning is vital in securing a win.
- C1 — the hardest tyres are designed for tracks that put the highest energy loadings through the tyres. Typically, these circuits have abrasive surfaces, fast corners or high temperatures. This type of tyre compound doesnt warm up easily but is the most durable. It also gives low degradation.
- C2 — this compound fits high speeds, temperatures and energy loadings. Tyres of this make are best suited for a wide selection of circuits that are quite different to each other. It has a higher chance of adaptability and there’s a lot of room to work around.
- C3 — the middle of the range, this compound boasts adaptability. It can be equipped as the softest compound or hardest compound depending on the track. It is one of the most used compounds in Formula 1.
- C4 — this compound suits tight circuits that offer sharp twists and turns. Because it warm-ups rather quickly, it reaches its peak faster too. This has a downside, however, as softer tyres overheat quicker than the rest.
- C5 — the softest tyre in this range and also offers a huge boost in speed. This tyre is best used on circuits that require tighter mechanical grip. This, however, makes the tyre last shorter than the rest.
In addition to these five compounds, the wet compounds also have a use and benefit of their own on wet tracks.
- The intermediate tyres are deemed the most versatile. They work well on tracks that have no standing water and also a drying surface. At 300km/h, this tire evacuates 30 litres of water every second.
As seen at several past races, the compound expands the working range, ensuring a wide crossover between wet and dry tires.
- The full wet tyres are much better options during heavy rain. When raining heavily, visibility becomes a problem rather than grip. These tyres have the ability to evacuate 85 litres of water per second per tire at 300kph. These tyres are also designed to resist aquaplaning quite well, allowing more grip during a heavy downpour.
How Soft Are F1 Tyres?
It is a fact that Formula 1 tyres, like everything else that makes up a Formula 1 car, are made to be as light as they can be. But it doesn’t mean they are flimsy. They aren’t your typical road car tyres. Just like how light they are made, Formula 1 tyres are also strong and durable.
Made from soft, malleable rubber, they can withstand hard braking, high speeds and fast cornering while still maintaining their shape. Soft tyres can assist a Formula 1 car to have more grip on race tracks, however, this softness comes with a price. Formula 1 tyres are softer than average so they suffer graining, blistering, flat spots or even overheating. A Formula 1 soft tyre may last around 25 to 45 minutes during a race.
Softer tyres provide more gripping action since they heat up faster. Tyre friction on the track surface heats up the Formula 1 tyre. As the tire grips the track around corners, lateral forces will cause it to slide. Slides generate heat, which makes rubber more malleable (sticky) and pliable.
Hard rubber tires also become soft and sticky, though more slowly than the softer ones. Soft rubber tires tend to wear more quickly, but provide the best grip. A driver needs to keep the tires at a constant temperature, otherwise, they can overheat and break down quickly.
How Do F1 Tires Degrade?
In F1, tires undergo a number of stages during a race, from shiny new tires to worn-out tires that require replacement during pit stops.
The Heat Cycle
As mentioned, Formula 1 tyres need to heat up and be sticky to have a good grip. New sets are a little slippery at first and will take around a lap or two to achieve the optimal temperature. By heating a new tire this way, the rubber is cured and the tire will reach its maximum temperature faster. Most drivers prepare their three racing tires for the race during free practice sessions by putting them through heat cycles.
When the inside of the tire is hotter than the outer rubber or tread, blistering will occur. If the air is hot enough, it will force its way out between the rubber layers, ripping chunks off the tread. A tire’s blistering can be seen when the tread is missing patches. There is less rubber contact with the track when a tire is blistered, so the tire will not provide good grip.
As the tread of the tire becomes very hot, the rubber will melt, and the centrifugal forces will scatter the melted rubber. A portion of the melted rubber will adhere to the tire tread; this is known as tire graining. Tires with graining resemble sandpaper and provide less grip since the grains prevent the tread from contacting the track.
Tire graining leaves some rubber on the race track, which accumulates off the racing line. Small rubber parts clump together to form marble-like pieces in the corners and can be seen as the darker areas on the track.
It is common for hot tires to pick up marbles as they pass another driver, sticking to their tires. This results in the grip disappearing.
The majority of drivers will drive through the marbling patches at the end of the race, which will add weight to their cars.
Tire Flat Spots
A flat spot occurs on the tire as the rubber is ripped away by the asphalt. The tire will emit white smoke when it is flat-spotted as it skids or slides on the track. Tires with flat spots are not perfectly round since part of the contact patch has been flattened. A flat spot will significantly affect a car’s handling as vibrations will occur, which can damage the car’s components.
