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Why Are F1 Car Tires Covered? (Explained)

While Formula 1 cars are in the garage and waiting to go out on track the wheels are often covered with blankets. This might seem odd if you’re new to Formula 1, but there’s a very good reason why F1 car tires are covered.

F1 tires are covered to keep the tires at a high temperature while the car is in the garage. This will give the driver some grip when they get out on track and it will help them to get their tires up to temperature on their out lap much faster. F1 tire blankets are electronically heated.

Tire covers are incredibly important in Formula 1, and modern F1 cars can’t operate properly without them. Whether it’s race day or laps for a promotional photoshoot, tire covers will be used. Below we take a look at what, how, and most importantly why F1 car tires need tire covers.

What Are Tire Covers In F1?

Tire covers are used to keep F1 tires at a warm minimum temperature. They’re also known as tire blankets and are an important element that Formula 1 cars need. Modern Formula 1 cars need to have warm tires to have enough grip, and tire warmers allow them to have more grip when they leave the garage.

The reason tire covers are so effective is that they are essentially electric blankets. The tire covers are hooked up to a wire that is connected to an electrical output. The tire covers have heated elements inside them which begin to warm up once the electrical current is put through them.

The tire covers can be closed up and they have drawstrings that allow them to be pulled tight around the entire wheel. This ensures that the whole tire is covered up, even the side walls which are the most difficult part of the tire for the drivers to warm up on an out lap.

As the tire blankets cover the entire area of the tires, they can heat the rubber on the tires extremely effectively and increase the temperature of the rubber throughout, rather than just on the surface of the tires.

What Do Tire Covers Do On An F1 Car?

Tire covers help keep F1 tires warm before going on to the track to help the car have the best grip from the start. Drivers have no grip on cold tires due to the way that the Pirelli tires have been designed and constructed, and so they must generate heat in them before they can drive the car fast.

The tire covers help the tires to build and retain some temperature before they get out on track. This simply helps to give the driver more grip as they head out onto their out lap. The out lap is crucial in Formula 1, especially when it comes to qualifying and the race, as this is where the driver can’t afford to make mistakes or suffer from a lack of grip.

Tire covers will boost the tire temperatures just enough to help the driver keep their car on the track during their first lap. However, tire blankets do not warm the tires enough to allow the driver to start driving at full pace as soon as they leave the pit lane. 

The tires will begin to cool down as soon as the tire blankets are taken off, and this means that, by the time the drivers leave the pit lane and turn off their pit lane speed limiters, they will need to warm up the tires again. Leaving the tire blankets on the tires until the very last second helps to keep as much temperature in the tires as possible. This will give the driver the best start.

Why Do F1 Tires Have To Be Warm?

F1 tires need to be warm to ensure that the car has adequate grip on the track surface. If the tires are too cold, the driver will struggle for grip, which means they’ll struggle to control the car. This is why F1 tires are heated using tire blankets, and it’s why F1 drivers weave on their out laps.

Formula 1 tires are very different from the ones that you would find on your average road car. For one, the surface of the tires is smooth (slick tires) and do not have any grooves in them. The rubber used in Formula 1 tires is different from road tires, and for them to work properly and give the driver optimum grip, they need to reach a specific temperature.

Formula 1 tires need to be around 100 degrees Celsius, or 212 degrees Fahrenheit, for the driver to get the best possible grip. Tire covers heat the rubber up to around 70 degrees Celsius (160 degrees Fahrenheit), so it’s not quite at the optimum temperatures where the driver would have a lot of grip, but it’s close enough to help the driver to put more temperature into the tires while driving on their out lap.

If the drivers had to warm up their tires from the ambient air temperature it would take them much longer, and they would struggle with grip. The problem with driving with extremely cold tires is that it causes the Formula 1 car to slide, which scrubs the tires. The Pirelli tires that Formula 1 cars use these days are especially sensitive.

When Were Tire Covers Used In The Past?

