F1 tires are built to be durable. The incredibly high downforce of the cars puts the tires under massive amounts of pressure. This means they last a lot less time than any road car tires do. This is not because of the poor quality of the tires. It is simply because F1 tires are put through so much more wear than any road tire.
This means it can be pretty amazing how long the tires last, as it would be an awful comparison to make. Tire length can vary massively, and the amount of laps that F1 tires last is based on many different factors.
When you look at the 2021 season’s Pirelli tires, the hardest tire of the set, the C1, can last 30-50 laps, and the C5 tire can last around 10-20 laps, depending on the track. Many factors affect how long these tires last, like the track and its conditions, temperature, humidity, and tire management.
A big reason for how long these tires last is because of how they are designed. Formula 1 designs these tires to produce incredibly high levels of grip for a short amount of time. The slight difference in the tires is precisely what F1 teams want.
How Does The Track Affect How Long F1 Tyres Last?
Different tracks affect how long different F1 tires last. The main reason for this is that different tracks have differing levels of downforce, which can cause tires to degrade faster than on low downforce tracks.
Tracks With Low And High Downforce Affect Tires
Tracks with high downforce like Hungary cause tires to wear a lot quicker than tracks with low downforce like the Red Bull ring. Tracks like Hungary, Imola, Singapore, Spain, and Monaco are all high downforce circuits.
The Condition Of The Racing Line Effect Tires
You will also often see drivers waiting for other drivers to go out first, whether in practice or qualifying. There will be lots of particles on the track when a track is new, and there will not be a racing line developed. As a Formula One weekend develops, the track begins to wear in a lot more.
This means that drivers wear down the racing line, making it smooth and easy to drive on compared to the rest of the track. This also means that tires will last longer in races than they do in practice. The smoother, worn racing line will produce less wear on the tires, making them last longer. F1 tracks can also wear down different tires altogether.
Heavy Braking Affects Tires
Tracks built on heavy braking and long straights like Baku are much more likely to wear down the rear tires due to lots of heavy braking force. In contrast, tracks like Hungary have lots of high-speed corners and will wear down the front tires a lot instead. The track plays a huge role in how long F1 tires last.
How Do Weather Conditions Affect How Long F1 Tyres Last?
F1 dry tires are built to be put under massive amounts of force and pressure. They wear quickly, and the temperature and humidity can affect exactly how long they wear. Track temperature is a crucial element of tire wear and is closely monitored by teams.
The asphalt that makes up the Grand Prix circuit is black, meaning it absorbs a lot of heat from the sun, making the track temperature almost always hotter than the air temperature, even up to 10 degrees Celsius higher than the air temperature.
Tires wear quicker in hotter conditions, as they become softer in the heat, and it causes more friction with the track. This causes them to wear a lot faster. It is one of the reasons that teams have looked for races in Abu Dhabi and Bahrain to be raced well outside of those countries’ summer months, as it can make it a lot more difficult on the tires.
This is in very extreme conditions. However, F1 tires are built to perform at high temperatures, as the enormous amount of friction they go through during a race makes them incredibly hot. F1 tires are built to start performing well when they reach around 100 degrees Celsius to handle some heat.
But when high track temperature is added to the already incredibly high temperatures reached from friction, it causes tires to wear down incredibly quickly, much quicker than if the circuit was a lot colder. Of course, rain has considerable effects on how long tires last, but wet tires wear very differently from dry tires, explained later in the article.
How Can F1 Drivers Manage Their Tyres?
Tire management is a crucial part of an F1 race. Finding the balance between maximizing your lap times and making the tires last as long as possible is difficult to find. It is difficult simply because the tire wear increases as you push the car faster and faster to get your higher lap times.
So that balance becomes incredibly important during a race. One of the main reasons you will see race engineers on the radio telling a driver to slow down or warning a driver about the tires becoming too worn.
It means that drivers have to manage their tires to get the most out of them. It is especially difficult when the tires are not designed to last a long time. The tires are specifically designed for short bursts of high grip, and they tend to drop off quite quickly after that.
The success of Sergio Perez has shown this. The Mexican is one of the best at getting high performance out of aging tires, and it is one of the reasons for his recent promotion and contract extension with Red Bull.
