Formula 1 tires take a lot of strain over the course of a race. They need to withstand a massive force as Formula 1 cars can sometimes corner at speeds of up to 190 miles per hour. The tires need to be strong enough to endure multiple laps, but just how long F1 tires last can vary widely.
F1 tires can last anywhere from a few laps up to 50+ laps. Formula 1 tires are designed for performance rather than longevity. This means that the most durable tires won’t last more than 40 laps (about 120 miles) in most cases, depending on the track conditions and the compound of tires being used.
There are a lot of different factors that influence how long Formula 1 tires can last. It’s important to consider these to truly understand how Formula 1 tires work and why they don’t last more than 190 miles (a full race distance).
How Many Laps Do F1 Tires Last?
In order to understand how many laps F1 tires can last, it’s important to understand a few different elements first. There are various factors that influence the longevity and durability of the tires.
The first is that each racetrack is different. They are not only different in length, but they are also different in a few other ways too. Some tracks have a more abrasive surface, faster corners, or higher average track temperatures. Others might have banked corners or plenty of long straights.
All Formula 1 circuits are of different lengths. Therefore, the number of laps that a tire can last isn’t a great way to measure tire lifespan. The average F1 circuit is around 3.5 miles in length. However, the shortest (Monaco) is just over 2 miles long, while the longest (Spa in Belgium) is more than 4.3 miles in length, double that of Monaco.
You also need to keep in mind that each track has a different ‘set up’ of tires. While three different compounds will be taken to each racetrack, they can still differ between each circuit. The standardized compounds are soft, medium and hard.
How Pirelli Tire Selection Works
However, in the bigger picture, these are only three out of five options. The entire range of Formula 1 tires are C1, C2, C3, C4, and C5. The C1 tire is the hardest compound that is available, whereas the C5 tire is the softest compound that is available.
Pirelli, the tire manufacturers, are the decision makers when it comes to which compounds to bring to each track depending on the track’s characteristics. However, the tire compounds will still be called soft, medium and hard and will still have the red, yellow and white branding.
To make this easier to understand, let’s look at an example. Let’s say Formula 1 is racing in Spain, a circuit that is generally tough on tires because of the high temperatures and high-speed nature of the circuit. Pirelli might select the C2, C3, and C4 tires for this race. The C4 tire will become the soft tire, C3 the medium tire and C2 the hard tire.
The next race on the calendar is Monaco, a tight and twisty track where cars need a lot of mechanical grip. The low-speed corners and generally lower top speed means that there is much less strain on the tires, but lower downforce effects, so the drivers need more grip from the tires.
Pirelli might then bring the C3, C4, and C5 tires to the Monaco Grand Prix. The C5 (not available in Spain) will become the soft tire, C4 (softest available in Spain) will be the medium tire and the C3 (medium tires in Spain) will become the hard tire.
Differences Between Compounds
You might be wondering what soft, medium and hard compounds are and what the difference is between them. It refers to the ‘compound’ of rubber that is used to make the tire. Softer tires tend to have more grip, which allows drivers to go faster. However, the softer tires heat up quicker, wear faster, and so won’t last as long as the other, harder tires.
The hard tires offer the least amount of grip for drivers, but they will also last the longest. The medium tires are a middle ground between the two extremes. Medium and hard tires are mostly used during the race whereas soft tires are used in qualifying to set the fastest possible lap time.
Different Rates Of Wear
Soft tires can usually only last around 10 to 15 laps in the majority of cases. Some drivers can make them last longer than others, but this requires excellent tire management. Soft tires can begin to overheat quickly which will cause them to wear out even faster than they usually do.
The medium tires are a blend of the soft and hard tires in terms of how long they can last. Some drivers can extract a lot of pace out of these tires while making them last just as long as the hard tires.
The hard tires can usually last between 25 and 60 laps during a Formula 1 race. However, this is dependent on the driver and the track conditions. There have been scenarios where some drivers could have made the hard tires last the full race distance, but have been forced to stop due to the rules stating that at least two compounds must be used during dry conditions.
