Why are Formula 1 tyres covered?

Formula 1 tyres

Formula 1 tyres are not just covered, they are heated before the car leaves the pit stop for any of the sessions during the racing weekend. The covers that we see on the tyres are not ordinary covers. They are blankets that are designed to keep the surface of the tyre at a predetermined temperature. The temperature at which the tyres are kept will depend on the atmospheric conditions and the temperature of the track. The tyres are heated before every session during the weekend. Covering the tyres also serves to keep the race strategy from prying eyes. This article will take a look at why Formula 1 tyres are covered and what are the benefits. 

Where do Formula1 teams get tyres from?

Pirelli is the sole supplier that supplies tyres to all the Formula 1 teams since 2011. An F1 car tyre is one of the few parts supplied by one supplier to all the racing teams. It is also a crucial part of the car as the only part in contact with the asphalt. The tyres have to be handled and managed carefully to get optimum performance out of them. Each team gets 13 sets of tyres from Pirelli for the entire weekend. Each tyre has a unique identification tag and Pirelli analyses all the tyres after they are returned by the Formula 1 teams.

Formula 1 tyres are made from five different compounds depending on the track being used. Teams go to great lengths to study each of the used compounds. No team is allowed to have an unmounted tyre. This condition is enforced by Pirelli and the FIA to discourage industrial espionage. All the tyres are mounted on the wheel hub supplied by the teams by Pirelli technicians. They fill each tyre with air at a predetermined pressure and tag the tyre. All teams may not have thirteen sets of hubs to collect all the tyres at once. These teams collect the tires in batches. The well-heeled teams collect all the tyres in one go. 

The teams decide which tyres they will use in the first practice session and wrap them in heating blankets. Wrapping the tyes up also prevents other teams from seeing the marking on the tyres. Teams form a race strategy. The strategy outlines which type of tyres are to be used at what phase of the race. It will also determine if the team will go for a one pit stop or a pit stop race. The markings on the tyres denote the compound used in manufacturing the tyres. Once the type of tyre is known, the opponents can work out the team’s race strategy. 

Why are Formula 1 tyres heated before a race? 

Formula One tyres are heated because warm tyres get a better grip on the track than do cold tyres. Warm rubber has a sticky feel to it which cold rubber does not have. Warm tyres help the driver of a Formula 1 car in cornering at faster speeds. A car with cold tyres tends to skid when cornering. Cornering speeds have a big role to play in lap times. The greater the cornering speeds, the less the driver has to decelerate and accelerate after cornering. This helps the driver gain precious fractions of seconds throughout the lap.

The temperature to which tyres are heated will depend on atmospheric conditions and the track temperature. Tyres are designed to give optimum grip at 100 degrees centigrade. Teams take a careful look at the atmospheric and track temperatures before determining what temperatures they want the tyres to be at. Drivers often zigzag in the lap before they line up on the racing grip. This is either to warm up the tyres or to keep the tyres warm before the start of the race. Drivers also zigzag when a safety car appears on the track for the same reasons. No driver wants to be caught with cold tyres when the race resumes.  

How are Formula 1 tyres heated?

Formula 1 teams are allowed to apply heat only to the surface of the tyres before the beginning of a session. Tyres are wrapped in a heating blanket for certain hours before the beginning of the race. The blanket has electric heaters embedded in it. These heaters are uniformly distributed to heat the surface of the tyre evenly. As the tyres give optimum performance at 100 degrees centigrade, the temperature is set 10 degrees higher than 100. This ensures that the tyres do not go below the optimum temperature when waiting on the grid for the start signal.

Before the start of a race, the tyres are stacked on a trolley that has electrical power outlets. The heating blanket is wrapped around the tyres and is fastened with Velcro joints. The two circular inside ends are pulled tight with drawstrings. These are fastened to the two rims on either side of the tyre with Velcro straps. The heating blanket is then connected to a power outlet. The temperature of the blanket is controlled by inbuilt thermal sensors which are in turn connected to a thermostat. These thermostats ensure that the power is switched on and off to keep the tyres at the desired temperature.

What restrictions are placed by Formula 1 on tyre usage?

When handing over Formula 1 tyres to the teams, Pirelli also specifies the parameters at which the tyres have to be used. These parameters are worked out on the car performance data supplied by the teams to Pirelli. Teams are obliged to follow this data closely to avoid a tyre failure. There is no way Pirelli can monitor the tyres when the car is out racing. But from 2022, the FIA plans to insert sensors in the tyres so that Formula 1 officials can monitor the tyres. This information will enable Formula 1 to monitor the tyres as well as warn teams of an impending tyre failure. Pirelli also specifies the recommended camber.

The air pressure of a tyre varies with the tyre temperature. The greater the temperature of the tyre, the higher is the tyre pressure. Tyres at a higher temperature wear less and last longer at the cost of grip the tyre gets on the surface. This result in lower speeds and the car could skid when cornering. Tyres with lower pressure get a better grip on the surface which translates into greater speeds. But tyres with lower pressure wear out faster. Teams have to carefully balance between tyre temperatures and pressures. The approach to a race will depend on the team strategy.

Conclusion

Tyres are the most important component of a Formula 1 car as they are constantly in touch with the track. They are also the most vulnerable components of the car as they wear out the fastest among all important components. A tyre failure in a race could mean curtains for a Formula 1 driver. Tyres, therefore, have to be handled and managed carefully. Teams plan a race strategy that determines how many pit stops a driver is going to make. The tyres have to be managed as per that strategy. 

That is where the parameters specified by Pirelli come into play. Formula 1 teams have to heat the tyres to the optimum temperature before a race or before a change of tyres. Managing the temperature and pressure of the tyres can make a difference in a race. That is why tyres are preheated in w wrapped heating blanket before the race or before a tyre change.

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