F1 tires are critical components of the cars. Not only are they the only point of contact with the track, but they also play a key role in terms of race strategy. Managing tire wear is therefore key for the drivers, and they need to have a solid understanding of why F1 tires wear so fast.
F1 tires wear so fast because drivers use as much of the tire’s grip as they possibly can throughout the race. This means the tires are constantly working at high temperature and are subject to rapid degradation in return for reliably high levels of grip through the corners and along the straights.
Lots of things affect how fast F1 tires wear, and how much control the driver has over this varies depending on the conditions. Below, we’ll go into more detail about how long F1 tires last, and we’ll go through the factors that affect how fast each type of F1 tire wears in a race.
F1 tires last anywhere from 10-50 laps on average, depending on the compound and the conditions at the track. Softer tire compounds, rough track surfaces, high temperatures, and aggressive driving styles all make F1 tires wear faster. Wet and intermediate tires can potentially last the full race.
How Long Do Wet F1 Tires Last In F1?
Wet F1 tires can last a full race on some occasions, but they’re usually only used for part of the race. Wet tires often last upwards of 50 laps. Intermediate tires can also last a full race under the right conditions, but a dry track can wear both types of wet tires out in just a few laps.
The main factor that affects the life of F1 tires is the composition and type of tires. Pirelli currently provides five different kinds of dry tires (C1-C5, with C1 being hardest and C5 being softest) and two kinds of wet tires (wet and intermediate). The dry tires are classified into soft, hard, and medium, based on the composition of the tires.
C1-C5 F1 Tire Compounds
Each race sees 3 of the C1-C5 tires chosen to fill these spots, with lots of factors taken into account to decide which ones suit which tracks. For example, a track with lots of demanding, high speed corners, like Silverstone, will usually see the hardest compounds used. In this case, Soft, Medium and Hard would be C1, C2 and C3 respectively.
However, at the 2021 Monaco GP, the softest compounds were chosen, being the C3, C4 and C5 tires. The Monaco circuit is typically less demanding on the tires, so softer compounds usually provide enough of a balance between grip and tire lifespan.
Comparing F1 Tire Compounds
While these are just two races in one season, comparing the longest stints is useful for understanding how long F1 tires last in different situations. Let’s consider the longest stints on each tire type for these two races.
2021 British Grand Prix at Silverstone:
- C1 Hard – 33 laps
- C2 Medium – 30 laps
- C3 Soft – 6 laps
2021 Monaco Grand Prix
- C3 Hard – 64 laps
- C4 Medium – 45 laps
- C5 Soft – 37 laps
The most useful numbers are those for the Medium tires, being the C2 in the British GP and the C4 in the Monaco GP. In Monaco, the Medium tire was “two steps softer” than in Britain, going from C2-C4, yet it lasted about 50% longer. The Hard was also two steps softer but went nearly double the distance than those used at Silverstone.
The 6 laps done on the soft tires at Silverstone represented just two appearances of the C3s in that race, illustrating that sometimes the soft tire is undesirable in race conditions. Contrast that with the softer tire used in Monaco, the C5, which was used by 15 of the 19 drivers that started the race. So, tire wear clearly varies from race to race, but more on that in the next section.
Other Factors To Consider
It’s important to mention that driver preference, pit stop strategy and the appearance of safety cars and red flags also affect how long each tire type is used for. There was a red flag, which stopped the race, at the 2021 British GP. However, it happened on lap 1, and therefore had minimal impact on the tire choice of the drivers, with many simply replacing their used mediums with a fresh set.
So, while the softest tires provide the most grip, they wear the fastest too, and this means drivers need to pit for another set of tires when they wear too much. Many races see drivers attempt a “one stop” strategy, meaning they sacrifice grip by choosing the harder tire compounds, but get the return in the form of less time lost in the pits.
This is why tire wear is so important when it comes to race strategy. Managing tire wear and losing out in terms of grip (and therefore speed over the course of a lap) is often far more favorable to losing 20+ seconds in the pit lane. Over the course of the race distance, choosing the right tire strategy is usually what wins the race in modern F1.
What Affects Tire Wear In F1?
5 things that affect tire wear in F1 are:
- Tire compound
- Track layout
- Weather conditions
- Temperature and pressure
- Car setup
1. Tire Compound
We’ve already touched on the different tire compounds, but it’s important to reiterate that the softer the tire, the faster it wears, and therefore the shorter its lifespan. Softer tires wear faster as the rubber is designed to flex more under load, allowing for better grip but faster wear.
This makes them the ideal qualifying tire, as they are generally the fastest. However, the Medium tire is often preferable to use in qualifying in the second session, called Q2, as drivers that make it into the top ten have to start the race on the tire with which they set their fastest time in Q2.
As drivers would prefer to start the race on tires that will last longer – to give them the chance to make just one pit stop rather than two – the fastest cars will often try to get through to Q3 on the Medium tires, with slower cars being forced to use the softest tire to match the times of the fastest cars on harder tires. Tire compound is therefore key in terms of tire wear and race strategy.
