In Formula 1, tyres are the only significant component that is supplied and used on all competing cars. Tyres are a significant component because they form the base on which team strategy is devised for any Grand Prix race. The compound used in the tyres and the tyre’s longevity determines the number of pit stops that a driver will make. The type of tyre and the compound selected by a team during a race is determined by the type of track that they are racing on. The importance of tyres in a team strategy was emphasised when Lewis Hamilton lost the World Championship in the recently concluded 2021 Formula One season for want of a pit stop… for a change of tyres during the last race of the season!
Pirelli is the sole supplier of tyres for Formula One since 2011. The FIA has recently extended Pirelli’s contract until 2024. The FIA wanted tyres that were reliable, consistent, but deteriorated faster. This factor, the FIA hoped, would produce closer fought contests. Pirelli was a willing supplier and bagged the contract. The collaboration between FIA and Pirelli seems to be working. The varying wear of different types of Pirelli tyres results in interesting team strategies. Very often, the two drivers from the same team may race on different types of tyres at different times. This does make races interesting for fans.
For the 2022 Formula 1 season, teams will race with 720mm dia tyres as opposed to the 660 diameters 660 before. The width of the thread will remain the same as before; 305mm for the front tyres and 405 for the rear. The major change will be the reduction in the height of the sidewalls of the tyres. This will mean stiffer tyres, as the sidewalls will be less flexible. It will also mean more control of the car for drivers, giving the team less reason to work on aerodynamics. The new tyres are also expected to last longer at higher temperatures, giving drivers to push for it throughout the race.
What type of tyres does Pirelli supply to Formula 1?
Pirelli uses seven different compounds in the tyres it supplies to Formula One. The first five compounds are labelled as C1 to C 5 depending on the combination of polymers used. The number following the C (for compound) denotes the level of hardness of the compound in decreasing order. C1 to C5 are known as dry tyres and are used when racing on dry tracks. These are further classified into hard type, medium type and soft type of tyres. All the dry tyres have a slick thread and are called bald tyres.
Compounds C1, C2 and C3 are classified in the category of the hard compound. The surface of these tyres is hard and last for a longer time during a race. Hard tyres carry a white Pirelli logo and a white band on their sidewalls. The second type of dry tyres is medium tyres which are made from compounds C2, C3 and C4. These tyres are softer and have a shorter racing life than the hard tyres and are marked with a yellow band. The soft tyres are made from compounds C4 and C5 and these tyres have a shorter racing life than medium tyres. Red bands on the side walls denote a soft tyre.
The slick dry tyres are not used when racing on wet surfaces as slick tyres do not provide sufficient grip and a driver may lose control of the car. On extremely wet surfaces cars are liable to aquaplane leading to dangerous situations during a race. In such cases, the race is stopped till the track dries off or postponed till conditions are suitable for racing. For such situations, Pirelli supplies wet tyres made from two other compounds.
Wet tyres are of two types; the intermediate tyre and the wet tyre. The intermediate tyre is marked with a green band on its side. This tyre has threads on the surface in contact with the track and is harder than the wet tyre. The wet tyre is deeply threaded and is the softest tyre in the range of tyres supplied by Pirelli to Formula 1. It is marked with a blue band on its sidewalls. Wet tyres generally deteriorate very fast on dry surfaces but last a little longer on the cooler wet surfaces. Both tyres have threads on their surface that are in contact with the track.
How many tyres does a Formula 1 team get for a race?
Of the five compounds at its disposal, Pirelli chooses three compounds for every racing Grand Prix, The selection of compounds are done in consultation with the weatherman and the FIA. Due attention is paid to the track and the grip that tyres get on the track. Tyres are then produced using the selected compounds and brought to the venue. Pirelli supplies approximately 1800 tyres per racing weekend. The total number of tyres supplied by Pirelli to the FIA per F1 season comes close to 40,000 tyres.
Every F1 team is issued twenty sets of tyres for a Grand Prix weekend. Of these, 13 sets are dry tyres and 3 sets are wet tyres. The 13 sets of dry tyres are made up of hard, medium and soft sets marked white, yellow and red respectively. For racing on wet surfaces, Pirelli supplies the teams with 7 sets of wet tyres. These sets are split into 4 sets of intermediate tyres and three sets of wet tyres, marked green and blue respectively. These tyres must be used for free practice, qualifying and racing as per the rules for the use of tyres stipulated by the FIA. The tyres are marked with identification tags for tracking and scrutinising during their use.
What are the FIA rules regarding the use of tyres?
A driver contesting in a racing weekend has to choose ten sets of tyres from the twenty sets of tyres supplied to the team by Pirelli. Drivers are allowed three sets of tyres for the three free practice sessions. The tyre set used in the first free practice session should be returned to the supplier, Pirelli, before the start of the subsequent practice session. Pirelli then uses the identification tags and studies the tyres for wear and their condition.
