Formula 1 has surged in popularity over the last five years. This success is partly due to the sport being a multinational event run in many different countries globally with a global driver pool. It has kept up to date and remains the technological leader of any motorsport.
Formula 1 tires are designed to last between 10 and 50 laps, dependent on several variables, which include:
- The average speed on a circuit.
- The number of corners.
- The radius of the corners.
- How abrasive the track surface is.
- The ambient temperature.
- The compound of tire being used.
The correct tire choice on which to start an F1 race, then the wear, and finally deciding when to pit and change tires are very complex strategic decisions that F1 teams have to make. Get it right, and they may win the race; however, as history has shown, if the team gets it wrong, they may lose the race, but they could end up not even finishing it.
Distances The Various F1 Tires Last
The different compounds are intended to last varying distances. Although these differ for the various track conditions, they are meant to survive for a predetermined number of laps within specific ranges.
- C1 tires – are intended to last between 30 to 50 laps.
- C2 tires – will last approximately 30 laps
- C3 tires – will last about 20 to 30 laps
- C4 tires – will last approximately 20 to 30 laps
- C5 tires – are intended to last between 10 to 20 laps
The above are estimates because the current range of tires has only been run for testing sessions and two races.
The Different Compound Tires Last For Varying Distances
There are five dry-weather (slick) compounds available.
Pirelli (the exclusive F1 tire manufacturer) chooses two of the dry compounds for each race, while the teams get to choose the third.
The three compounds chosen for a race are then categorized as Hard, Medium, and Soft, depending on where they fall in the spectrum.
If C1, C2, and C3 are chosen, then:
- C1 will be designated “Hard.”
- C2 will be “Medium.”
- C3 will be designated “Soft.”
If C3, C4, and C5 are selected, then:
- C3 will be designated “Hard.”
- C4 will be “Medium.”
- C5 will be “Soft.”
F1 will print a white stripe on the designated hard compound, the medium will get a yellow band, and the soft be given a red one.
Each team gets 13 sets of slick tires over a racing weekend – two sets of hard compounds, three sets of medium, and eight sets of soft.
They also get four sets of intermediate tires and three sets of wet compound tires.
This tire allowance has to last:
- 3 practice sessions (FP1, FP2, FP3)
- 3 Qualifying Sessions (Q1, Q2, Q3)
- The main race.
The F1 teams can use any two compound tires for the Sunday race.
The rules had changed from the 2021 and prior seasons when, during non-Sprint Weekends, the top 10 fastest teams in the second qualifying session (Q2) had to start the Grand Prix race on the tire on which they achieved their quickest Q2 time.
The No Of Laps F1 Tires Last Depends On Many Factors
The factors which affect the lifespan of F1 tires include
- The tire compound raced on
- The characteristics of the racing circuit
- The F1 car being raced
- The temperature at the track
The Tire Compound Which Is Being Raced On?
There are five Pirelli dry weather (slick) and two wet-weather compounds.
The dry weather compounds are categorized by the letters C1-C5.
The softer a tire is, the more grip it provides; however, the downside is that the softer the compound, the faster the tire wears down. The opposite is true with harder tires in that they provide less grip but will last longer.
Sometimes track conditions favor one compound over the other; for example, when the track is scorching, the hard compound may equal the medium in grip, but it is rare.
C1 (Compound 1) Tires
C1 tires are the hardest and designed for high-speed circuits with fast corners, abrasive surfaces, and high ambient temperatures.
Although C1 is the slowest compound to heat up and reaches a temperature where the driver can utilize it to the fullest extent, it is the tire that should last the longest before needing to be changed.
C2 (Compound 2) Tires
The C2 tires are slightly softer than C1 tires but still sit at the harder end of the tire spectrum.
C2 tires are used in high-speed, fast cornering circuits with high temperatures.
They have a broader working range than C1 tires and provide the F1 teams with greater flexibility when making tire choice decisions.
C3 (Compound 3) Tires
C3 tires sit in the middle of the range of tire hardness.
They offer the F1 teams a balance between hardness (durability) and softness (cornering ability). These tires lean towards performance, which ultimately compromises the potential lifespan.
Sitting in the middle of the spectrum means that the C3 tires can be used as the softest option on high wear, high-speed tracks, whereas on lower speed tracks with lower degradation rates, they can be used as the hard compound.
C4 (Compound 4) Tires
C4 tires are the second softest compound suited for circuits with tight corners, lower temperatures, and lower maximum speeds.
The C4 tires heat up quickly, but they wear faster and have a shorter life expectancy.
The new design of the C4 tire is intended to improve the overall wear and degradation rate.
C5 (Compound 5) Tires
C5 is the softest tire version that provides the best grip and has the shortest expected lifespan compared to the other compounds.
When allowed, F1 teams prefer to use the C5 in Q3 sessions where they are fighting for pole position.
The Characteristics Of The Racing Circuit
The varying conditions on each racing circuit affect how long different F1 tires last.
The main reason for this is that different tracks have differing levels of downforce.
High Downforce Tracks
Tracks with fewer and shorter straights and a greater emphasis on cornering ability are termed “high downforce” tracks.
The cars with the aero kit that produces the best downforce will do well on high downforce tracks.
In these instances, a car with a lower-powered engine but higher downforce may do better than a car that has a faster straight-line speed.
These tracks will cause the tires to wear down faster.
Low Downforce Tracks
Low-downforce, or power tracks, have fewer corners and faster top-speed straights.
The F1 Car Being Raced
Cars that favor high downforce tracks (2021 – Red Bull) did not have the same straight-line speed as their main competitors; however, running an aero kit with high downforce made them more competitive in those types of tracks.
