When watching a Formula 1 race, you will likely notice that all the tires used on the cars are solely produced by Pirelli. With multiple tire manufacturers having come and gone in the past, it may leave viewers wondering why F1 only uses Pirelli as its tire supplier and not any other brand.
F1 only uses Pirelli tires as they have a contract with them until 2024. The deal was signed to reduce the costs of Formula 1 and to even out the playing field with all teams using the same brand of tires. Pirelli tires are designed to wear fast to promote the use of different tire strategies.
Pirelli tires have come under criticism from drivers and teams because of their lack of durability and their unpredictable nature. In this article, we will discuss the details of the Pirelli deal as well as discussing the other manufacturers that have provided tires for F1 cars in the past.
When Did F1 Start Using Pirelli?
F1 started using Pirelli tires when the motorsport began in 1950. After an 8-year stint within the sport, the Italian tire giant left F1 in 1958, before making a comeback in 1981. The use of Pirelli tires was on-and-off throughout the 80s and 90s before they became F1’s sole tire supplier in 2011.
Pirelli took over from Bridgestone as F1’s official tire supplier in 2011, after Bridgestone announced their withdrawal from the sport, citing a change in business strategy as their main reason for not renewing their contract. This left Pirelli with a short amount of time to produce a tire capable of withstanding the pressures of modern F1 cars, as they hadn’t been active in F1 for 20 years.
Since they signed the contract in 2011, Pirelli has had to fight off competition from South Korean tire manufacturer Hankook to maintain their place in motorsport’s most elite competition. The current contract will guarantee that Pirelli will be producing tires for Formula 1 until at least 2024.
The Evolution Of Pirelli Tires Since 2011
Upon introduction in 2011, the new Pirelli tires weren’t greeted with the warmest reception from drivers, with Michael Schumacher commenting that driving on the new tires was like driving on raw eggs. 2-time world champion Fernando Alonso was also critical of the tires, claiming that drivers could no longer push their car to its limits because the tires wouldn’t allow it.
This is all because Pirelli was asked by the FIA to design tires that were less durable, to make pit stops commonplace, as well as provide closer, more competitive racing. This shifted the teams’ racing strategy towards how they use their tires rather than all-out racing, especially as it was now mandatory as of 2011 that a team must use at least 2 tire compounds during a race.
The quickly degrading tires that Pirelli introduced for the 2011 season were notoriously unpredictable, and we saw a huge increase in the number of tire blowouts throughout Pirelli’s first season as the sole tire supplier. It ended up being down to the luck of the draw as to whether the tires would last the entirety of the time they were on the car.
Over the course of the following years, Pirelli worked on making sure the tires were still less durable than they had been in previous years while making them more predictable in the sense that they wouldn’t just explode without warning. There remain cases of tire blowouts to this day, with Verstappen conceding the 2021 Baku Grand Prix due to a tire failure in the latter stages of the race.
Change In Tire Compounds And Markings
Tire compounds had previously been marked with a colored line running around the center of the tire, but after wear and tear these lines were difficult to spot. Pirelli introduced 2 thick colored lines to differentiate the tire types, making it easier for fans and commentators to see which tire was being used.
In 2016, Pirelli announced that they would decide before a race which 3 tire compounds would be available for teams to use, out of a range of 5 slick tires, which was later increased to 7 upon the introduction of hypersofts and superhards in 2018. After a year, Pirelli reduced the range of tires from 7 to 5, while also simplifying the tire names for race weekends.
This meant that race weekend tires would be named hard, with a white line around the outside of the tire, medium with a yellow line, and soft with a red line. This reduced confusion for casual fans of the sport, as well as made it easier for teams to communicate with their drivers about tire changes during a race.
Does Pirelli Make Money From F1?
Pirelli doesn’t make money from F1, at least not directly. Pirelli supplies tires free of charge. This works to benefit Pirelli by allowing them to use it as a branding opportunity. However, this can backfire and affect them negatively, as any tire issues get directed back to Pirelli.
Before Formula 1 opted to use a single tire supplier, teams would pay companies to provide their tires for them. Nowadays, Pirelli pays F1 to supply tires for the championship. This business model was introduced by Bernie Ecclestone as a way of cutting the extortionate costs of running an F1 team. It also provided a more even playing field, with each car required to use the same tire brand.
The need for equality with tires was fully realized after the US Grand Prix of 2005, where there were complications with Michelin tires that meant only 6 cars took part in the race, something we will look into further below.
In return for their tire supply and contract money, Pirelli receives more brand awareness due to their high-profile involvement in the sport and having their logo plastered on each car’s tires as well as on billboards around the track.
Not all publicity is good publicity, however, as the backlash from any tire issues is usually directed towards Pirelli, with driver outbursts often backed by their teams and fans. Despite this, Pirelli’s name is kept firmly in the spotlight, cementing their status as one of the leading tire companies in the world.
Who Used To Provide Tires In Formula 1?
F1 tires used to be provided by manufacturers including Avon, Continental, Dunlop, Englebert, Firestone, Goodyear, Michelin and Bridgestone. These companies dipped in and out over the years until 2011 when Pirelli became the sole supplier of F1 tires.
Throughout the early 1950s, Pirelli was the most dominant of the tire manufacturers, in part due to the success of Juan Manuel Fangio. From 1950 to 1954, Pirelli tires were present on 32 race-winning cars, with the other winners using Firestone tires. This dynamic would change throughout the latter half of the decade as British company Dunlop began to come into their own.