Depending on the condition of the track on the day of qualifying, drivers will select the tyres that they will use for the contest. On slightly wet or waterlogged tracks drivers will have to go for wet tyres if mandated by the race director. On dry tracks, drivers have an idea of the grip the track offers having raced during the free practice sessions. But most drivers prefer soft tyres for the qualifying rounds. These tyres offer a better grip and allow drivers fast times. The position of a driver on the starting grid makes a significant impact on which position the driver finishes the race.
There are three rounds of qualifying. Ten drivers finishing last get disqualified from the next round for each of the first two qualifying rounds. Ten drivers make it to the last qualifying rounds. The drivers qualifying for the last round will have to start the race using the tyres on which they set their fastest lap during the second qualifying session. Therefore, great care is exercised when choosing tyres for the second qualifying session. Those drivers that have not progressed to the thor round of qualification, may start the race on any set of tyres of their choice.
Drivers must race on any two dry tyre compounds during the race unless the race director instructs the team to race on wet tyres. Tyres may be kept warm by only heating the outside surface of the tyres. Teams usually keep the tyres warm by wrapping warm blankets around them.
How do teams form their race tyre use strategy?
The choice of which tyres to use during a race and when determines the team’s fortunes at the end of a race. A bad choice of tyres and bad pit stop timings may result in the loss of valuable points in the race. All teams have a tyre use strategy before the race. Inputs are taken from the driver, the team engineer and the team boss. Usually, there is also a Plan B and it will be the engineer’s call to opt for the standby plan if need be. In this article, we will take a look at what tyre characteristics play a role in determining team tyre use strategy.
Dry Racing Tyres
Here are the pros and cons of the different sets of tyres available to the team for dry racing.
Red Soft Tyres
These tyres offer the best grip on any dry track. Good grip translates into good cornering and overall speed for the drivers. As they provide grips on any and all surfaces, all drivers would dearly love racing only with soft tyres on. But soft tyres wear out very fast as rubber burns out into the tarmac. Drivers tend to lose control of the car and are forced to pit for a change. Soft tyres are mostly chosen on street circuits where the track surface is slippery from the accumulated grime and oil from public use.
Yellow Medium Tyres
Medium tyres are the go-to tyres for drivers in most races. These tyres are harder than the soft tyres but last much longer than them. Medium tyres are softer than hard tyres and are less durable than the latter. But they offer a reasonable grip on all kinds of tracks. If drivers take good care of the tyres, then they can complete more than half the race before they pit for a tyre change. Medium tyres usually form a part of team strategy on all tracks and are the most used tyres in F1 racing.
White Hard Tyres
Hard tyres are made from the toughest compound used among all tyres in F1 racing. But they also last the longest of all tyres. Hard tyres are in demand on tracks offering good grip. Because of the hardness of these slick tyres, drivers can work up good speeds on tracks offering better grips. However, they have to be extremely careful when cornering. Teams usually opt for hard tyres close to the finish of a race when the tracks are coated with rubber from the racing cars. This rubber provides a better grip for the tyres and the track is nicely warm from in numerous laps.
Wet Racing Tyres
Teams are also provided with seven sets of tyres for racing on a wet track. Four of these sets are green banded intermediate tyres and three sets are wet tyres marked with blue bands.
Green Intermediate Tyres
This is a threaded tyre that can be used on slightly wet surfaces or on even on dry surfaces. It lasts longer than the wet tyres and can be used only if the race director orders for its use. However, if the track dries up during the course of the race, teams can continue using the intermediate tyres. As the tyre is threaded, it does not have the same amount of surface contact with the track as do slick dry tyres. The intermediate tyre wears out more quickly than dry tyres. Because of its threads, the tyre can displace 30 litres of water per second.
Blue Wet Tyres
The blue wet tyres are used only on extremely waterlogged tracks under the discretion of the race director. This tyre has deep threads and can displace 85 litres of water depending on the speed of the car. Wet tyres cannot be used on dry tracks because of their deep threads. The blue marked wet tyre, because of its less contact area with the track surface, will overheat in only a few laps on a dry track.
Who are the former tyre manufacturers in Formula 1?
As mentioned, Pirelli is the sole tyre provider of Formula 1, and have been since 2011.
However, there are other manufacturers that have a long and old history with motorsport. In fact, there came a time when six suppliers raced the race tracks simultaneously in ONE SEASON! Let’s discuss them from here on.
Goodyear has been around for more than 120 years so it is not surprising that the manufacturer, at some point in their long remarkable history, had an interest in Formula 1.
With more starts, wins, and constructors’ championships than any other tire supplier in Formula 1 history, even more than the current sole provider, Goodyear can be considered as the most successful tire supplier in Formula 1 history.
Goodyear also boasts 65 years in NASCAR! Talk about old but gold!
The tyre company has 494 starts and 368 wins in Formula 1. Pirelli is quite close with its 417 starts and 262 wins. Goodyear left Formula 1 in 1998, leaving Bridgestone as the sole tyre provider for the next two seasons.
In Formula 1’s long history, Bridgestone also took part. The tyre supplier has 244 starts and 175 wins.
