Tires are critical in Formula 1, as they’re the only parts of the car that touch the track. It’s important for the tire manufacturer to make the tires in the right way to provide exciting racing while keeping the drivers safe at all times. So, you may therefore be wondering how F1 tires are made.
F1 tires are made using extensive research, testing and complex production methods, including varying degrees of vulcanization. Each tire takes around 5 hours to make. F1 tires are made at the Pirelli factory in Izmit, in Turkey, but they also utilize their facilities in Italy and Romania too.
The process of making F1 tires is incredibly difficult, and there’s a lot of research, development, and testing that has gone into F1 tires over the years to continuously improve them. Below, we discuss what goes in to making Formula 1 tires in more detail.
Who Makes F1 Tires?
F1 tires are made by Pirelli, an Italian tire manufacturer that has a long history in producing tires for road cars and race cars. Pirelli have been active for 150 years, and they have been F1’s sole tire supplier since 2011, and will remain so for the foreseeable future.
Pirelli was founded in 1872 in Milan by Giovanni Battista. The company first started out providing to rubber to produce rebreathers for scuba diving. Shortly after the company’s inception they also started building tires for road cars. It was only 78 years later that the company would join Formula 1.
Pirelli joined the sport at the 1950 British Grand Prix, the very first Formula 1 race. Their first stint in the sport lasted just nine seasons. The company rejoined Formula 1 from 1981 until 1986, and again from 1989 until 1991. In 2011, Pirelli returned to the sport as the sole tire supplier, with this being their longest stint so far.
Pirelli has been a tire supplier for a total of more than 430 Grands Prix, with 214 drivers having used their tires in a Formula 1 car.
Ferrari and Mercedes have completed the most races using Pirelli rubber, with 607 and 468 respectively. On the drivers’ side, Lewis Hamilton has run the most races using Pirelli tires with 233, and Sebastian Vettel is in second place with 231 races, with Sergio Perez in third with 229 races.
Where Are F1 Tires Made?
F1 tires are made at the Pirelli factory in Izmit, Turkey, but this is just where they are physically constructed. Pirelli has another facility in Milan, Italy, where a lot of the testing occurs. They also have another factory in Romania, which is where a lot of the tires for F2 and F3 are made.
At the Milan facility, there are 150 research engineers that are solely focused on Formula 1 tires. There are various physics and chemistry labs at this facility, which is where the compounds, structures, and several other elements of the tires are tested before mass production begins.
Pirelli has another tire factory in Romania that is dedicated to producing other motorsport tires, such as those for Formula 2, Formula 3, and other branches of motorsport. The Romanian facility is also considered a backup factory. Recently, the 2022 Pirelli test tire was built at the Romanian factory rather than the usual Turkish factory. This tire was only used in preseason testing.
KEY POINTS• Pirelli is the sole supplier of F1 tires
• They have been supplying F1 tires non-stop since 2011
• The tires are made at various facilities, with the main factory being in Turkey
What Are Formula 1 Tires Made Of?
Formula 1 tires are made of a complex combination of materials, including natural and synthetic rubbers, steel, vulcanizing agents, and other chemicals and materials. The amount of each component in the tires depends on the exact compound of tire it is, of which there are 7 variations.
Making these tires is extremely difficult because they’re not supposed to have incredibly long lifespans. At the same time, they need to last long enough and be sturdy enough to ensure that they are safe for the drivers to use during a race weekend.
The inner carcasses of the tires are made of steel. The bead wire that makes up the structural inner layer of the tires needs to be incredibly strong, so steel is used to ensure that the tires can withstand the extreme G forces that they will undergo during a Formula 1 race. The rubber of Formula 1 tires are made from a mixture of natural rubber, synthetic rubber, and other artificial fibers.
Other materials used within F1 tires can include:
- Natural rubber
- Styrene-butadiene co-polymer (SBR)
- Bromobuty rubber
- Carbon Black
- Vulcanizing Accelerators
- Antioxidants and antiozonants
- Carbon fiber
How F1 Tires Are Made
The first step in the process of creating Formula 1 tires involves testing different compounds, materials, and structures. Of course, Pirelli has decades worth of experience in building tires, even at the Formula 1 level, but thorough testing and development still needs to be conducted at all times to ensure that the highest quality of tires are made.
At the Pirelli headquarters in Milan, Italy, 150 research engineers go through the process of testing new structures and compounds in their physics and chemistry labs. Pirelli are constantly working on their tires and fine tuning them as they gather more data in Formula 1.
