For the uninformed viewer, it may appear that the complexities of Formula One tires simply lie in the rapid replacement of tires at pit stops during driving sessions. However, there are numerous complexities surrounding the management of tires, including covering tires. So what purpose do Formula One tire covers serve?
Formula One teams use heated covers to keep the tires’ heat within a temperature range that optimizes performance and improves grip. Tire covers also hide the tire compounds from other teams. This allows teams to hide tire compound strategies from each other.
To understand the strategic importance and performance benefits of Formula One cover tires, we will be discussing these two features in greater detail below:
Do Formula One Tire Covers Improve Tire Grip And Heat?
Formula One covers, often known as ‘tire blankets,’ are made from insulation material and have electric heating components to cover and heat a team’s stock of Formula One tires before, during, and after driving sessions.
The reason why Formula One tires are heated is that heat is needed to keep tires at approximately 210F, which is the heat necessary to improve the grip and performance of tires.
The tire covers are wrapped around a stack of tires and heated via a ‘tire warmer.’ A tire warmer is a big, electrical device that typically heats tires for upwards of two hours before a driving session, whereas the tire warmer will keep the tires at a constant heat of 210F during races.
The process of heating tire covers, and by extension, Formula One tires, is manually overseen by technicians and engineers in conjunction with automated thermo-regulators for accurate heat management.
Why Are Formula One Tires Heated To 210F?
The reason teams heat Formula One tires to approximately 210F is that heat allows the tires’ rubber to stick to the asphalt of a track; this is particularly important for fast and precise cornering.
Consequently, every attempt should be made to reduce the risks of sliding tires getting cold, as a lack of grip when taking corners at high speeds may result in vehicles veering off the track and losing precious time or being involved in an accident.
Another reason why Formula One teams heat their tires is to keep the tire pressure at a certain amount (due to the expansion of hot air in the tires, resulting in higher tire pressures.) Typically, a temperature change of 10F will cause a pressure fluctuation of 1 pound per square inch (increased heat resulting in higher levels, while colder temperatures produce reduced tire pressure.)
Consequently, higher tire pressure results in a stiffer and more uncomfortable drive. However, lower temperatures result in lower tire pressure, which creates a softer, but looser drive.
Therefore, technicians have to balance temperature and pressure, as too much or too little tire pressure resulting from incorrect heat fluctuations can spell disaster for a driver and their performance on the track.
Why Do Formula One Teams Hide Their Tire Compounds?
To understand why Formula One teams hide their tire compounds, you first need to understand what different tire compounds do, why tire compound strategies affect performance, and how teams/spectators identify tire compounds.
At present, Formula One tires are provided by Pirelli, which have six different compound types: ranging from:
- Wet tires
- Intermediate condition tires,
- Super soft dry tires,
- Soft dry tires,
- Medium dry tires, and
- Hard, dry tires.
The six compounds above have many different features that will alter a driver’s racing experience and a Formula One team’s strategy.
How To Identify Formula One Tire Compounds?
Formula One tires use a color system to identify the different compounds being used on race day. At present, the color grading system is as follows:
- Wet tires: blue,
- Intermediate tires: green,
- Soft tires: red,
- Medium tires: yellow,
- Hard tires: white/silver.
The colors do not include the entire tire; instead, the color of the “Pirelli” logo and the decal surrounding the tire change according to the designated compounds for each race.
How Do Formula One Teams Use Tire Covers To Hide Their Strategies?
Subject to the latest rules by the FIA as of the 2022 season, teams are allocated a set budget and a set number of tires they may stock for each race weekend. Therefore teams need to plan tire strategies well in advance to have the stock for a race weekend (this includes practices, qualifications, and races.)
Because of these tire limitations and the amount of testing/strategy that goes into tire compound selection subject to track condition and weather, Formula One engineers must pay attention to the results from other teams and their compounds.
Consequently, compound strategies during race day usually revolve around when to issue pit stop orders to drivers, while qualification sessions focus on which compounds are the best to start and end on (subject to tire management.)
For example, soft compounds degrade faster than hard compounds. Therefore, drivers who decide to change hard tires for softer tires during a race will likely have to make two pit stops to complete the race (this is known as a two-stop strategy.)
In contrast, if a driver uses their first pit stop to replace their tires with a harder compound, a driver will likely finish their race on the second set of tires and forego a second pit stop if they can manage their harder tires well.
The choice of a harder compound at a second stop, along with a start on hard compounds, means that any further pit stops are unlikely; this is known as a one-stop strategy.
In conclusion, because Formula One is a technical and strategic sport, understanding the purpose of tire management and tire strategies dramatically improves one’s understanding of Formula One events!