Bridgestone had supplied tires to Formula 1 since 1997, though the manufacturer provided one-off Formula 1 tires for Japanese entrants such as Kazuyoshi Hoshino’s Heros Racing and Kojima at the 1976 and 1977 Japanese Grand Prix.
Bridgestone was supposed to be the FIA Formula One World Championship’s only tire supplier from 2008 through 2010. However, from the 2007 Formula One season through the 2010 Formula One season, all teams used Bridgestone tires due to Michelin’s decision to cease its Formula One tire program at the end of the 2006 season.
Bridgestone confirmed on November 2, 2009, that their contract to supply tires to Formula One teams would not be renewed after 2010. The corporation stated that it was “addressing the impact of the business environment’s continued change.” In June 2010, Pirelli announced that it would be the exclusive tire supplier for the 2011 season.
Michelin made its Formula One debut in 1977 when Renault began construction of their turbocharged F1 car. Michelin pioneered the use of radial tyres in Formula One, winning the Drivers’ Championship with Brabham and McLaren before retiring at the end of 1984.
In 2001, the manufacturer returned to Formula One, supplying teams such as Williams, Jaguar, Benetton (renamed Renault in 2002), Prost, and Minardi. Toyota entered Formula One in 2002 using Michelin tyres, and McLaren followed suit. Michelin tyres were uncompetitive at first, but by the 2005 season, they were completely dominant. This was partially due to new regulations requiring tyres to withstand the entire race distance (including qualifying), and partially due to the fact that just one major team (Ferrari) used Bridgestones, necessitating much of the development work. Michelin, on the other hand, had a lot more testing and race data thanks to the bigger number of teams that used their tyres.
Michelin’s history with Formula 1 has a stain owing to the 2005 season, where, because of safety concerns, Michelin did not allow the teams it supplied to race during the 2005 United States Grand Prix. This led to the souring of the company’s relationship with FIA and since then, more disagreements between the two followed.
Michelin declared in December 2005 that it would not prolong its engagement in Formula One beyond the 2006 season due to a tense relationship with the sport’s regulatory body.
Michelin has 215 starts and 102 wins.
Dunlop first raced in the 1950s and introduced the nylon fabric R5 racing tyre, replacing the R1 to R4 tyres that had cotton fabric. This replacement allegedly reduced almost 12 pounds in weight!
Except for a few teams adopting Goodyear from 1964 onwards, Dunlop was the sole tyre manufacturer for Formula One racing from the 1959 season onwards till the next six years.
Firestone provided tyres for Formula 1 for around 21 years, starting with its debut in the 1950 season and ending in the 1975 season. The tyre manufacturer paled in comparison with its co-suppliers.
With the exception of Formula 5000 and Formula 1, Firestone announced its retirement from competitive motorsport in August 1974, citing growing expenses as the reason. However, by the end of the 1974 season, the supplier Firestone completely withdrew from Formula 1 and Formula 5000.
Firestone has 121 starts and 48 wins.
Englebert debuted in Formula One at the 1950 Monaco Grand Prix, with French Simca-Gordini drivers Robert Manzon and Maurice Trintignant, and stayed in the game till the 1958 season.
Outside Formula One, Englebert faced controversy which eventually led to its disappearance from Formula 1. Driver Alfonso de Portago, his co-driver, and 9 viewers were slain when de Portago’s 4.0-litre Ferrari 335 S lost control after a blown tyre during the 1957 Mille Miglia. The Ferrari went over an embankment and into the air, colliding with onlookers. Italian prosecutors prosecuted Englebert, who had provided the Ferrari’s tyres, and Enzo Ferrari with manslaughter in an investigation that went until 1961 when both Ferrari and Englebert were cleared.
Englebert has 61 starts and 8 wins.
In the world of motorsport, Avon Tyres has a long and illustrious history. Over the years, the British company has established itself as a leader in rallying, hill climbing, and a variety of other disciplines. The period it remained in the top level of single-seater competition, Formula 1, however, is less recognized.
Avon tyre was first used in the 1950s and then again in the 1980s by a number of brilliant drivers, including World Champions Jack Brabham and Keke Rosberg, as well as Grand Prix winners Michele Alboreto and Jochen Mass.
Despite the fact that Avon products did not result in any podiums, victories, or titles, it is only fitting to commemorate the company’s time in Formula 1.
Avon has 29 starts and 0 wins.
Continental raced in the 1954 and 1955 seasons, took a break, then returned again in the 1958 season. It was the shortest run of a Formula 1 tyre manufacturer in history, with only 3 seasons under its wings.
Continental has 13 starts and 10 wins.
How Many Tyres Can F1 Teams Use? – The Conclusion
At the start of any racing weekend the cars are nicely tuned and ready. Trainers and physios make sure that the drivers are in prime shape for the ordeal ahead. When the race begins, F1 teams are left with few options to strategise in the upcoming race. But they can certainly juggle the pit stops and change of tyres to take any advantage they can. It is then that tyres play an important role in the race and the race strategy.