When a person is too cold, they move sluggishly. If they’re too hot, sweating ensues. Just as a person works best when they are at an optimum temperature, F1 tires also work at peak efficiency when they’re warm. To keep F1 tires within their optimal range, they need to be heated.
F1 tires are heated before a race to improve grip, which in turn increases speed because the tires will allow for faster cornering and acceleration. A cold tire loses traction much easier than a warm one, but when F1 tires are too hot they will wear much faster.
Pre-race heating of tires and zigzagging while making their way to the starting grid allows F1 drivers to start a race with a tire at peak temperatures. Starting a race with cold tires will result in a loss of traction. In the article below, we’ll delve into how F1 tires hit the optimal temperature.
F1 tires are preheated so drivers can start a race with good grip. Because F1 cars go from a standing start to up to 100 mph in a matter of seconds, the need for excellent grip from the outset is vital. The closer to the optimum operating temperature a tire is, the more grip it offers.
A Formula 1 tire is specifically designed to operate at a peak temperature of around 100 degrees Celsius (about 212 degrees Fahrenheit), depending on the compound, which isn’t possible to achieve without a little ingenuity from the racing teams. Pre-heating F1 tires using tire blankets has been around since the mid-1980s.
Pre-heating a tire is the easiest and most reliable way to get a tire ready for a race. If a tire isn’t at or around 100 degrees at the start of the race, the car will most likely wheelspin when setting off and have very little traction when maneuvering through the first few corners.
The best way to justify why a pre-heated tire is so important is to first understand what the differences are between a cold tire and a heated one, and what the impact is for a driver. Given the exact same scenario, we can see which is the most appealing to a driver.
Suppose a Grand Prix is about to begin. Our fictional driver is in 8th position on the grid and is in place waiting for the race to start. Let’s see what the potential differences in performance are for our driver, depending on how warm the tires are before the race.
For the time period leading up to the race, the pit team has ensured the tires are being pre-heated for the driver. The weather is overcast but dry, and the tires have reached 100% of the optimal temperature when the tire warmers are removed. Once on the car, heated tire blankets are placed on them to keep them as warm as possible.
Our driver gets in the car, the heated tire blankets are removed, and the driver then sets off on the track for a warm-up lap, zigzagging around the track to try and maintain as much of this pre-heated temperature as possible before the race begins.
Once on the starting grid, our driver has done everything possible to keep the tires warm. As the lights go out, our driver gets off to a perfect start with minimal wheel spin and maximum grip. The car handles well, and they manage to overtake two cars to move into 6th place.
On the first corner, the heated tires grip wonderfully, the driver feels confident as the car has great traction, and he manages to overtake another car to move into 5th. The race has begun perfectly, thanks to our driver’s tires being at the optimum temperature.
Our same driver in a scenario with cold tires is a much less appealing story. This time, the tires have been stored overnight in a container, with no tire warmers to begin the heating process. At race time, the tires are fitted and ready to go. The heated tire blankets are left off in this scenario.
Our driver sets off on his warm-up lap, doesn’t zig-zag, and instead takes a direct, albeit quick, lap of the circuit and finds his mark on the starting grid. The tires of the car have heated a little due to the warm-up lap, but nowhere near the optimum 100 degrees Celsius needed.
When the race starts this time, the tires spin furiously as the driver tries to accelerate. Sadly, by the time the car is up to speed, the driver has been overtaken and now lies in 11th place. On the first sharp corner, the lack of grip causes the car to slide slightly and he loses yet another place to a rival.
While these two scenarios are obviously very simplified examples, the point remains that a car with pre-heated tires has every advantage over a car with cold tires. The grip keeps a car firmly on the track, allowing a driver to make use of the incredible machine they control to the best of their ability.
F1 tires are usually kept around 100 degrees Celsius, or 212 degrees Fahrenheit. There are 5 different types of F1 tires for dry weather and 2 types designed for racing in the wet, and each one’s ideal operating temperature is different, usually ranging from about 90-130 degrees Celsius.
Hard tires have higher ideal operating temperatures than soft tires, and they take longer to heat up. This begs the question: Why not just use tires that heat up quicker? The answer is the trade-off between the grip and rapid warming of the tire and its lifespan. The hotter the tire is, the more wear it endures, the more rubber it loses, and the quicker it needs to be swapped.
