F1 tires wear incredibly fast, with drivers going through multiple sets per race. The tires are critical components of the cars, and managing tire wear is therefore key for the drivers. But why do Formula 1 car tires wear so quickly?
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 high levels of grip. They often only last 100km (60 miles) or less.
However, there is much more to F1 tire wear than this. It’s not just down to the driver putting the tires to their limits – the way F1 tires are designed contributes a lot to how fast they wear. Below, I’ll discuss this in more detail, to help you understand why F1 cars go through so many sets of tires!
How Long Do F1 Tires Last?
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 (more on all of these later). Wet and intermediate tires can potentially last the full race.
The most important factor to consider when answering this question is usually the compound of the tire. I’ll explain the differences between each of these in more detail below, but for now it’s just worth noting that the softer the compound, the more grip it will generally offer, and the faster it’ll wear.
So, a soft tire might only last a handful of laps during an F1 race, or it might last 20 laps. But the hard tire can often last 40+ laps in the hands of a good driver (again, more on that below). This means an F1 tire can last for a few miles of high-speed driving, or 100+.
How Long Do Wet F1 Tires Last In F1?
Wet F1 tires often last upwards of 50 laps. Wet tires can last a full race on some occasions, but they’re typically only used for part of the race. 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.
To understand what makes a tire last 5 or 50 laps, we need to understand how the tires are designed to work in the first place.
How F1 Tires Generate Grip
F1 tires, and indeed most racing tires, are designed for maximum performance, and as a result they are designed to wear. The drivers drive their cars in a way that the tires are generating the maximum possible force in the right direction for as much of the time as possible. For this to happen, the tires naturally need to shed some of their rubber.
In general, a tire generates grip via two types of stress mechanisms – indentation and molecular adhesion.
Indentation is when the roughness of the track surface excites the rubber material. This causes the tire to distort and adapt to the texture of the track surface.
Due to the way the tire is designed and the structure of the rubber itself, the tire doesn’t immediately return back to its original shape (this is to do with something called hysteresis – see this article for a more technical explanation). This asymmetrical deformation generates a friction force, and that’s what we know as grip.
The second way the tires generate grip is via molecular adhesion. This is when molecular interactions occur at the interface between the tire rubber and the track surface, generating grip as a result. Essentially, the molecular chains of rubber form bonds with the track surface.
As the tire continues to slide over the surface, these chains are stretched and the rubber resists deformation, generating a friction force (i.e. grip). The bond then breaks and forms again further on, and the cycle continues.
Molecular adhesion is the reason the tires deposit rubber on the track. The molecular bonds can either break away from the track or break away from the tire. If they break away from the tire, rubber is left on the track.
Note: Sometimes the tires can lose big chunks of rubber either as a result of graining or blistering
So, we know how racing tires generate grip, but what causes F1 tires to lose this grip as they wear so quickly?
For a large part of the answer to that question, we need to consider how tire temperatures influence tire wear in Formula 1.
How Temperature Affects How Fast F1 Tires Wear
F1 tires are not fully cured when they come out the factory. Instead, part of the ‘vulcanization’ process occurs on the track, when the driver puts massive forces through the tire as they go round the circuit. This actually changes the polymer structure of the tire as they drive!
As the driver uses a tire, they put it through what are known as heat cycles, sometimes called scrubbing. Lots of things affect how this works, including:
- Steering, throttle, and brake input
- Tire pressure
- Suspension setup
These affect ‘how much energy goes into the tire’ – essentially how fast it heats up and as a result how fast it wears. For example, the stiffer the suspension setup, the more ‘suspension-like’ work the tire has to perform. This can stiffen the tire faster, leading to a more rapid loss of grip.
To understand how this happens, we need to discuss tire hardness (I’ll talk more about hard vs soft tires in terms of the compounds you’ll see during a race weekend, like C1 and C5, later on). One word we need to define is the modulus of the tire, which you can think of as the tire’s rigidity. Soft materials have a low modulus, while hard materials have a high modulus.
At low temperatures, the modulus of the rubber is high, and it is brittle and rigid. At higher temperatures, the modulus decreases, making the rubber more flexible (at least until a certain point). The rubber’s flexibility helps to generate friction (as described in the section above about how the tires generate grip). So, higher temperatures are generally better for the tires when it comes to generating grip.
But it’s more complex than ‘hotter is better’ as there are other things at play (and going too hot leads to tire degradation). As the tire’s contact frequency (essentially a measure of the interactions between the tire and the track surface) increases, the compound gets harder. Essentially, the tire will only accept incoming energy and react against it (producing grip) up until a certain point.
