During a Formula 1 race it is common to see tires visibly melting away as the cars fly around the track. This is due to the intense heat provided by the friction between the tires and the track surface. This may lead many to wonder exactly how hot F1 tires get throughout the course of a race.
F1 tires can reach temperatures of up to 300°F (149°C) during a race, depending on the compound. If they get much hotter, they start to degrade very quickly, reducing the car’s grip around the track. Softer tires don’t require as much heat, as they are already more malleable than harder tires.
Teams will take extra measures to make sure tires are warm enough for when they are needed by the driver, using special tire blankets to heat them up. In this article we will discuss how these blankets work, as well as looking into why and how tires accumulate such heat throughout the race.
How Hot Do F1 Tires Get?
F1 tires get very hot during races. Depending on the weather and how fast the car is moving, tires can reach up to around 300°F/149°C at their hottest. The optimal temperature for an F1 car’s tires is considerably lower than this and varies depending on the compound being used.
A tire operating at its optimal temperature will drastically outperform a tire that is either too hot or too cold, as it won’t degrade at such a fast pace and will offer the driver the maximum amount of grip to the track.
Temperatures of the tires tend to differ depending on the compound, with harder tires requiring more heat to be effective. Softer tires require less heat as they are already more malleable and grippier than a hard tire. Some of the harder tires used in F1 over the years have required temperatures of 284°F/140°C just to reach their optimum performance levels.
F1 Tire Temperatures By Compound
|Compound||Optimum Range (°F)||Optimum Range (°C)|
* The C0 tire for 2023 onwards is the C1 tire from previous years, with the new C1 tire being a new compound for which we don’t yet know the optimal temperature ranges.
As you can see, the harder the tire is, the more heat it will require to work at optimal grip levels. Although harder tires require hotter temperatures, if they become too hot, they can face rapid degradation (as can softer tires), displaying symptoms such as blistering and graining, which we will discuss in further detail later.
The same rule applies for each tire compound, with degradation leading to less grip and overall effectiveness. If a tire becomes too cold, as has been seen before at locations like Canada and Russia, the tires will also lose their grip to the surface, prompting more wheel spins and more locking up of the brakes.
Friction And Heat
Part of the reason that tires reach such incredibly high temperatures is that they have no grooves on their surface, meaning that the tires have a large area rubbing across the hot tarmac, generating greater levels of friction. Grooved tires, like the full wets and intermediates we see in rainy conditions, don’t produce as much friction because they have less of a surface area touching the ground.
Surface water will also cool down the temperature of the track, meaning wet weather tires must be able to operate at cooler conditions than their dry counterparts. In the bygone age of F1 when all cars had to use grooved tires between 1999 and 2008, we generally saw slower races as the tires used provided less grip than before.
The friction that slick tires produce causes heat because the speed that the tires move causes the molecules inside them to move faster, creating more energy and raising the overall temperature of the tire. Degradation is caused by these molecules becoming too hot and misshaping, therefore impacting on the smoothness of the tire and the roundness of its shape.
Why Do F1 Tires Need To Be Warm?
F1 tires need to be kept warm in order to keep them as grippy and fast as possible. Tires become grippy when they are warm as the rubber becomes more malleable and able to conform to the shape of the tarmac beneath it, effectively slotting itself into the grains of the track.
The added grip produced by the warmth of the tires allows drivers to navigate corners with greater precision and at a higher speed. As corners are effectively where the race is won and lost, the importance of having maximum grip is not lost on teams. Teams will do everything in their power to make sure tires are at the optimal temperature, including wrapping them in blankets before the race.
Having warm tires also shortens the braking distance for cars entering a corner, meaning they can approach it with more speed, instead of having to slow down quicker and therefore lose vital time. Ultimately, F1 tires are designed for performance rather than distance, and this performance is improved when the tires are warm.
What Happens If F1 Tires Get Too Cold?
If F1 tires get too cold, the driver will notice a considerable reduction in the grip that their car will have on the track. This is because colder temperatures harden the rubber on the surface of the tire, making it less malleable. This will also result in an increase in braking distance.
If a car starts a race with cold tires, there will be a lot of wheel spinning off the start line, due to a limited amount of friction between the tire and the track. It would also be likely that a car’s brakes would lock up very early on in the race, meaning we would likely see crashes from the get-go.
This is why teams will heat their tires up in specially designed tire blankets before a race, in order to prevent the driver from having to make drastic moves on the track to warm them up. The driver will have to play their part in heating the tires up to their optimal temperature, usually by zigzagging around the track during the formation lap.
Unless a car is driving unfathomably slowly or following the safety car, there is very little chance of the tires becoming too cold during a race. This is because of the amounts of friction generated by the speed at which the cars are driving. The grazing of the rubber on the tarmac will generate intense heat, leaving drivers more worried about overheating than becoming too cold.
