After the controversial ending to the Azerbaijan grand prix, a lot of focus has been put back onto the tyres and how they are used. Tyre manufacturer Pirelli has said that Verstappen and Strolls tyre blowouts were based debris on the track, with Verstappen himself blaming Pirelli. At the end of their investigation, it was interesting to see that Pirelli decided that the tyre failures for Stroll and Verstappen cars were based on how the teams were running their cars, probably relating to either tyre pressures or the temperatures they were run at. The tyres can make or break F1 races and can be incredibly controversial, so here they are explained.
The Current Tyres
For 2021, Pirelli have seven different compounds, ranging from C1-C5 with their dry tyres and the usually intermediate and wet tyres. The C1-C5 differ based on their grip and durability, with the C1 tyre being the most durable but with the least grip and the C5 having the most grip but being the least durable. The tyres used between each race change dependant usually on the downforce level on the track , as some tracks put the tyres through a lot more than others. It means that the C1,C2,C3 are used as the hard tyre, the C2,C3,C4 are used for the medium tyre and C3,C4 and C5 are used for the soft tyre. So it means that actually between race weeks, what could have been used as a soft tyre one week could be the medium or hard tyre next week. Using Silverstone as the example, they are using the C1 as the hard tyre, C2 as the medium tyre and C3 as the soft tyre. This is because Silverstone is one of the tracks which produces the most pressure on the tyres and grip falls off very quickly at Silverstone. Whereas, you look back to a couple of weeks ago at the Austrian grand prix and the tyres used were the C3,C4 and the C5. So it means that Silverstone’s soft tyre is the same as Austria’s hard tyre. It is a little confusing, but it makes sense when you look at a circuit like Silverstone which has 18 corner and 70% of it at full throttle, whereas Austria is much more focused on straights, with only 10 corner and 79% of the lap at full throttle. It means that tyres wear a lot quicker at Silverstone than at Austria, so they need more durable tyres at Silverstone. F1 have done very well to identify the tracks well, with high downforce circuits like Monaco, Hungary and Spain needing the more durable C1 and C2 tyres, whereas tracks with more straights like the Red Bull Ring and Mexico require much less downforce so use the C4 and C5 tyres. Pirelli also produce an intermediate tyre which is treaded for more grip. The intermediate tyre has a suggested use of light standing water and is the much more common tyre to see, as the tyres are very versatile as a compromise between the slicks and the wet tyres. Pirelli also produce a full wet tyre, suggested to be used when there is heavy standing water or heavy rain.
F1 Weekend Tyre Rules
So going into any race weekend, F1 has a few different rules surrounding the tyres. Over a full normal race weekend, each driver has 13 sets of slick tyres available to them. At the end of practice 1,2 and 3 drivers have to return two sets of tyres. So it means going into qualifying, drivers are usually given two sets of soft tyres in Q1, one set of softs and one set of mediums in Q2 and an extra set of softs if they reach Q3. This is to give the drivers the ability to battle it out on new tyres if they make it through to Q2 and Q3. There are then also a set of hards and mediums given to the drivers for the race. During the race, since 2010, the drivers have been required to use two different tyre compounds during the race, as long as the race is dry. This has meant that pit stops are now mandatory and I think it is a great rule to have, with it bringing in much more strategy to the race, where smart strategy can win or lose races. Then there is also the case of the Q2 rule when it come to qualifying. Drivers that go through to Q3 are required to start the race on the tyres that they set their fastest lap in Q2 with. That’s why you may see drivers at the top of the grid attempt to make it into Q3 on medium tyres, as they would be more suitable for the race. Of course by doing this they are taking a risk as soft tyres are faster than medium tyres and much of the middle order will be using soft tyres to try to make it through to Q3.
Pirelli has been a tyre manufacturer for F1 since F1 began in 1950. They were apart of F1 from 1950-1958, before returning to the sport in 1981. Pirelli then had another 20 year break from Formula 1 after 1991. However, after Bridgestone decided against renewing its contract to supply F1 tyres in 2010, Pirelli took over as the sole tyre supplier for F1 in 2011, a contract which was extended at the star of this year to run until at least 2024. Since returning to F1, Pirelli has put over a Billion dollars into their tyre programme, with an annual budget of around $110m which is around the same as quite a few of the teams. Its not too surprising when you think about it. Just looking at the 2021 season, Pirelli has to produce around 38,000 tyres just for F1 cars in a single season, and that is not including testing. It is a huge job that requires huge investment. It is estimated that every set of tyres costs around $2700, which is why Pirelli require such a large budget for their tyre manufacturing.
2022 Tyre Changes
2022 brings a huge amount of new changes to the sport, aiming to make the racing closer and more competitive. F1 cars have become bigger and worse in bad air, making the racing less close and making it less exciting. To make the racing closer, the cars are becoming smaller and are being developed to race better in bad air. However, part of that change is going from 13 inch tyres to 18 inch tyres, a switch that was predicted by Michelin motorsport director Pascal Couasnon back in 2015. Lots of motorsport has been changing towards the larger tyres, and Formula One is finally making the switch. Drivers like Alex Albon, Lewis Hamilton and Dani Kyvat have all tested out the new 18 inch tyres, but we are yet to really see how they will affect racing next year. These tyres are 14kg heavier overall and are designed to be less prone to overheating and therefore could make the tyres much more durable as lower temperatures means wearing at a slower rate. There is also another change being introduced, with a brand new wheel cover coming in. This will limit what teams can do with the tyres aerodynamically and is really aimed to try to help maintain clean airflow. The changes to 18 inch wheels may also bring other manufacturers back into play, as Michelin said they would only consider a return to Formula One if the sport switched to 18 inch wheels as they have now done. Of course any switch in tire producer will not come until at least 2024, as Pirelli have a contract with F1 up until then.