A Formula 1 car is vastly different from a road car, and so are the tires. The black circular-shaped pieces of rubber withstand high speeds, hard braking, and fast cornering while still maintaining their shape. The tires are made from soft, malleable rubber, but how soft are F1 tires?
A softer Formula 1 tire will provide more grip on the track, but at the expense of the overall driving distance. Due to the tire’s softness, these tires suffer blistering, graining, flat spots, or overheating, and the average life span of the soft (C1) tire is 25-45 minutes under racing conditions.
The tires play a significant role in the success of any Formula 1 team, and this article will explain the different tires that are available and what happens to them during a race.
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How Many Different Tire Compounds Are In F1
Tire manufacturer Pirelli is the sole tire supplier for Formula 1, and they manufacture 5 different dry weather tire compounds. All the tire compounds are considered soft compared to a standard road-going tire.
- Compound 1 (C1) is an ultra-hard compound with a meager wear rate and offers the lowest grip level of the 5 compounds.
- Compound (C2) is a hard compound tire with less grip than the medium (C3) but lasts slightly longer.
- Compound 3 (C3) is a medium to hard tire balancing grip with distance.
- Compound 4 (C4) is a soft tire with a good grip and lasts longer than the C1 compound.
- Compound 5 (C5) is an ultra-soft tire that delivers maximum grip but wears out very quickly.
A formula 1 tire is unlike any road tire on the market. The F1 tire is purely designed for racing and provides maximum grip on the race track. F1 tires will last a maximum of ¾ of the race distance, but only if the tire does not experience blistering, graining, or flat spots. Below is a table with the average tire life span as tested at the Italian Circuit of Monza
|Tires rating||Tire Band Color||Compounds||Average Time||Average Laps|
|Soft||Red||C4 and C5||35-45 min||25|
|Medium||Yellow||C3 and C2||55-65 min||40|
How Does A F1 Tire Grip The Track
A Formula 1 tire is made of synthetic rubber, which heats up under friction caused by the tire running on the track surface. In the track corners, the tire will have lateral forces (a force acting across the tire opposite to the car’s direction) that will cause the tire to slide as it grips the track. The sliding causes heat build-up in the rubber, making it more malleable (sticky) and soft.
A soft tire tends to wear more quickly but provides the most grip; even the hard compound tires become soft and sticky but to a lesser degree than the softer compounds. The driver will need to maintain a constant tire temperature, or the tires can overheat and break down rapidly.
What Are The Different Tire Degradation Stages?
An F1 tire will go through many different stages during the race, from a shiny brand new tire to a tire that looks shredded and that will require a replacement during a pit stop. The different conditions are:
The Heat Cycle
A new glossy-looking tire will need to go through a heat cycle to provide good grip. A new tire is a little slippery and will take a lap or two to bring it up to the perfect temperature. Heating a new tire in this way cures the rubber and allows the tire to come up to temperature quicker. During free practice sessions, most drivers will put their three racing sets through heat cycles so that the tires are prepped and ready for the race.
Tire blistering will occur when the inside of the tire is hotter than the outer rubber or tread. The hotter air will force itself out between the rubber layers and rip off chunks of the tread. Blistering is visible on the tire when you notice missing patches in the tread. A blistered tire will not provide good grip as less rubber contact with the track.
The tire tread can become very hot, melting the rubber, and the centrifugal forces will fling small pieces of the melted rubber outward. Some of the melted rubber will contact the cooler tread on the tire and stick to it; this is tire graining. A graining tire resembles sandpaper and provides less grip as the grains block the good tread from contacting the track surface.
Some of the rubber from tire graining ends up on the race track and will accumulate off the racing line. You will notice this mostly in the corners and can be seen as the darker areas on the track as the small rubber pieces clump together and form marble-like pieces.
When a driver goes off the racing line to pass another driver, his hot tires will pick up the marbles and stick to the tires of his car. When this happens, the grip is lost until the marbling falls off in the graining-like process.
At the end of the race, most drivers will deliberately drive through the marbling patches and collect them with the tires, which will add weight to the car. Race drivers will add this weight to the car as the FIA scrutineers will weigh it, and underweight cars will be penalized.
Tire Flat Spots
When the wheel locks up and skids under braking, a flat spot occurs on the tire as the rubber is ripped away by the asphalt. A tire that is being flat-spotted is noticeable as white smoke plumes from the tire when it skids or slides on the track.
When a tire has a flat spot, it is no longer perfectly round as a large piece of the tire’s contact patch has been flattened away. A flat spot will have a significant impact on the car handling as it will cause vibrations, which damages the components of the car.
The Tires used in formula 1 are specifically designed for the sport to deliver high speeds and fast cornering. There are 5 different tire compounds used in F1, each with its degree of softness and strengths.
An F1 tire needs heat to become soft and malleable to supply maximum grip, but too much heat can cause the tires to start graining or blistering. A badly degraded tire will provide less grip on track resulting in slower lap times and more pit stops.