Why Do F1 Teams Scrape Tyres?
Formula 1 teams come up with a lot of strategies within the regulations to improve current and future car performance. One of these is a process called tire scraping.
A layer of gum-like substance is found on previously used tires that have been run on, resulting from the melting of rubber as well as debris from cars driving off the track. It is vital to remove these excess rubber particles and other debris.
Tire scraping requires a tool similar to a heat gun—a tool that generates steam of very high temperature enough to melt the surface of a used tyre. This process melts a layer of the tyre, revealing what lies underneath. As a result, they get a tyre that looks almost brand new.
This process has a lot of benefits. One, it widens the tyres patch in contact with the road— providing more grip. Two, it reduces the tyre’s weight. Three, it reduces overheating which then reduces tyre degradation.
Can Formula 1 tyres be reused?
The quick answer is no. Formula 1 cars are designed as durable as possible but despite this, they are only meant to be used for one stint of Grand Prix. They cannot be reused after that.
As mentioned above, tyres go through different stages during a race: Heat cycle, blistering, graining, marbling and flat-spotting. These stages wear a tyre. Worn out tyres will affect a car’s performance during a race—lowering its ability to provide reliable gripping on the surface of the track. However, if the tyres aren’t damaged, teams are allowed to reuse them for multiple sessions.
Because of this, Formula 1 teams are allowed to change tyres as needed and when they are too worn out.
How Many Times Can Tires In F1 Be Changed?
There are no concrete limits to how often a team can change tyres and depending on the race conditions, some teams don’t even change more than once. It varies per circuit and weather conditions. When the weather is wet, tyre changes are even trickier.
It becomes even more tricky in wet weather conditions, sometimes requiring a driver to pit and change tires several times as the track conditions and weather conditions change. On a rainy day with a wet track, Wets and Intermediates are used.
In total, twelve sets of the Zero slick tyres may be used by each driver: six sets of soft compound, four sets of the medium compound tyre and two sets of the hard compound.
In addition, four sets of intermediates and three sets of full wets are also provided.
Furthermore, if Free Practice 1, Free Practice 2, or Qualifying is held in wet conditions, each driver will receive an extra set of intermediates. Should the Sprint Qualifying be held in the wet, a further set of intermediates is available.
What Happens To Used F1 Tires After The Race?
When the tyres are deemed unusable, teams return them to Pirelli. It may come as a surprise but the tyre company actually recycles these used tyres under their Green Technology program. They have been using this program since 2002.
The tires are shredded and melted in their plant using a controlled process. Small rubber pellets are then formed from these shredded tires. Tire-derived fuels are manufactured from these pellets and used by the following industries:
The Paper and Pulp Industries
Tire to Energy Facilities(such as Pirellis own plant)
Tire manufacturers around the globe use the same method.
How is this process beneficial to our environment? Tire-derived fuels are a renewable energy source that reduces our dependency on fossil fuels.
Formula 1 has been looking for ways to become environment friendly in the future, with the sanctioning body announcing its plans to create 100% sustainable fuel for its next-generation engines. According to them, they intend to create fuel that can produce the same level of performance while emitting net zero carbon dioxide.
As of this new season’s regulations, F1 cars will use E10 instead of high octane fuel, which is 87-octane fuel and 10 percent ethanol. Under the new regulations set for 2025, however, power units would use 100 percent renewable fuels, which F1 claims would be created in a laboratory by combining elements from a variety of sources. In addition to municipal waste, F1 says fuel could come from algae or agricultural waste. The new fuel should be able to match the energy density of the gasoline used in F1, meaning that the performance of the cars should not be affected.
With this big step taken by Formula 1, it shouldn’t be a surprise that their tyre provider is somewhat sharing the same vision as them.
Conclusion: How hard are F1 tyres?
The current tyre supplier for F1 is Pirelli. The tyre manufacturer shares a long history with Formula 1, starting with the very first World Championship event in 1950. They became the sole tyre provider for Formula 1 back in 2011. We can expect Pirelli to be around at least until 2024.
There is no concrete answer to the question seeing there are five available compounds provided by Pirelli for Formula 1. However, keep this in mind: The softer a tyre is, the better performance it can bring to a race.
F1 would not be possible without its tyres. As F1 evolves, so do tyres and what is required of them.