A hard C1 tire will take longer to reach its peak temperature, which is usually higher than the standard 100 degrees Celsius, because the tire is harder and requires more heat to be able to achieve maximum grip. A C1 tire needs to be around 130-140 degrees Celsius before it will work correctly. Until that is reached, the risk of wheel spin, locking up, or sliding during cornering all increase.
Once racing, the incredible speed that an F1 car reaches increases the amount of heat in the tires. Friction causes the tire to heat and slowly begins to impact performance. Once a tire is at its peak temperature and has begun to degrade, the driver will begin to lose grip and control, requiring a pit stop for a tire change.
Once a driver pits, they must rejoin the race on tires that, while heated in the garage before the pit stop, may not yet be working at optimal efficiency. A driver must quickly get the new tires heated without losing control in corners as they heat up.
Braking will also increase tire temperature, and given the number of corners and the overall rigors of a full F1 race, tires take a lot of punishment. Cornering adds extra force to tires that increase friction and wear and tear, keeping each tire hot enough to burn the skin of any pit crew foolish enough to lay an ungloved hand on it. Tire management is all about balancing wear with temperature.
The hotter the tire on an F1 car, the better it should be able to perform. But due to the degrading issues the heat causes, there is a point where there are diminishing returns on performance. Drivers will often give feedback about handling during a race to the pit wall, and vice-versa, as second-by-second decisions are made about race strategy.
Warm tires grip better than cold tires, but warm tires also degrade at a faster rate than cold tires, and this degradation causes the tires to lose grip faster. Problems begin to occur when a tire has been worn down through racing because, as the grip lessens, so does control of the car.
Up to a certain point in a race, the wearing down of the tires increases the heat, which results in greater grip and driver control. After a certain point though, this results in tire blistering due to the varying structural levels of the tire reaching different temperatures. Once this begins to happen, the driver needs to pit or they risk a complete tire failure.
Once a tire has reached the point of no return, you will see a rapid decline in the performance of the car. It’s partly the driver’s job to assess the control still available, and for the pit wall to assess temperatures and check lap times to identify when a tire is simply too worn to be used any longer.
F1 tires are pre-heated with tire warmers that warm the tires to a pre-determined temperature and then maintain that temperature until the tires are fitted to the car. Tire blankets are used once the car is on the starting grid to maintain the optimal temperature until the formation lap starts.
Once fitted to the car, a tire blanket is used on each tire in order to maintain the pre-heated effect. Before the 2022 Formula 1 season, this meant keeping the front tires at 100 degrees Celsius and the rear tires at 80 degrees Celsius. From 2022, these temperatures decreased, and we’ll discuss that more in a moment.
The need to maximize heat retention means that these electrically heated tire blankets remain on the tires until the very last moment when the F1 car leaves the garage and rolls into the pit lane (during practice and qualifying) or on the grid prior to the formation lap before the race.
Every measure is taken to give the driver the best chance of starting a race well, and this can’t happen if the tires are not hot enough to make a quick, clean exit from the starting grid.
Once on track, the only remaining option for a driver to keep a tire pre-heated is to use the warm-up lap to zigzag across the circuit. This generates friction at a lower speed than the driver would be travelling at when racing, and this generates heat within the tire to help it provide more grip for the race start.
Whereas previously a set of front tires could be heated up to 100 degrees Celsius and the rear tires up to 80 degrees Celsius, the regulations changed so that each set can only be heated up to 70 degrees for both the front and back tires.
This means that, while tire blankets are just as vital as ever in bringing a tire up to as warm a temperature as is allowed by the FIA, the drivers need to find as much extra heat during the warm-up lap as possible. Even then, they will potentially have less grip at the start of the race than in previous seasons.
As this rule encompasses every team and every race car, the advantage is lost by all drivers, which keeps an even playing field, with no driver losing out than any other. Tire blankets, for the moment, are still necessary to warm up the tires before a session, but the new rules are designed to eventually have the tire blankets phased out entirely.
With an extra 30 degrees Celsius to find for each tire once a tire blanket has been removed, F1 drivers must generate more heat during their out laps. It remains to be seen how teams and drivers will deal with tire warmup when the blankets are fully outlawed (at least as the FIA plans), as the performance deficit between hot and cold tires is definitely not going away.
Formula 1 tires are heated before a race because a warm tire has better grip than a cold tire. Teams use tire blankets in the garage and on the grid to maintain an optimal temperature. Drivers zigzag during the formation lap to keep the tires at this temperature for maximum grip at the start.