Tire covers were introduced to F1 in 1985, so they have been in use for many years now. Mike Drury is credited with the invention of the electric tire covers that are still used in Formula 1 today. Tire covers are expected to be phased out over the next few seasons.

Drury got the inspiration for the tire blankets while at the 1985 European Grand Prix hosted at Brands Hatch. The race was held in November and in the cold temperatures, the teams were desperately trying to keep their tires as warm as possible to provide their drivers with some grip at the start of the race.

Crew members were wrapping their tires up in normal blankets and duvets to try and keep some temperature in the tires and protect them from the harsh cold conditions on race day. Of course, this tactic did little to generate temperature in the tires, but it gave Drury a brilliant idea.

Drury was already in the business of manufacturing weatherproof jackets and anoraks, which he then carried over into F1 tire blankets. Eventually, teams began to incorporate electric elements into the blankets to heat the tires, even when the ambient air temperature was not extremely cold.

Tire Warming Before Tire Covers

The first recorded attempt at warming tires was at the 1974 Canadian Grand Prix, recorded just over a decade before tire covers became a common sight in the sport. The race took place in September, and the autumn air was far too cold for the tires to work as soon as the drivers left the garage.

During the race weekend, there were concerns that the tires would separate from their rims at the start of the Grand Prix due to the cold air temperatures. McLaren came up with a possible solution to the problem in an attempt to give their drivers some extra grip when leaving the garage for their out laps.

The solution that McLaren came up with was to convert their garage into somewhat of a heated shed. The higher ambient air temperatures would naturally cause the tires to heat up, giving the drivers more grip and helping the drivers to warm their tires up much quicker on their out lap.

However, this heated pit box did not solve the issue of when the cars sit on the starting grid in cold temperatures. Crew members then brought blankets and duvets from their hotel rooms and wrapped their tires up before carrying them from their heated garage to the starting grid, which somewhat helped them to retain a little bit of heat.

Why Are F1 Car Tires Covered With Tire Warmers?

F1 car tires are covered with tire warmers to help the tires get closer to their optimum temperatures. This allows the drivers to have more grip when they head out onto the track. Drivers will struggle to find grip if the tires are cold, which can lead to them having minimal control of the car.

Covering the tires in tire warmers also protects them from the outside elements. The ambient air temperature can sometimes drop as the session goes by, which would also cause the temperature of the tires to drop. If the tires become colder, the drivers need to work harder to warm up their tires.

Cold tires are a racing driver’s worst enemy. If a driver heads out onto the track with tires that are too cold, they will slide around and damage their tires. Tire warmers can bring the tire temperature close to the optimum, however, the drivers still need to work their tires on their out lap to get them up to the perfect temperature.

The Potential Phasing Out Of Tire Covers

When the big aerodynamic rule changes were in the pipeline to be launched in 2021, the idea of banning the use of tire blankets in F1 was being explored by Pirelli and the FIA. It’s reported that many teams were not opposed to the removal of tire blankets in Formula 1, but you might be wondering why this idea was being discussed.

With the 2021 rule changes came the evolution of wheel sizes. The sport would move from 13-inch tires to 18-inch tires. The bigger wheels meant that the teams would have to invest in brand new tire blankets that would fit onto the bigger wheels, which would end up costing the teams more money.

The whole idea behind dropping the tire blankets was to save costs and prevent the teams from spending more on technology that they had already developed. However, this decision was ultimately dropped when the rule changes came about in 2022 instead of 2021, as a result of the global pandemic.

Teams already had the technology and adapting it to fit the larger 2022 spec 18-inch wheels was not an issue. Tire blankets remain in F1 for now, but their future is still uncertain. Given the energy used by the tire warmers, F1 would like to phase them out as the sport tries to become more environmentally friendly.

Final Thoughts

Tire covers are used to keep the tires at a warm temperature before the driver leaves the garage. They are similar to an electric blanket designed to cover the whole tire. Cold tires don’t provide much grip on F1 cars, and teams want to avoid crashing or spinning during the out lap.