Just how long F1 tires last is clearly dependent on lots of factors. Another one to consider is the car itself. Drivers might use a high downforce setup, which puts yet more strain on the tires, and can wear them out faster. Following closely behind another car also wears the tires out faster as the driver behind has to work harder to keep the car under control in the dirty air.
How Long Do Wet Tires Last In F1?
Wet tires can last much longer than dry tires on Formula 1 cars, even up to a full race (no mandatory pit stop). As they’re used in wet conditions, they can stay cool, reducing the overall rate of wear on the tires. However, wet tires can wear out within a lap or two if the track dries up quickly.
If the track is drying, the wet and intermediate tires will begin to struggle as they overheat quickly. These tires can wear out extremely quickly if they are not kept cool. You will often see drivers purposefully hunting for and moving into puddles on a drying track in order to keep their tires cool.
Wet and intermediate tires are different to dry tires in Formula 1. The most obvious difference is that the wet and intermediate tires have treads on them whereas the dry tires are ‘slicks’ meaning they have a smooth surface.
The treads that are found on wet and intermediate tires are used to disperse the water from underneath the tire. With slick tires, there is nowhere for the water to go, and therefore the wheels are lifted up off the ground and will no longer be making contact with the tarmac. This is known as aquaplaning, and the car will become impossible to control.
However, with the grooved tires, the water can easily pass underneath and to the sides of the tires, allowing the rubber to stay in contact with the asphalt. This is why the wet and intermediate tires are able to provide more grip than slick tires on a wet track. Wet tires can displace 85 liters of water per second when a formula 1 car is travelling at 190 miles per hour.
However, this is not the only difference between wet and dry tires in Formula 1. The treads in the tires create what are known as ‘blocks.’ This refers to the sections of the tire that are touching the asphalt. The blocks on wet tires can heat the tires up significantly more than with slick tires.
This is useful for Formula 1 cars because warmer tires provide more grip. However, it is only helpful as long as there is water on track to keep the tires within their ideal operating window. As soon as the track begins to dry these blocks will cause the tires to overheat quickly. Tires that are overheating will provide the driver with no grip and they will also shred the tire much quicker.
Making Wet Tires Last The Full Race
However, if a driver can manage their wet tires, they can make them last the full race. This is because, in wet conditions, there is no mandatory pit stop. However, they’ll usually suffer in terms of performance, as they will constantly be fighting for grip and trying to stop the tires overheating.
Esteban Ocon completed the Turkish GP in 2021 on a single set of intermediate tires, on a track that didn’t see much rain but remained wet enough for slicks to not be a viable option. However, given that nobody had done that since 1997, when Mika Salo went the full distance at a wet Monaco GP, it’s clearly not a common occurrence in modern F1.
How Does The Track Affect How Long F1 Tires Last?
The surface of the track affects how long F1 tires last, as more abrasive surfaces cause tires to wear out faster. Tracks with heavy braking zones and lots of high speed corners also usually have increased tire wear, while a focus on slow speed corners and long straights usually means less wear.
The type of track has a big impact on the amount of wear an F1 tire can take. Some racetracks are especially hard on tires, in which case Pirelli would bring the harder compounds that would last longer.
One of the most important factors that influences tire wear is how abrasive the surface of the track is. This is dependent on the type of tarmac that is used on the circuit as well as how long it has been since the track has been resurfaced.
Tracks that have a more abrasive surface (rougher surface) will be harsher on the tires. These tracks tend to cause tires to wear out much quicker than they usually would. Abrasiveness can be caused by the type of asphalt that is used, or overuse of the track (if the track has not been resurfaced recently).
New vs Old Tarmac
Tracks that have recently been resurfaced might have smooth tarmac, but the new asphalt releases oils that can make the track extremely slippery. This means that the cars need more grip and would need softer tires. However, if the tires are sliding too much they will begin to overheat and wear out faster.
Circuits with faster corners can also cause the tires to wear out faster. Circuits with a series of long fast corners will cause the tires to work harder and begin to overheat which will wear them out much faster than usual. Usually, tracks have faster sections followed by slower sections or long straights which does tend to help keep the tire temperatures in an ideal operating window.