What Happens If F1 Tires Get Too Hot?
If F1 tires get too hot, they will begin to degrade very quickly, which can potentially lead to a lack of grip or even a full-on tire failure. Extreme heat can change the chemical compound of the tire’s rubber surface, leading to thermal degradation, and therefore a decrease in grip for the driver.
The heat can also break down the structure of the rubber, which will lead to blistering or graining, causing a huge reduction in the tire’s grip.
Blistering And Graining
When a tire is heated it becomes softer and more malleable, and therefore will almost fix itself into the shape of the asphalt, making the car feel like it is fixed on to the track. However, if the inside of the tire overheats and becomes hotter than the outside, it can generate a hot pocket of air underneath the rubber.
This air pocket will expand under the tire’s surface, before bursting and breaking off pieces of the tire’s outer surface, leaving an effect known as blistering. Blistering will be noticeable to viewers as a discolored area on the tire’s surface and can lead to a reduction in grip as less tire will be touching the track.
Graining is also a symptom of a car’s tires becoming too hot, but this time it will be a result of overheating on the outside surface of the tire rather than the inside. Excess heat on the outside of the tire will make it seem as though it is melting, with strips of rubber often falling off or displacing. Graining occurs when these strips tear away from the tire and immediately stick back on.
Graining usually happens when a car is cornering as the tire will feel the effects of lateral forces pulling against it as it is turning. Graining generates an uneven texture on the tire’s surface, leaving the driver with less grip when braking or cornering. It is, however, often only a short-term problem, as the tire can eventually begin to smooth itself out again.
Marbles is the term used for the bits of rubber that wear away from the tire but don’t stick back on to the tires. You will usually see these deposited on the far side of the track later in the race, conveniently named the ‘dirty side.’ Cars will avoid this, not only because it falls outside of the racing line, but because these marbles cool down quickly, becoming slippery when driven over.
Marbles in F1 are not to be confused with the black streaks that etch themselves onto the track as the cars drive around it. These are stains produced by the hot rubber, and generally don’t contain as large fragments of rubber as seen on the dirty side. In fact, the smaller fragments of rubber provide even more grip for the cars as they drive over them.
How Do F1 Drivers Heat Up Their Tires?
F1 drivers heat up their tires by swerving or zigzagging across the track. This generates extra friction that puts some heat into the tires. Drivers won’t need to move like this during a race, as the tires are heated up by the friction caused when navigating a track at very high speeds.
Driving slowly around a track will cause the driver’s tires to cool down dramatically, hardening the rubber that lines the tire, reducing its grip. Warming up the tires during the formation lap helps the driver get the race off to the best possible start. The same reasoning still stands when cars are behind the safety car, and you’ll often see drivers weaving in these cases too.
How Hot Do F1 Tire Blankets Get?
F1 tire blankets can warm the tires by up to 158°F/70°C, which is less than they used to be able to. These tire blankets are expected to be phased out in the near future to save energy and money, and so the temperatures tire blankets can reach is set to decrease in increments each year.
In order to heat up the car’s tires before it even makes its way onto the track, teams will use tire blankets, a special wrap for tires designed to get them up to optimum temperatures. As of the 2022 season, tire blankets can warm the tires up to a maximum of 158°F/70°C, which is a reduction of 50°F/10°C for the rear tires and 86°F/30°C for the front tires from the previous year.
How Do Tire Blankets Work?
The very first attempts to heat up tires before taking them onto the track date back to 1974, during the Canadian Grand Prix. Canada is known for its bitterly cold temperatures, which were hindering the drivers out on track as they couldn’t seem to find any grip.
To try and deal with this issue, McLaren converted their paddock into a heated shed, which only worked up until they brought the tires outside, and they subsequently cooled down very quickly. To try and solve this issue, they wrapped the tires in blankets and duvets found in their team hotel, effectively creating the very first tire blanket.
Things have moved on since 1974, with teams using custom made tire blankets, shaped perfectly for the tire and plugged into a power source to give consistent heat. The tires are stacked on top of each other while in their blankets and set to the right temperature by a technician. Each tire may be heated for more than two hours, meaning that heating them is very much an early priority.
Teams constantly monitor their blankets to ensure that the tires are reaching their optimum temperature, ready to be fixed onto the car. Each blanket will also have the name of the tire that is inside it, for example ‘Front Right or ‘Rear Left.’ This helps the pit crew to be as efficient as possible, as well as making sure the individual tires are at the temperatures that the team wish them to be.
F1 tires can reach temperatures of up to 300°F (149°C) during a race. While each tire compound has its own individual ideal operating temperature window, the temperature usually ranges from about 185°F/85°C for the softest tires to around 284°F/140°C for the hardest compounds.
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