If a driver can preserve their tires for longer, they can get more grip out of the tires while others begin to struggle. Drivers can change things about their driving styles during a race to preserve tires. The main parts of racing that wear down tires are high-speed corners and heavy braking.
How Drivers Reduce Tyre Wear
- Coasting. This is the process of going through a corner, using only the initial speed you had when going into the corner instead of staying on the throttle. This means you gradually reduce the wear being put on the tires by not going as quickly through the corner.
- Reduce heavy braking, also called lifting. When a driver gets to the end of a straight, they will stop accelerating, so they have a lower speed as they enter the braking zone. This reduces the wear on the tires, especially the rear tires, as there is a lot less braking needed.
These methods have helped every F1 driver over the years. However, these management tactics can hurt your race. Both of these processes slow a driver down, not maximizing your car’s lap time if you’re not driving the car to the max. It means your lap times will increase, and it can hurt a driver’s performance.
Finding out how much tires will wear and how that affects lap times is a crucial job of the pit wall of each team. It creates huge chances for teams to take advantage of strategy when they don’t have the pace.
Why Do Different Tyres Wear At Different Rates In F1?
Currently, Formula One uses 5 different tires compounds. These range from C1-C5. The C1-C5 differ based on their grip and durability; the C1 tire is the most durable but with the least grip, and the C5 has the most grip but the least durable.
The tires used between each race change dependant usually on the downforce level on the track, as some tracks put the tires through a lot more than others.
- C1, C2, C3 are used as the hard tire
- C2, C3, C4 are used for the medium tire
- C3, C4, and C5 are used for the soft tire.
It means that the C5 is the softest of all, so it also wears the quickest. The C1 I is the hardest of all the tires and will therefore last the longest. It is just the way the tires are designed. Pirelli state that the C1 tire is designed “for circuits that put the highest energy loadings through the tires.”
They describe the C5 tire as having “a considerably shorter lifespan than the other tires in the range.” It just means teams have to be careful with which tires they choose. This is the case simply because this is how Pirelli designs the tires. Teams have to be careful about tires graining as well.
Graining is when rubber strips break off from the tire and then immediately stick back onto the tire. This creates an uneven surface on the tire, making braking and cornering much more difficult. It is much more common with soft tires and can be a random event that has considerable effects on the levels of grip the tires are given.
How Long Do Wet Tyres Last In F1?
Pirelli also produces two tires designed for wet tracks. The first is the intermediate tire, which is the much more versatile of the two rain tires. They are designed to be used on a wet track that does not have any standing water.
Intermediate tires are built to be very durable because they have to produce grip in much more difficult conditions than dry tires. F1 cars don’t have stability control, traction control, or antilock brakes, so the tires must grip in wet conditions.
These tires, therefore, can a lot of the time last up to 50% of a race distance, so any race ran completely in conditions for intermediate tires would likely end up a one-stop race. The intermediate tires also don’t wear down as much because they’re hard tires.
They are much harder than any of the C1-C5 range so that they can handle wet conditions. This strength means they do not wear as quickly as softer tires would.
Full wet tires are another step up from this. They’re designed for heavy rain conditions, with standing water on the track. This means they are even harder and more durable than the intermediate tires. They are designed to withstand increased resistance to give the tires a lot more grip in wet conditions.
Often, these tires will also be able to last for almost an entire race, although they will not be enough to be used for a whole race. However, wet tires also do something that dry tires do not. They can wear incredibly quickly if they’re not used in the right conditions.
Quite often, you will see drivers on intermediate tires struggling in drying conditions. This is because as the track dries, the friction with the tires increases.
Wet tires are designed with incredibly high grip but too much grip for dry conditions. This means intermediate tires will overheat very quickly on a drying track and begin to wear very quickly.
It is difficult to put an exact length on how long F1 tires last. There are so many different factors that affect how long tires last, and the type is essential. The more important rule is that the hard tire will last the longest in any given race weekend, with the soft tire lasting the fewest laps.
This is simply due to how the tires are designed. These different tires will produce strategy decisions and make the pit wall incredibly important in these races.