2. Track Layout
The layout of an F1 track is a key component to consider in the tire wear equation. If a track has lots of high speed corners, the driver spends a lot of time going at high speed while also turning the car. This puts lots of strain on the tires, as they’re trying to go both forward and to the left or right at the same time, making use of every bit of grip they have to offer.
Tires don’t wear as fast at low speeds, so if there are more slow corners and hairpins, tires tend not to wear quite as fast. This is why you don’t excessively wear out your tires on your road car when you’re going round corners, as you’re going at comparably low speeds. Some corners on F1 tracks see speeds upwards of 150 mph.
Straights are also relatively low wear, even though the driver is going much faster than in the corners, as they are not also turning the car. Heavy braking and acceleration out of and into straights will cause wear.
High Speed Corners
Essentially, high speed corners and heavy braking zones utilize friction forces to provide the car with grip through the tire. Friction is basically a stopping force, helping the driver stop under braking, and “stop” going off the track when turning.
However, friction brings with it heat, as the energy is transferred through the tires as the car either slows down or turns. This heats the tire up, causing the rubber to wear faster, eventually to the point where there isn’t enough left on the surface to provide grip for the driver.
Hot tires provide more grip (more on that soon), but when they’re too hot, they wear too fast and become more malleable, essentially meaning they deform under force. This means the car begins to “slide around” and the driver can experience oversteer and understeer. Too much sliding leads to more wear, and it becomes a downward spiral of grip loss.
The condition of the track also plays a part in the tire wear of Formula 1 cars. Tracks with rougher, older surfaces cause more wear than smoother surfaces. However, they will also provide more grip, so this can make harder tires behave like softer ones, just due to the extra grip offered by the track surface itself. But other factors are more important to consider than just the track surface.
3. Weather Conditions
Weather conditions clearly play a role in terms of whether a driver uses wet or dry tires, but in terms of how long the tire lasts, temperature plays an important role too. First, consider a wet track. Wet or intermediate tires are required, as they are able to disperse water from underneath the tire, allowing the car to maintain contact with the track surface.
Slicks don’t have any tread on them to disperse this water, so the car aquaplanes on the surface of standing water, giving the driver no grip at all. However, in terms of tire wear, a wet track surface can allow for minimal tire wear (as wet tires are more durable anyway, in wet conditions), making wet or intermediate tires last a full race distance in some cases.
How A Drying Track Affects Wet Tire Wear
However, a drying track is a common occurrence in races that see rain at the start, and this presents the issue of increased wear as the track gets drier. When a track is too wet for dry tires but too dry for full wet tires, intermediates are used.
These still have treads to disperse some of the water and give the driver grip, but not as much as the full wet tires. While treads are great for dispersing water from underneath the tires, they take away valuable surface area that provides tires with grip through contact with the track surface. Intermediates strike a balance between surface area and water dispersion.
This means that they will begin to wear faster than wets, and the rate of wear increases as the track gets drier. If the conditions are right, the intermediates can wear just at the right rate that, by the time the track is fully dry (or at least the racing line is), they can effectively act like a set of slicks, having worn the tread off enough to make them provide as much grip as some slicks.
Overheating Wet Tires
However, overheating is a key issue when it comes to wet and dry tires, with a drying track very quickly overheating wet and intermediate tires to the point where they can become unusable. This is why you’ll often see a driver with wet or intermediate tires deliberately veer off a dry racing line into puddles on the straights to cool the tires down, therefore making them last longer.
Overheating Dry Tires
But dry tires can overheat on a dry track too, and that’s why, during hot weather where track temperatures are very high, drivers may opt for a harder tire, even though it may seem like the softer ones last long enough during free practiceon the cooler days before, for example. Hot tracks provide more grip than cold ones, but they also cause the tires to wear faster.
Cloud cover can cool tracks down over time, which can cause teams to change strategies mid race if tire wear starts to increase or decrease rapidly. However, while the track temperature has an effect on the tires and how fast they wear, the temperatures and pressures of the tires themselves are also key factors.
4. Temperature And Pressure
Each type of F1 tire has its own set of ideal operating windows in terms of temperature and pressure. These are ranges within which the tires will offer optimum grip and rate of wear. Harder tires have higher optimum operating temperatures than softer tires, with the hardest C1 in 2019 having a range of 110-140°C (230-284°F) and the softest C5 having an optimal range of 85-115°C (185-239°F).
This means drivers try to keep their tire temperatures within these ranges throughout the race. Teams have access to the data, and they can therefore relay this information back to the driver when required. They may get too hot, and so the team might tell the driver to drive through wet patches if applicable, or take corners a little wider to minimize overheating.
Managing Your Tires
Keeping the tires within this ideal operating window is a matter of understanding how to manage your tires. F1 drivers are experts at this, and they know how to drive the car to keep the tires within this range. That’s why you’ll often see them weaving around on formation laps and behind (relatively) slow safety cars, to try and get heat into their tires for the start of the race.
But tire blankets also play a part. These are used in the garage and on the grid at the start of the race to keep the tires within these ideal temperature ranges when the cars are stationary. However, there are calls for these tire blankets to be ditched in the coming years, which would put even more of the control in the driver’s hands on formation laps and during qualifying outlaps.