Slow corners are not necessarily safe for tires either, though. Whenever there are heavy braking zones there is the risk of a driver locking their brakes. If a driver locks up, they could flat spot their tires, which can render them practically useless. A flat spot on a round tire has a hugely detrimental impact on performance.
So, the track layout and the track surface clearly have an impact on how long F1 tires last, but what about the weather?
How Do Weather Conditions Affect How Long F1 Tires Last?
Weather conditions affect how long F1 tires last in terms of temperature, wind speeds, and whether or not the track is wet. Hotter track surfaces lead to hotter tires, and while hot track surfaces offer more grip, they also bring higher chances of tires overheating.
If the weather conditions are hotter, the track temperature tends to be much higher. A high track temperature means that the tires will naturally be warmer which causes them to overheat and wear out much quicker. While drivers have more grip initially, this increased chance of overheating can make managing tires at hot tracks very tough.
Colder temperatures might make the tires last longer, but it could also mean that drivers will struggle for grip. In order to produce grip, the tires on a Formula 1 car need to be warm enough, but not too hot.
If a circuit is exceptionally windy, cars might have to fight the wind more through the corners, and fighting against the wind can put extra strain on the tires, wearing them out faster. Finally, if the track is wet, this clearly has implications on how long F1 tires can last, as it usually means drivers need to switch to the intermediates or the wets.
How Can F1 Drivers Manage Their Tires?
One of the most respected attributes of some of the best Formula 1 drivers is how they manage their tires. Some drivers are able to make their tires last longer while going at the same speed as other drivers. Managing tires is all about maintaining high levels of grip without overheating the tires, and sometimes sacrificing some lap time in order to preserve the tires.
The idea is often that slower laps managing tires can balance out some of the time lost taking another pit stop. This is helpful because it allows the driver to go further into a race without stopping for new tires. The more laps they are able to do on their one set of tires, the less they will need to do on the next set, which means that they can push the next set of tires harder and go faster.
More Strategic Options
It also opens up more strategy options for the teams as drivers will be able to make their tires last long enough for them to be able to use softer tires and still make it to the end of the race.
For example, a driver might be able to extend their tire life so far into the race that they can safely use a softer compound for their final stint. This will make them significantly faster than the cars around them during the closing stages of the race.
The main factor that affects tire wear from a driver’s point of view is how smoothly they drive. A smooth driving style will preserve the tires for longer because the tires are doing less work. Aggressive driving styles normally require the tires to work harder and provide a lot of grip at every moment, which takes a lot of their lifespan away.
Driving smoothly is a combination of proper braking, steering and throttle usage. The perfect example of a smooth driver was Jenson Button, who was able to drive fast while making his tires last as long as possible. That’s effectively the goal as an F1 driver.
How Are F1 Tires Different To Road Tires?
The first and most obvious difference between F1 tires and normal road tires is that Formula 1 cars use slick tires whereas road cars use treaded tires. Slick tires provide more grip because there is more rubber touching the road. Road cars need treaded tires to disperse water and avoid aquaplaning.
Another key difference is that Formula 1 tires are much larger than road car tires. This once again increases the surface area of rubber that touches the tarmac, which provides the cars with much more grip. Formula 1 cars travel at much faster speeds than road cars, especially when cornering, so the extra grip is essential.
Formula 1 tires cost about $3,000 per set, which is a lot more expensive than average road car tires. In addition, Formula 1 teams use multiple sets of these tires in one race weekend. While the tires on a road car have been designed with durability in mind, Formula 1 tires have been designed with performance in mind.
Not A Design Flaw
Road car tires can last up to 50,000 miles, whereas most Formula 1 tires will only last a maximum of 120 miles. The full race distance that Formula 1 cars complete is 190 miles. However, this does not mean that Formula 1 tires are badly designed.
Formula 1 cars can sometimes corner at speeds of up to 190 miles per hour, and in some cases their average speed around a lap is 150 miles per hour. In order to cope with these extreme cornering forces, Formula 1 tires require a special kind of endurance that your average road car tires would never be able to withstand.
F1 tires usually last anywhere from a few laps to almost the full race distance. The hard compound tires are the most durable, and they can last around 120 miles (20-50 laps), depending on several conditions, such as the driver’s ability, track conditions, and the specific compound used.