During the course of a season, Formula 1’s official tire manufacturer Pirelli will hand out around 35,000 tires to the FIA for teams to use. With so many pit stops and tire changes taking place across the race weekend, it can leave many wondering how many tires an F1 team is permitted to use.
F1 teams can use up to 20 sets of tires per car, per race weekend. This number (usually) consists of 8 sets of soft tires, 3 sets of mediums and 2 sets of hards. F1 teams also receive 4 sets of intermediates and 3 sets of full wet tires per driver. The numbers are different on Sprint race weekends.
Teams will get through a good number of these tires throughout the race weekend, especially as they cannot be reused once they have been taken off the car. In this article we will discuss the different types of tire compounds used, as well as how many tires teams will get through each race weekend.
The Different Tire Compounds In F1
There are currently 5 different types of dry weather tire (also known as slick tires), in addition to an intermediate tire for damp and drying track conditions, and full wet tires for very wet conditions. The slick tires are labelled from C1 to C5, with C1 being the hardest tire in the range.
Official F1 tire manufacturer Pirelli will decide which three slick tires will be available to teams on race weekends (intermediates and wets are always available). During a race, teams must use at least two of the three tire compounds given to them for the race weekend, with this rule only exempt during wet conditions, when it is up to the teams whether they want to change their tires or not.
Hard Tires (C1-C3)
C1 tires are the hardest in the range and require the most heat to work effectively. Because they are harder, they are less malleable, offering reduced grip to the track surface. However, for what they lose in grip they make up for in durability, as they won’t wear away as quickly around the track as softer tires, maintaining higher performance levels for a longer period.
Hard tires will be at their most effective for hotter circuits, such as Bahrain or Barcelona, as well as at tracks that leave tires susceptible to heavy wear like Silverstone or Suzuka. As they do require a lot of heat to be at their most effective, teams may opt to use harder tires towards the latter stages of a race when the track is at its hottest. Hard tires will be either C1, C2 or C3.
Medium Tires (C2-C4)
Medium tires are the most versatile of all the tires in the current Pirelli range and are ever present at race weekends. Although not as durable soft tires, they will last quite a bit longer while also offering a good amount of grip to the track surface. They’ll either be the C2, C3 or C4 tire, depending on which one is used as the hard. For example, if the hard is C3, the medium must be C4.
Soft Tires (C3-C5)
Most commonly seen on tighter circuits where cornering takes precedence, soft tires are by far the most grippy of all the available F1 tires. This is because they are the most malleable, which allows the rubber to easily grip to the track surface. This gives drivers much greater confidence when turning, allowing them to brake later and gain more speed on the corner exit.
The issue with having such malleability is the fact that soft tires will wear at a faster rate than their medium/hard counterparts. This leaves them vulnerable to effects such as blistering, where bits of the rubber on the tire will break off, and graining, where small rubber strips will almost melt off before reattaching themselves in different areas of the tire.
Both defects result in a loss of grip on the tire, greatly reducing the original benefits of using a soft compound. Soft tires also require less heat to work effectively, making them perfect for qualifying laps. The soft tire will usually be the C3 if the hard and medium are C1 and C2 respectively, but it can also be the C4 or the softest available tire, the C5.
Intermediate And Full Wet Tires
Always available to teams in case of any unexpected rain showers, intermediate and full wet tires are characterized by grooves on the exterior of the tire. These grooves offer surface water an area to pass through, allowing for contact between the tire and the track. This helps to prevent aquaplaning, where the car has no real contact with the track and is effectively floating on the water.
Intermediate tires have shallower grooves than full wet tires, making them more versatile and more effective when the track is drying up. They are the middle ground between dry weather tires and full wets and are marked with a green stripe around the outside edge of the tire. Intermediate tires are capable of shifting up to 30 liters of water per second at 300 kph/186 mph.
Full wets are marked with a blue stripe and are used when there is a decent amount of surface water, or during heavy rainfall itself. They have deeper grooves, capable of allowing around 85 liters of water to be evacuated every second at high speed. Full wet tires are 10 mm wider than dry weather tires.
How Are Tire Compounds Chosen For Each F1 Race?
Pirelli chooses 3 out of the 5 dry compounds to use for each race. The hardest of these compounds will be marked with a white stripe around the outside of the tire, while the medium tire will have a yellow stripe and the softest will have a red stripe. Intermediates and wets are taken to every race.