These cars generally had higher tire wear.
Cars with lower downforce (2021 – Mercedes) had a top speed advantage but were less competitive on the high downforce tracks.
Having lower downforce means that Mercedes had lower tire degradation.
Remember that at the end of the 2021 season, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen had raced more than 5,100 miles over the year, yet only 9 seconds separated them.
When you consider the differences in setup, you are talking about and differential of under 0.5 seconds in each race.
The Temperature At The Track
The hotter the track, the higher the tire degradation.
It means that races running in sweltering conditions will experience higher wear rates and more tire failures.
How Do The F1 Teams Use The Tires Over An F1 Weekend?
The strategic tire choice is essential for teams to get correct. The following shows Pirelli’s estimates of the difference in lap times that each tire compound produces.
- C1 to C2: 0.8-1.0 seconds.
- C2 to C3: 0.7 seconds.
- C3 to C4: 0.6 seconds.
- C4 to C5: 0.6 seconds.
Before every race, the F1 teams are provided with a set of starting parameters for their tires (the tire pressures they must begin with).
- The maximum temperatures the teams can heat them to in their tire blankets.
- The wheels camber angle.
These values may differ from team to team as Pirelli calculates them based on each team’s data.
Choosing the tire that F1 teams start the Grand Prix on, the estimated running times before a pitstop, and when to pitstop are all strategic decisions that ultimately decide the final winner.
Over the years, terrible tire decisions or faulty tires have caused several incidents that have changed the final points tally for teams.
10 Tire Incidents That Have Changed The Outcome Of Races
The following ten tire incidents changed the outcome of each race and, in some cases, the result of the world championship.
Nigel Mansell had a rear left tire blow on the final straight, which caused him the lose the world championship.
Damon Hill had a puncture in his left rear tire. Before the hole, he was leading the race; however, he had to pull out and record a DNF (Did Not Finish) result.
Kimi Raikkonen, racing for Williams, had a blowout in the front right tire. It caused him to lose first place in the race and become DNF.
This incident highlights the strategic nature of managing tire wear; as most commentators recommended, they pit before the last lap. They would have kept first place and won the race if they had done so.
Louis Hamilton, racing for Williams, lost the lead in the race due to a flat rear right tire. Even though the tire held its shape, he ended up in the sand with spinning wheels, unable to move.
After running in second place, Louis Hamilton’s front left tire punctured, and he crashed off the track losing the podium finish he was assured of getting before the incident.
Silverstone (Great Britain) 2013
Louis Hamilton, driving for Mercedes, had a puncture in the rear left tire, which caused him a DNF result.
Kimi Raikkonen had a left front tire puncture, and Sebastian Vettel had a rear right hole. Both were driving for Ferrari.
The puncture caused Sebastian to lose his championship lead.
Valtteri Bottas, Louis Hamilton’s teammate at Mercedes, led the race when he had a blowout in the car’s right rear tire.
Hamilton then overtook and won the race.
Silverstone (Great Britain) 2020
Valtteri Bottas, racing for Mercedes, had a puncture in the front left tire, which caused him to lose his place to Max Verstappen (Red Bull).
Louis Hamilton also suffered a left front tire blowout; however, he managed to keep running and won the race.
What’s New On The Tire Front For The 2022 Season?
Two tire-related rule changes will impact how F1 races are run in the 2022 and beyond seasons.
The First Change Is A Move To Bigger Wheels
From the 2022-year significant design, changes have been made to F1 cars.
Concerning the tires, a new 18-inch wheel has replaced the previous 13-inch unit.
The change was brought made by Liberty Media to keep the cars “looking modern.”
Apparently, the bigger wheels look more modern than the previous 13-inch wheels with chunky tires and a potbellied sidewall.
Pirelli, the manufacturer, wanted the formula 1 tires to be more representative of its road-going tires. As Formula 1 tires are run in extreme conditions, Pirelli intends to use them as a testbed for their primary business.
The most advanced composite plastics, rubber, and grip-enhancing resins start life in an F1 car before finding their way into road tires.
What Does This Change Mean For F1?
The taller wheel has raised the car, resulting in significant aerodynamic changes.
The new tires are intended to reduce wear by:
- Reducing the inconsistent quality issues which have plagued certain races
- The tires are overheating and forcing drivers to reduce their speed
The downside for F1 is that teams have been forced to redesign the “aero” components and the cars’ suspensions.
In the first few events of 2022, Red Bull and Ferrari seem to have a solution, whereas Mercedes has been caught out badly. Previously a front runner and eight times constructor’s world champion, Louis Hamilton, in his Mercedes, did not manage to qualify out of the Q1 stage in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
While Mercedes licks its wounds and attempts to make its car competitive, after the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, the 2022 championship battle will be between Ferrari (Charles Leclerc) and Red Bull (Max Verstappen).
The Second Change Is In The Q2 Tire Choice
In previous seasons, the top tens teams qualifying for a place in the second qualifying session (Q2) had to use the tires on which they ran their fastest lap for the start of the Grand Prix race on Sunday.
It resulted in the teams always carefully considering the tires they ran in Q2. They might have saved the fastest tires for the Q1 session if they were assured a top-five spot.
Sometimes this meant they ran a non-optimal tire at the start of the Grand Prix.
For the 2022 season, this rule has been discarded.
F1 tires used last between 10 and 50 laps, depending on the tire compound, the track, and the heat and roughness of the road surface.
The intention of using a single manufacturer and several of the regulations relating to tire use has always been to make the tires less of a competitive component; they still form a significant part of an F1 teams race day strategy.