But past this point, the rubber can’t regain its shape fast enough to absorb the next input of load. This has the effect of hardening the compound, causing the tire to slide, and therefore wear faster. As it gets harder, you need to put more heat into the tire to compensate for this to keep the tire in its ideal flexible state. It’s therefore a delicate balancing act!
Plus, each compound 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 flexibility and therefore optimum grip.
Harder tires have higher optimum operating temperatures than softer tires, with the hardest C1 having a range of about 110-140°C (230-284°F) and the softest C5 having an optimal range of 85-115°C (185-239°F).
Key Fact: If the tire wears to the point the tread surface becomes too thin, it will not be able to keep enough temperature, resulting in a temperature drop and therefore less grip.
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 take corners a little wider to minimize overheating, or even drive through damp patches on the track if it’s a wet race.
Note: I’ll talk a bit more about how drivers manage their tires later and how this affects wear, but we also have a full guide to tire management in F1
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, due to the somewhat concave shape they allow for, 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 by Pirelli, 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.
Let’s now consider how the compound of the tire affects the rate of wear.
How Tire Compound Affects Wear In F1
There are 6 dry tire compounds used in F1, and two wet compounds. The dry compounds are labeled C0-C5, with C0 being the hardest and C5 being the softest. There is also a full wet tire and an intermediate tire, but the first part of this discussion will primarily concern the dry tires. To sum it up in a sentence, the softer the tire, the more grip it will offer, but the faster it’ll wear.
This is related to the discussion of the tire’s modulus above. Softer tires, whether that’s through the actual compound softness or by heating the tire up, have a lower modulus. This makes them more flexible and therefore ‘grippier.’ But they are also not as durable, typically losing their grip levels faster than harder tires.
Note: As with everything in F1, it’s a bit more complicated than that! Sometimes a harder tire actually offers drivers more grip, so we often see drivers prefer the hard to the medium or the medium to the soft. There are so many factors at play (like car setup, track layout etc), so it’s just worth being aware of the fact that softer isn’t always faster over the course of a lap or race.
Choosing The Right Compound
Each race sees 3 of the possible 6 (dry) tire compounds chosen, labeled C0-C5, with lots of factors taken into account to decide which ones suit which tracks.
For example, at the 2023 Monaco GP (as is common at this race each year), the softest compounds were chosen, these 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.
But what do we mean by ‘less demanding,’ and how is this related to tire wear?
Well, the Monaco street circuit features lots of slow corners and not many fast ones. At slower speeds, F1 cars produce less downforce. Downforce quadruples as speed doubles, meaning an F1 car produces 4 times as much downforce at 200 kph as it does at 100 kph.
This means the car gets less grip in these corners from the car’s aerodynamic components, and it relies more on mechanical grip – i.e. grip from the tires and suspension. Soft tires (generally) provide more grip than hard tires, so these are naturally chosen for such a tire-grip-heavy circuit.
But at the British GP, we often see the harder tires chosen, such as the C0, C1 and C2 (for Hard, Medium, and Soft respectively). Silverstone is a fast, flowing circuit with lots of downforce-heavy corners, meaning the cars can typically use harder tire compounds without losing out too much in the grip department.
Because circuits like Silverstone are so fast, the tires naturally wear faster than on slower tracks because more energy is put through them in the high-speed sections. This means Pirelli generally picks harder, more durable tires for these kinds of tracks.
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 in 2021 (2022 and 2023 saw wet races at Monaco which doesn’t make for a great comparison!).
2021 Monaco Grand Prix
- C3 Hard – 64 laps
- C4 Medium – 45 laps
- C5 Soft – 37 laps
2021 British Grand Prix at Silverstone:
- C1 Hard – 33 laps
- C2 Medium – 30 laps
- C3 Soft – 6 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.
Of course this is just an example comparing two races in a single season. However, it shows the massive differences in how long tires can last in F1 depending on the compound and the track. Speaking of which, let’s discuss how the track affects tire wear in more detail.
Track Layout & Tire Wear
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 as there isn’t as much energy being put through them, 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 though. This is why drivers need to be very precise with their throttle and braking inputs, and their gear changes out of the corners as well.
Turning Left vs Right
Which tires will wear the fastest also depends on the track layout. As you corner in a car, the weight shifts to the outside of the car. If you take a right turn, the weight shifts to the left side and vice versa (see our guide to weight distribution for more on this). The outside tire always takes the most strain through the turn, and it can vary from front to back as well.
So, if a track has lots of right turns (i.e. a clockwise circuit), the left tires will generally wear faster than the right ones, due to the increased strain these tires go through across a lap. But this will also depend on how fast the corners are as well.