Every now and then, Pirelli will develop a brand new tire and let the drivers test it. If this compound is an improvement, it will be added to the range of tires that drivers can use in race weekends. Every tire failure during a race also needs to be analyzed so that it doesn’t happen again in the future.
Virtual Tire Designs
A virtual tire is then designed with precise specifications and measurements. Both of Pirelli’s factories in Romania and Turkey will build a prototype of these tires. These tires will go through thorough stress tests that simulate real conditions that the tires will experience during a race.
Sophisticated machines are used to test the tires and push them to their limits. From temperature testing to lateral G force testing, these tires are put through their paces to ensure that they meet the regulations and don’t pose any safety concerns to the drivers while they’re pushing the limits out on track.
Following these tests, several sets of test tires are made and sent to be tested out on track. The Pirelli test car will be fitted with the prototype tires, and it will be sent for several days of testing in different conditions. Every type of tire compound including the wet tires will be tested on the car before they are put into full production.
Only once the tires have passed the factory tests and the rigorous track tests will they be available for the upcoming Formula 1 season. Following these tests and the approval of the tire, full manufacturing of the season’s tires will begin. These tests will ensure that the tires are up to the FIA and Formula 1’s standards before Pirelli commits to creating a mass of new tires.
In the Pirelli factory, there are two processes that happen simultaneously. Firstly, the tire’s shoulder (bead wire) is created. This is essentially the foundation of the tire, and this structure will support the entire tire and the rubber that is laid over it. The bead wire is incredibly strong as it’s made from steel and forms the carcass of the tire.
At the same time, the belt and tread pattern is created on a separate production line. The belt and tread pattern is the outer layer of the tire (the part of the tire that we can see that touches the tarmac). These elements are made from natural rubber, synthetic rubber, and a mixture of other artificial fibers.
Each tire is then labeled with an identity barcode. This allows anyone from the teams and the FIA to check the tire’s history, from the moment it was manufactured to the race that it has been shipped to.
The next step in the process is vulcanization. This is the final step in the creation process as the barcode is sealed in. Each compound is vulcanized in a different way, which is another step that differs along with their structure and the rubber’s physical properties.
The entire process of making one tire takes around five hours. For a single race, around 1,800 individual tires are sent to the circuit. Every driver is given 13 sets of tires, and they need to make sure to use these efficiently as it’s all they will be given for the entire race weekend, from practice right through to the race.
Finally, every tire is taken through three different tests. This is a final quality check that is done on each single tire to ensure that the manufacturing process went according to plan and that no mistakes were made in the manufacturing process.
The first test is a simple visual check. An engineer will closely inspect each tire to ensure that the manufacturing process was completed properly. If there are any obvious quality failures, the tires will be removed from the batch over safety concerns.
The next test is a weight and measurement test. Every tire is carefully measured to ensure that they have the correct amount of tread and that their dimensions are correct. The weight and measurements of the tires will also reveal small irregularities and mistakes that may need to be ironed out before they are shipped off to the race track.
Finally, an X-ray scan of each tire is performed. This allows the Pirelli engineers to make sure that the tires are up to standard internally. After the tests have been completed, a random sample of tires is taken for destructive tests, which allows the engineers to once again test how far the tires can go in each batch that has been manufactured.
KEY POINTS• F1 tires are made of complex mixtures of chemical compounds and materials like steel and rubber
• The exact mixtures will vary depending on the type of tire being produced
• The manufacturing process is long and complex
Are F1 Tires Reused?
Formula 1 tires cannot be reused after a race weekend. Drivers can race with “used” tires, sometimes called “scrubbed” tires. However, these tires will only be a few laps old, and they will be from the same race weekend. Used F1 tires are recycled after each event.
Once a Formula 1 tire has been fitted to the rims, it is considered “used.” Removing the tires from the rims can cause damage to them, which means that there is too much risk in refitting them to new rims for the drivers to use again. In order to transport the tires, they need to be removed from the rims entirely, which renders them useless.
When COVID-19 caused the 2020 Australian Grand Prix to be cancelled, 1,800 tires had to be recycled without ever even hitting the track. Tires are shipped to a venue in advance since they are sent directly from the Pirelli factories rather than traveling with the teams. This means that the tires allocated for any given Grand Prix will already be at the venue before the teams even arrive.
Old tires are not wasted though. They are all sent to a cement factory in the UK where they are burned as fuel. This solution is much cleaner than incinerating them, and it ensures that they are reused rather than simply thrown away at the end of their lifespan.
F1 tires are made in various stages involving facilities in Milan, Turkey, and Romania. The tire compounds require a lot of initial research and development before manufacturing begins. Each tire can take around 5 hours to make, and they’re made from many different materials.
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