Pirelli’s decision making for which tires to bring to a race is mostly based around the features of the individual track, and whether it has a lot of turns or an abrasive surface that could lead to the softest tires degrading too quickly, for example. They will also base their decision of the environmental factors of the race, and whether it is taking place in a hot climate or a cooler climate.
The features of the track play the biggest role in Pirelli’s decision-making process, as ultimately they dictate the race. For tracks like Suzuka, which contain a lot of fast corners, harder tire compounds will be preferential, as due to the immense downforce the cars will feel on corners such as the famous 130R, more friction and heat is created, and a more durable tire is required.
For tracks with slower corners like Monaco, Pirelli will likely choose softer tires as slow corners produce less heat in the tire, meaning the rate of degradation will be a lot slower. As Monaco is the slowest track on the F1 calendar, it’s not unlikely that the C3 tire will be registered as the hard tire for that weekend, with the soft being the softest available (the C5).
It’s not just corners that dictate Pirelli’s decisions though, as the number of straights on a track will also play a part. Straights offer the tires a chance to cool down after navigating corners, meaning tracks with long straights may turn Pirelli towards bringing along softer sets of tires as they will be allowed adequate ‘cool down’ periods.
As well as differences in layout, each track will have its own surface type, with some tracks being smoother than others. F1 tracks are made with a combination of various materials and tend to get smoother over time. This is because cars repeatedly driving over the track helps to bed the small stones into the bitumen, flattening the surface.
Newly surfaced, abrasive tracks tend to require a harder tire compound as the roughness of the new surface will wear down tires at a quicker rate. The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is a notoriously rough track, hence Pirelli’s decision to use C1-C3 tires at the 2022 Spanish Grand Prix. This meant that the C3 tire, usually a medium or even a hard tire, became the soft tire for the weekend.
Pirelli will closely monitor tracks season by season, especially when they have been newly resurfaced. While the tire compounds may change slightly between seasons, the cars usually change a lot too, so the tire choices are often not the same from one year to the next.
The environmental factors surrounding the track will also be considered in the weeks before a race. A cooler climate means that soft tires will have less chance of overheating and therefore less chance of rapid degradation. It is the opposite for hotter tracks like those in the Middle East, where track temperatures can reach up to 60°C/140°F, which makes harder tires more favorable.
The priority when Pirelli are deciding which tires to bring along to a race still usually remains with the track layout and surface, but they will always have one eye on the climate of the country that they are racing in, as an exceptionally hot racetrack can render the softest tires effectively unusable.
How Many Tires Does Each Team Get For A Race Weekend?
F1 teams get 20 sets of tires per car for a race weekend, from Friday’s practice sessions to Sunday’s race. These include 8 sets of soft tires, 3 mediums, and 2 sets of hards, as well as 4 sets of intermediates and 3 sets of wet tires. Teams receive an extra set of intermediates if practice is wet.
If there is a Sprint race that weekend, drivers are allocated just 12 sets of dry tires instead. They will receive 6 sets of the softs, 4 mediums, and 2 sets of the hard tire. They will still get 4 sets of intermediates and 3 sets of full wets.
Tire manufacturer Pirelli hands all the tires needed for the race weekend to the FIA, who then distribute them out individually to each of the competing teams. After each racing session, the teams will hand their used tires back to Pirelli who will analyze them with digital scanners, to make sure everything stays in order.
After Pirelli have completed their checks, they will then send the tires to their factory in England, where they will be prepared for recycling. Recycled F1 tires are usually made into fuel used in a cement factory.
How Many Tires Does An F1 Team Use During Free Practice?
F1 teams use varying numbers of tires during free practice sessions. Regardless of how many the driver uses, they must return a certain number after each session to be checked. Each driver must have at least one set of the soft tire unused and available for the final part of qualifying (Q3).
Free Practice usually takes place over three 60-minute sessions on the Friday and Saturday morning of race weekend. They are designed to give teams a final chance to reconfigure their setup and make any necessary changes before Saturday’s qualifying sessions. After the first session (FP1), teams will be required to return at least two sets of tires.
The FP140 Tire Rule
In the past, teams had to return one set of dry tires per driver after the first 40 minutes of FP1 (often denoted as the FP140 tires), and they returned the second set no later than 2 hours after the end of the practice session. However, this rule has been absent from the sporting regulations since 2021, and it’s unclear if it will return.
This rule was designed to try and encourage teams to head out early on in the first practice session to ensure there was action on the track for fans to watch. Because the track is green at the start of FP1 – there’s very little grip – teams are reluctant to send their drivers out. With one set of tires only being available during the first 40 minutes, teams had to basically use it or lose it.
