A guide to Formula 1 tyres

Anyone who has just started watching F1 has probably realized that tyres are one of the essential parts of a Formula One car, especially after listening to the commentators talk about the tyres for the 30th time in a single race. Even though tyres are so common because we see almost every road vehicle having them, tyres used in Formula One cars are so drastically different from those used in road cars. That is because tyres used in F1 are really complex and are designed explicitly with F1 in mind.

Tyres are the only part of an F1 car which have any contact with the ground and because of that F1 car are heavily dependent on the type and the compound of the tyre used during a race. And how they are used throughout a race weekend requires careful consideration and planning from the team strategists. F1 tyres have undergone significant changes since the beginning of the sport, with everything from the tyre manufacture to the tyre specification and regulations. At present, Pirelli is the sole tyre manufacturer for F1 and has been since 2011. Since the tyres are among one of the few common factors amongst all F1 teams, teams spend many hours on the track during practice or testing trying to understand the characteristics of each tyre compound so that they can harvest the maximum performance from them during race day.

Types of Tyres

Tyres are mainly of two types: dry tyres and wet tyres. The main difference between them is the tread style, the part of the tyre that makes contact with the road. Dry tyres have a slick tread, which means that tread has an overall smooth surface, which helps in maximizing the contact with the road because maximum contact between the rubber surface of the tyre and road equals maximum grip.

Types of Tyres

On the other hand, wet tyres have a grooved tread. The purpose of a grooved tread is to break away the surface tension of any water on the track and displace the water so that the tyre can regain some grip. Among the wet tyres, there are two types also: intermediate and full wet. The intermediate tyres are best suitable for when the track has changeable conditions, while the full wet tyres are best suited for heavy rain.

Did you know?

The man who needs no introduction- Micheal Schumacher:

Let’s dial back to 1995- Schumacher, statistically the greatest driver when it comes to wet driving conditions. This came to light even more at the 1995 Belgian Grand Prix, was on a wet track and overtook several cars and engaged in a battle with Damon Hill for the lead and eventually won with a lead of 20seconds. And also at the 1996 Spanish Grand Prix, on a went weather condition he outruns everyone, finishing with a whopping 45 seconds ahead. Other such great performances were at the 1996 Spanish Grand Prix, the 1997 Monaco Grand Prix, and the 2000 Japanese Grand Prix.

Different types of tyre compounds

Tyre Compounds

Tyre compound refers to the composition of a specific tyre. There are a total of 5 dry tyre compounds. The main thing that makes the tyres different is the durability and grip of the tyre. The tyre’s durability refers to the tyre life(how long the tyre can last) and how much stress the tyre can take, while tyre grip relates to contact between the tyre surface and road and how strong or weak it is. A hard tyre will give better durability but less grip, while a soft tyre will give you better grip but worse durability.

Out of all the tyre compounds, the C1 is the hardest(most durable/least grip)compound, while the C5 is the softest(most grip/least durable) compound. The compounds between C1 and C5 have a combination of durability and grip that gradually changes when going down the order, with the C3 compound giving the best balance of durability and grip. Out of these 5 compounds of tyres, Pirelli makes the decisions and announces 3 sets of tyre compounds that will be available during the weekend. This decision is made with keeping the track in mind and making sure the compounds selected are most suitable to each track.

Rules for Tyre Use During the Race Weekend

Like everything else in F1, even the usage of tyres has rules and regulation that need to be followed. During every weekend, Pirelli allocates a total of 13 sets of dry tyres to each team. Each driver in a team will have two sets of the white wall hardest compound, three sets of the yellow wall medium tyre and eight sets of the red wall soft tyre during a race weekend. Before 2020, each driver could select the combination of hard, medium and soft tyre that was available to them. The FIA changed this rule after the pandemic’s start to reduce the logistical strain on Pirelli.

Drivers are allowed to use any tyre they want to in any of the sessions over the race weekend, but they are supposed to hand back tyres to Pirelli at different stages of the race weekend to ensure that drivers don’t hoard tyres and participate during each session. Pirelli will also nominate two tyres for the race depending on their suitability and drivers to use at least one of them during the race. If there is any chance of rain, this rule doesn’t apply then.

During qualifying, if any driver makes it into the last part of qualification, Q3, they will be allocated another set of soft tyres to use. And the drivers that made it into Q3 have to start the race on the tyre they set their fastest time on during Q2. This rule does not apply if there is any rain during the race, as the drivers will have to start on either full wets or intermediates. And if it rains during Q2, then depending on the weather condition, the drivers can select any tyre they want to start the race on. Another important rule is that the driver must at least use two different tyres compounds during the race.

All of these rules and regulations and differences between the tyres compounds can make a lot of difference in a race because each team takes a lot of time to develop a strategy that might suit their drivers the best. And more than not, this results in many interesting strategies that differ from team to team, which leads to exciting races, for most of the races at least.

For example, if the driver who got pole during qualification starts on the soft sets of tyres and the driver who qualified in 2nd place starts on the medium set of tyres, the advantage at the beginning of the race is with the driver with the soft tyres. This is because he’s on tyres with the most grip, so he’ll be able to get a comfortable lead in the first few laps. But since his tyres are less durable, he’ll have to pit and change his tyres earlier than the driver running on the medium set of tyres. But during the latter part of the race, where both drivers pitted for tyres, the advantage will now have switched because the driver who started on mediums now is on softs while the driver who started on softs is on medium. Similar situations take place all over the grid till the 20th position. It’s these kinds of strategies make the difference for a driver and make it an exciting race for the fans to watch.

Did you know?

What happens to F1 tyres after every race?

Pirelli collects all used tyres from a Grand Prix and tears them open to analyse the compounds and collect valuable data. Then they are taken to a plant where they are shredded and burnt at extremely high temperatures and used as fuel for cement factories. You Might wonder why these tyres are not recycled?  That’s because the extreme heat caused by the friction with the asphalt of a circuit for numerous laps and the graining destroys the tyres altering the compounds, making it practically impossible to reuse them.

There you have it, an introduction to F1 tyres. Hopefully, this article will now help you understand whenever the commentators start talking about tyres during a race.




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