Pressures are also important to consider when dealing with tire wear in Formula 1. Lower tire pressures mean more of the tire is in contact with the track surface, therefore providing more grip. However, this means the tire can flex more, putting more pressure on the relatively weak sidewalls of the tires throughout the lap, which can cause tire failures.
This is why there are minimum pressures imposed on the F1 cars, forcing teams to stay above what Pirelli deem to be pressures that make tire failures more probable. For this reason, teams will try to go as close to this minimum pressure as possible, which can change between races but typically stays around 20-22 psi, with the fronts being lower than the rears.
Tire pressures can also fluctuate throughout the race, and this is yet more data the teams can relay to their drivers over the radio. Pressure is directly proportional to temperature, meaning as one goes up, the other goes up, and as one goes down, the other goes down. This makes managing tire temperatures even more important for tire wear.
5. Car Setup
Finally, car setup can also affect tire wear. F1 cars typically run using various tweaks to their setups, such as minor front and rear wing adjustments, which put them somewhere on the spectrum between high and low downforce. High downforce means they have more speed through the corners, but less on the straights, and the opposite is true for low downforce setups.
But while a high downforce setup will effectively be better at “pushing” the car down into the ground, it also puts more force on the tires, meaning they can wear faster than if the car were on a low downforce setup.
As the car setup is chosen largely depending on the track layout and conditions, it’s clear that all of these various factors that affect how fast Formula 1 tires wear are interlinked. Races at tracks with lots of high speed corners tend to see higher downforce setups, meaning increased wear. This then influences the tire choices, which in turn affects wear too.
F1 cars used to have grooved tires to limit the increasing cornering speeds. Having grooves (or treads) in the tires limits the surface area of the tire in contact with the track surface. This in turn limits the grip of the tire, effectively slowing the car’s maximum cornering speed.
In the earliest stages of the F1, grooved tires were used. They were then abandoned for slicks, before grooved tires returned in 1998, only to be abandoned once again in 2009 in favor of slick tires. Slick, groove-free tires have since been used in F1, with the exception of the treaded wet and intermediate tires.
However, grooved tires are different from treaded wet tires in that the grooves are simply straight lines cut into the tires, whereas treads are designed in a way to disperse water out from underneath the tire. Grooved tires were designed purely to reduce cornering speeds, and had next to no effect on grip levels in wet conditions, and special wet tires were still used in these cases.
F1 got rid of Supersoft tires to simplify the naming process of the tires. Tires used to range from Superhard to Hypersoft, but this was deemed too complicated for the fans. So, in 2018, Pirelli changed the naming system to C1 through C5, with C1 being the hardest and C5 being the softest.
Old F1 Tire Names
F1 tires used to be called:
- Superhard (Orange)
- Hard (Blue)
- Medium (White)
- Soft (Yellow)
- Supersoft (Red)
- Ultrasoft (Purple)
- Hypersoft (Pink)
F1 tires are now simply called Hard (white), Medium (yellow) and Soft (red), with the three chosen from the range of C1 through C5. For example, one race weekend might use the C1 tire for the hard tires, C2 for medium and C3 for softs, while another race weekend might use C3 for the hards, C4 for the mediums and C5 for the softs.
How F1 tires are made is largely kept secret. The process of F1 tire production is quite rigorous with multiple tests involved at every stage. Formula 1 tires consist of multiple layers of bead wire, casing and the rubber surface, with different compounds (C1-C5) made from different compositions.
What Are F1 Tires Made Of?
F1 tires are made of various different materials, including natural rubber, nylon and steel. The exact composition of the various synthetic materials that Pirelli uses to make F1 tires is largely kept secret. These various compounds make up the numerous layers of an F1 tire.
The innermost layer is the bead wire, which is effectively a steel ring going round the inner circumference of the tire. On top of the bead wire comes the casing, made of composite materials and specific geometries designed to improve the structural integrity of the tire.
On top of the casing comes a thicker layer of rubber and composite materials, and the surface of the tire in contact with the track surface also has an underlying metal bead wire to provide even more structural support.
Tire production starts in the research laboratories at Milan, where a research group of 400 scientists, with 150 specifically dedicated to working on developing the perfect tire for F1, get to work designing the tires. The chemical composition is first tested and simulated for diverse conditions of use.
Where Are F1 Tires Made?
F1 tires are built at a factory in Izmit in Turkey, or in Romania if need be, depending on production levels. These prototypes are further taken to Milan for indoor testing using specialized testing equipment which simulates all the various conditions the tire can possibly face during the race.
The tire is then passed to the quality control procedures through digital scanning, X-Ray inspection, and measuring the weight & dimensions of the tires. The tire then goes through destructive testing and on-track test runs. Once it passes all these tests, it is ready to be used in the actual races.
F1 tires wear so fast due to the extreme forces imposed on them by the high speed nature of an F1 race. Softer tires wear faster than harder tires, and how fast a Formula 1 tire wears depends largely on track conditions, the weather, car setup, and the layout of the track itself.