High Speed Corners
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 avoid going off the track when turning.
However, these strong friction forces cause the tire to wear faster than in the slower corners, where the friction forces are lower.
The Track Conditions
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. One important aspect that affects the track conditions is the weather.
How Weather Conditions Affect Tire Wear
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, track temperature plays an important role too.
During hot weather, when 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 practice on the cooler days before, for example. This is because, as I discussed earlier, higher temperatures lower the rubber’s modulus, making the tire more flexible and offering more grip.
Hot tracks therefore tend to provide more grip than cold ones, but they also cause the tires to wear faster, as it can be more difficult to keep the tires within their ideal operating window. Overheating the tires can cause graining and blistering, which are more extreme forms of tire wear that happen more frequently during hot weather.
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. But if the track is wet, there are even more things to consider.
Wet Tracks & Tire Wear
In this case, 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.
They do this via tread blocks, which you’ll see on your own car’s tires as well. As the car moves forward through water, the tires need to ‘push’ the water out of the way in order to allow the contact patch of the tire to make contact with the track surface, rather than the water (which provides no grip).
Tread blocks help with this as they can ‘channel’ the water through the gaps in the tread, and the tire can remain in contact with the track surface (although the surface area is much lower compared to slicks on a dry track, hence the lower top speeds in the wet).
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.
Key Fact: We saw Esteban Ocon take his set of intermediate tires to the end of the race in Turkey in 2021. But it proved to not be that fast a strategy, with him finishing the race in 10th place, a lap behind the race winner Valtteri Bottas.
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.
However, this is not something drivers can rely on, and it doesn’t work if the tread wears so thin that the tire can no longer keep enough temperature to offer any grip. This is why, if the track dries up enough during a wet race, most drivers will eventually stop and put on new slicks instead.
Overheating Wet Tires
However, overheating is a key issue when it comes to wet 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.
How the car is set up also affects how fast the tires will wear.
F1 Car Setup & Tire Wear
F1 teams can make 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.
A high downforce setup will effectively be better at ‘pushing’ the car down into the ground. This means the driver is less likely to slide through corners, as they have more aerodynamic grip. This means higher downforce generally means lower tire wear.
Lower Downforce = Higher Wear
Lower downforce setups therefore generally lead to higher tire wear. The reason is that, with less downforce, the tire slides more over the track surface. This creates friction between the tire and the track surface, which can rapidly heat the surface of the tire and cause it to wear faster.
With the higher loads experienced under higher downforce setups, the heat comes from friction within the tire itself. This spreads the heat over the whole tire rather than being concentrated on the surface as a result of friction with the track, meaning less wear and less degradation.
However, this is a bit of a simplification, because with higher downforce setups come faster speeds through the corners which in turn can lead to increased wear. So there are a lot of things to consider here, but generally higher downforce means lower wear.
Weight & Center Of Gravity
Similar to how downforce affects how fast the tires will wear, weight also impacts this. More weight means more load on the tires, which can mean less sliding and less grip. But the balance of this weight across the car will affect the amounts of lateral load transfer (how much the weight shifts around under turning, braking, and accelerating).
I won’t go into too much detail here to avoid getting overly technical, but it’s just worth pointing out that weight, how it’s distributed across the car, and the car’s center of gravity will all impact the rate of wear of the tires.
How F1 Drivers Can Influence Tire Wear
We also need to discuss how the driver can affect tire wear. I’ve mentioned above that tire management is critical, but that some drivers are better at this than others. There are so many different factors at play here though that it is not just a case of one driver is always better than another driver.
Sometimes the car is set up slightly differently between races (see the section on setup above), and the driver struggles to adapt their driving style for that track and that setup, and they wear their tires faster than usual. Other times the driver may have a poor qualifying session and have to fight through the pack during the race to get back towards the front.
This can mean they wear their tires faster than usual by having to battle with other cars, putting more strain through their rubber. Drivers that need to spend a lot of time behind other cars may experience higher wear as a result of the dirty air, and this can reduce the amount of downforce their car produces, meaning they slide more in the corners and wear the tires faster.
Drivers have a lot to consider with their tires during a race, and that’s why you’ll hear some drivers being referred to as ‘tire whisperers’ or similar (Sergio Perez being a good example of this). Because there are so many different factors that influence tire wear, some drivers will naturally be better than others, which is why we sometimes see races won on tire management alone.
So, it’s clear there are lots of factors at play, and F1 tire wear varies from race to race, from compound to compound, and from driver to driver.
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, among many other factors.
I created and have been writing on this site since 2019, collaborating with drivers, coaches, engineers and manufacturers to provide you with the most reliable information about motorsport. Find out more about me here.