The success began to be shared more evenly around the various tire companies, with Continental and Englebert both having their share of podium success.
1960s And 70s
Much like Pirelli in the 1950s, Dunlop dominated the early 60s and became the tire choice for all the teams between 1960 and 1963. 1964 would see the introduction of Goodyear into Formula 1, as well as a resurgence of teams using Firestone tires. It was Dunlop, Firestone, and Goodyear who would go on to feature most prominently in the late 60s.
For most of the 70s, it would be a battle between Firestone and Goodyear, with Goodyear taking most of the victories up until 1980. 1977 would be the first year that French manufacturer Michelin would supply tires for F1, as well as the last year that Dunlop tires would grace the Formula 1 track after financial turmoil within the company forced them to back out.
1980s And 90s
The 80s and 90s would prove to be Goodyear’s golden era, becoming F1’s dominant manufacturer for 13 consecutive seasons from 1985 to 1997. They were also the sole supplier of F1 tires on 2 separate occasions between 1987 to 1988 and 1992 to 1996. The 80s also saw the return of Pirelli to F1, albeit with minimal success.
Towards the end of the 1990s, Bridgestone reintroduced themselves back into F1, before their period of dominance in the 2000s, which subsequently landed them with a deal to become F1s first contracted tire supplier.
Bridgestone’s F1 Partnership
In 2007, it was announced that Bridgestone would be the sole supplier of Formula 1 tires, in both an attempt by F1 to even the playing field and reduce the costs of running F1, as teams had previously been paying companies to supply them with their tires. The deal would ensure that Bridgestone would be supplying tires until the deal ended in 2010.
In 2009, Bridgestone made the decision to end their partnership with F1, claiming that they wanted to focus on other technological ventures outside of F1. They also cited that the global economic recession was not part of their reasoning when deciding not to renew their deal, despite racking up an enormous $70 million bill when developing a new range of slick tires for the sport.
The collapse of the relationship opened the door for a new tire manufacturer, with the FIA eventually settling for Pirelli over several companies, including long-time manufacturers Michelin.
The 2005 US Grand Prix And Michelin’s F1 Demise
The 2005 US Grand Prix at the Indianapolis circuit produced one of the most infamous races of all time, as only 6 cars would line up to race. These were the only 6 cars on the track that were not using Michelin tires. Safety concerns over the tires’ inability to handle the speed of the track’s 13th turn caused 14 drivers to pull out of the race before even taking to the grid.
The Grand Prix stained the reputation of Michelin within the sport and is often referred to as the dealbreaker that cost them the position of F1’s sole tire supplier to Pirelli in 2010. The events that took place in 2005 also damaged the relationship between Formula 1 and the USA, something that has only begun to repair itself since US company Liberty Media became a huge shareholder back in 2016.
Why Is There Only One Tire Supplier In F1?
There are multiple reasons F1 uses a single tire supplier, with one of them being an attempt to reduce the costs of F1 as a sport. Another reason for choosing 1 tire supplier is that there’s increased control given to the FIA, and so that way the tires meet their wants and needs.
When teams could choose which tires they wanted to use they had to source the tires themselves. This would increase the gap between the teams who could afford the very best tires and the teams who couldn’t. Minimizing the tire options available reduced the already ridiculous amounts of money being spent and evened out the playing field, helping to create more exciting races.
Increase In FIA Control
Having a single tire manufacturer on board gives greater control to the FIA when directing the races, as they can work closely with Pirelli to manufacture a tire that meets their requirements. This was highlighted when Pirelli was willing to make a tire that would be less durable to increase the number of pit stops during a race.
This close relationship with Pirelli allowed the FIA to introduce the mandatory tire compound change in 2011. It also meant there would be no repeats of incidents such as Sebastian Vettel changing his tires on the final lap of the Monza GP in 2010 after not stopping throughout the entirety of the race.
The FIA was also keen to keep any events such as what took place at the 2005 US Grand Prix from ever happening again, believing that eliminating any competition in the tire market would do so. This competition between tire manufacturers is known as a tire war.
F1 Tire Wars Explained
Tire wars are created when there are multiple tire companies providing their products for different teams on the Formula 1 grid. Tire wars are not just restricted to F1 and have taken place in many different series such as NASCAR and MotoGP.
Tire wars can lead to advancements in tire-related technology, with the companies involved pushing each other to create what they deem to be the perfect racing tire. These wars have taken place since the very beginning of F1 in 1950, with the very first ‘war’ being between Pirelli, Firestone, Dunlop, and Englebert, in which Pirelli originally came out on top.
These conflicts increased the disparity between the well-funded teams at the top of the tree and the smaller, low-budget teams at the bottom. This has now been eradicated following Formula 1’s decision to opt for a single supplier.
There have been calls by some drivers and fans to allow for new tire wars to push Pirelli into making even better tires. Lewis Hamilton has been vocal in the past about his desire for F1 to reignite a tire war, saying, “When you don’t have any competition, you’ve got no one to base yourself on.”
Hamilton has also complained about a lack of action taken by Pirelli when offered feedback on the performance of their tires. It is currently unlikely that there will be any future tire wars, as deals between F1 and tire companies are more lucrative to the sport than in previous years when teams would have to source their tires themselves. Pirelli is also in contract to provide tires until 2024.
F1 only uses Pirelli tires because it reduces costs for the sport as a whole and allows for even competition. F1 tires have been provided by various different manufacturers over the years, but Pirelli has been the sole tire provider since 2011 and will continue to be until at least 2024.