A further two sets of tires must be returned after FP2, with the same process in place for handing them back to Pirelli after the session. This is then repeated for the final practice session. If practice takes place in wet conditions, teams will be handed an extra set of intermediate tires, which they must also return to Pirelli after the session.
Pirelli will constantly monitor the tires that teams use throughout the race weekend, for both research purposes and to ensure that they haven’t been tampered with by a team looking to gain an unfair advantage.
How Many Tires Does An F1 Team Use During Qualifying?
How many tires an F1 team uses during qualifying depends on how well the drivers do. As qualifying is split into three sessions, with two knockout sessions, not all drivers will complete the same number of qualifying laps. This means drivers may use anywhere from 1 to 3+ sets of tires in qualifying.
Much like the free practice sessions, qualifying is also split into three sessions, Q1, Q2 and Q3. However, qualifying is run in a knockout format, meaning not all drivers will make it through to Q2 and Q3. The 5 drivers with the slowest times in Q1 are eliminated, with the 5 slowest in Q2 following suit, leaving the battle for pole position to be fought out by the 10 fastest drivers.
Teams can choose which tires to use for the first 2 qualifying rounds, but they must make sure that they keep a fresh set of soft tires for the final qualifying round. Teams must also hand their qualifying tires back to Pirelli after each session.
In previous years, teams would have had to start Sunday’s race with the same tires that they used in the second round of qualifying, although that rule was scrapped for the 2022 season. The rules surrounding tire usage in qualifying will likely continue to evolve over time.
How Many Tires Does An F1 Team Use During A Race?
F1 teams may use anywhere from 1 to 3 or more sets of tires during a race for each driver, depending on the conditions and how many pit stops they make. If it’s a wet race, they could theoretically use just one set of tires, but during dry races, they must use at least two different compounds.
Teams will hold at least 3 sets of slick tires back for race day and FIA rules state that teams must use at least two different tire compounds during the race. However, if the race is taking place on a wet track, the drivers will be allowed to use the same set of intermediate or full wet tires throughout the entirety of the race should they wish to, although it’s usually not the right strategy.
Although possible, it isn’t common for a driver to last a full wet race with the same tires, due to the drying up of the track surface or just the fact that newer tires can offer the car more grip later in the race.
On average, a Formula 1 driver will make between 1-3 pit stops during a race. Not all of these will involve a changing of the tires, as sometimes pit stops can involve changing damaged car parts, but if the driver gets their tires changed twice, then the team will have made their way through 3 sets of tires in one race.
Do F1 Teams Reuse Tires During A Race Weekend?
F1 teams may reuse tires during a race weekend, and we often see it happen in both qualifying and the race. While drivers will aim to use new sets where possible, they may use a set that has done several laps at various points during qualifying or in the race if they need to.
Pirelli counts any tire as ‘used’ from the moment it is fitted onto a rim. This is because removing a tire from its rim can cause structural damage within the tire, meaning it would then be unsafe to reuse it on track.
This means that a tire can be classed as used even if it hasn’t spent a single second out on the track. This judgement has proved controversial in the past, especially when Pirelli announced that they had destroyed around 1,800 tires after the outbreak of Covid-19 forced the cancellation of the 2020 Australian Grand Prix before any racing had taken place.
The tires had already been fitted to the rims when it was announced that the Grand Prix would not be going ahead, just hours before the first free practice session was scheduled to begin.
What Happens To Old F1 Tires?
Pirelli supply Formula 1 with around 1,600 tires per race weekend, meaning each venue will end up with a huge pile of used tires lying around when the racing is over. Thankfully these tires aren’t just left for the venue to deal with and are instead shipped over to a plant in the United Kingdom where they are removed from their rims, shredded, and prepared for recycling.
Once the tires have been turned into small pieces they are then burned and converted into fuel used by cement factories, with their rims returned to the teams. In order to reduce the amount of toxic and dirty gases generated through burning, the small pieces of rubber are incinerated at incredibly high temperatures. The cement that the recycled tires help create may be used to pave road surfaces.
F1 teams are allocated a total of 13 sets of dry weather tires for every race weekend, for each car. This includes 8 sets of soft tires, 3 sets of mediums and 2 sets of hard tires. They will also be allocated 4 sets of intermediate tires and 3 sets of full wet tires, for a total of 20 sets per car.