What happens to used tyres in F1 is more than a few million-dollar question. Each F1 tyre is estimated to cost over 1700 dollars. Pirelli, the sole tyre supplier to Formula 1, supplies 1800 tyres per race. As 23 Grands Prix are scheduled for the 2022 F1 season, Pirelli will supply at least 41,400 tyres to Formula 1 alone. Plus there are other tyres that Pirelli supplies to other races. A good amount of rubber will indeed be worn off the used tyres on the tracks.
Even then, that is an awful lot of rubber to be disposed of every year. It is not only the tyres used by F1 cars that have to be disposed of or recycled. Read on to find out!
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How long do F1 tyres last in a Grand Prix?
Formula 1 tyres are built for efficiency rather than longevity. No matter how much power the engine delivers, it must be converted into speed. Tyres are the only component of the car that is in contact with the road. They have to get a grip on the track surface to convert the engine power into speed at the driver’s behest. That is why F1 tyres are bald. The dry tyres have a flat thread which gives the tyre maximum surface contact with the track which means more traction. As a result, the tyres wear out very fast. F1 tyres will last anywhere between 60 and 120 kilometres.
The amount of time a tyre lasts will depend on team strategy and the driver’s style of racing. Teams usually plan for two pit stops for a race. That will mean two tyre changes and using a total of three different sets of tyres during the race. Drivers that drop out before final qualifying have the advantage as they will be starting the race on new tyres. Drivers who competed in the final qualifying will have to race with the tyres they used in the second qualifying.
The drivers that competed in the final qualifying have to use their tyres intelligently to make them last as long as they can. That involves breaking sparingly and only when required. The strategy may also mean compromising on the speed and losing some ground. Tyres word on one side when cornering causes a car to vibrate. That could mean an unscheduled potato and an additional set of tyres. Rarely do teams plan for one pit stop though they may decide to do so depending on the driver’s position in the race at the time.
The length of time that tyres last will also depend on the compound the tyres are made from. A tyre made using a harder compound will last longer than a tyre made from a softer compound. The wet tyre will deteriorate the fastest as it is not only made of a softer compound but also has grooves on the thread. The grooves reduce the surface area of the tyre that is in contact with the surface. Soft tyres will last a bit longer when the surface is wet but will wear faster as the surface dries.
A Formula 1 tyre, in general, has a life span of 60 to 120 kilometres. Team strategy and the driver’s handling of the tyres will determine how long that span can be extended.
What is considered a used tyre in Formula 1?
Tyres are one of the few components in F1 that is supplied by only one manufacturer. Pirelli is the sole supplier for tyres in F1. Pirelli tyres are used by all cars competing in all the races in Formula 1. A tyre is also one of the components that are subject to the most wear and tear as it is constantly in touch with the surface. Hence tyres have to be repeatedly changed both while racing and for every race. As a result, tens of thousands of tyres are generated as used tyres during the course of an F1 racing season.
Formula1 tyres are made from a mix of special polymers. They are produced in a special process that ensures precise life on a given surface. Teams study the tyre compounds and their properties in great detail so that they can utilise the tyres to the fullest. These tyres are mounted on rims when transported to a racing venue. All the tyres used by the teams have to be returned to Pirelli as also unused tyres. As F1 and Pirelli are concerned about the quality of tyres used by racing cars, tyres removed from the rims are also considered as rejects or used.
Tyres are mounted on the rim just before they are handed over to the teams. If not used, great force is required to remove tyres from the rims which could damage the bead and the tyres. These tyres are also considered unsafe and used, even if it means erring on the side of caution. Tyres, once fitted on the rim, are not transported from one venue to another. That is the reason Pirelli scrapped 1800 tyres when the Australian Grand Prix was cancelled in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
How does Pirelli dispose of the tyres?
After a Grand Prix, Pirelli collects all the used tyres and rips them apart. The compounds of the tyres used by F1 cars are scrutinised along with the “unused but mounted” tyres. Valuable data is collected from this study and recorded for future reference. The tyres are then compressed and transported to Pirelli’s engineering and logistics centre in Didcot, England. At the logistics centre, these tyres are thoroughly shredded along with other road car tyres. The shredded tyres form small pellets that are recycled.
Despite the criticism that Formula 1 gets for its unfriendly ecological practices, Pirelli has a “green technology policy.” This commits Pirelli to manufacture as well as dispose of used tyres in an eco-friendly way. This also encompasses the eco-friendly disposal of used F1 tyres and tens of thousands of other used tyres that Pirelli gathers. The tyres are shredded at the Didcot plant are transported to cement factories. These factories use the pellets as fuel in the process of cement manufacturing.
In the cement factories, the pellets are burned at extremely high temperatures. When rubber pellets are burned at temperatures exceeding 1500°C, the gasses produced are environment-friendly gasses are released. The only residue that remains is fine ash which is non-poisonous. The whole process is eco-friendly and Formula 1 is very comfortable with that. The burning process gives some by-products that can be put to good use. The bitumen produced by burning the pellets is used to tar roads and in other industrial uses.
Pirelli will collect tens of thousands of used tyres from Formula 1 and other race organisers in 2022. The tyres will be more than 70,000. All these tyres will be recycled in an eco-friendly manner. The gasses released in the burning of these tyre rubber pellets are not noxious and do not harm the environment. Even the by-products generated when disposing of the tyres are put to good use. All F1 teams are obliged by F1 rules to return all the tyres to Pirelli. Hence, no tyres are missed out. This efficient and environmentally friendly operation also helps Pirelli and Formula 1 in decreasing their carbon footprint.