The importance of tyres in Formula 1
This statement applies in all circumstances, both on the road as well as on the track, but in motorsports, where cars are taken to their limit, it becomes a mantra: tyres are the only point of contact between the car and the road surface. In Formula 1, single-seater cars can easily exceed 300 km/h. They also retain head-spinning speeds while cornering and are exposed to impressive G forces. In these situations, the car has to remain stuck to the asphalt surface, and this is certainly not a task that can be left to chance. That's not all: tyres also play a strategic role, because each team carefully plans which ones to fit, for how many laps, and what the ideal time to replace them is, taking into account the choices of their opponents too. Here are the basic rules on the use of tyres in Formula 1.
PIRELLI'S FORMULA 1
The Pirelli range of tyres for Formula 1 envisages two different types. There are the P Zero, which are slick and are used on dry asphalt, available in five different compounds. Then there are the Cinturato, available in two versions: the Cinturato Green intermediate, which is fitted when the track is slightly wet, and the Cinturato Blue full wet, which takes to the scene when it rains. Both the P Zero and the Cinturato are present at every Grand Prix.
The five slick tyres are identified by codes C1, C2, C3, C4 and C5, which correspond to five different compounds, from the hardest (C1) to the softest (C5). For each race weekend, the term used is “nomination” because not all five are brought. Instead, three are selected, which in each Grand Prix are the P Zero White hard, the P Zero Yellow medium and the P Zero Red soft respectively. The choice of three compounds nominated each time depends on the characteristics and layout of each circuit.
Read more: The inner workings of a Formula 1 Grand Prix
It is then up to each team to choose, among the tyres available for that particular Grand Prix, which ones to fit during the free practice sessions, which ones during the qualifying rounds and which ones during the race, but with some restrictions. Here are the main points of the tyre regulations for each race weekend:
• Each driver can use up to a maximum of 13 sets of slick tyres (two hard, three medium and eight soft), four sets of intermediate tyres and three sets of full wet tyres throughout the whole weekend. In the Grand Prix with the Sprint format, the available sets of dry tyres are reduced to 12 (two hard, four medium and six soft).
• Each driver must retain one set of the softest compound for the Q3. Those who qualify in the top 10 will then have to return this set, while all the others can keep it for the race. This way, the drivers who start further back will have an extra set of new soft tyres.
• From the 2022 season, it was decided to eliminate the rule according to which the ten best drivers have to start the race with the compound used to pass the Q2 and gain access to the Q3.
• Each driver must return two sets of tyres to Pirelli after FP1, another two sets after FP2 and two more after FP3. For the qualifying rounds and the race itself, there are seven sets in total.
• When the track is dry, all drivers must use at least two different compounds during the race and therefore make at least one pit stop.
• With the Sprint format, which envisages a “short” race on Saturday, during the Friday qualifying rounds, drivers can use only soft tyres, while in the Sprint format, drivers are given free choice as to which tyres to start with, without the obligation of making pit stops. At the end of this Sprint race, each driver must return the set of tyres with which they completed the most laps.
BEFORE THE START
Tyre preparation prior to each session is a step that teams should be careful about. Everyone would like to have them in optimal condition to race on the track, but there are some parameters to be respected in order not to violate regulations and above all, not to compromise safety: the pressure, the camber and heating with electric blankets.
Tyre pressure is a crucial factor. The lower the pressure, the less inflated the tyre is, the greater the area of contact with the asphalt, thus favouring grip. At the same time, however, there is an increased risk that the car is not properly supported and that its underside could be damaged by scraping the track. In addition, a tyre that works at a lower pressure is more susceptible to stresses which could deform it. For this reason, each driver can have the tyre pressure adjusted to their specific needs and driving style, but Pirelli sets a minimum pressure value that every team must respect at the start.
The camber is the vertical inclination with which the tyres are fitted to the car. A negative camber value indicates that the top of the tyre is tilted towards the car, a positive value indicates the opposite inclination. Negative camber can provide greater handling and performance during high-speed cornering. The front tyres of a Formula 1 car are usually set to a negative camber, while the rear tyres are usually closer to a neutral camber value to ensure greater tyre contact with the asphalt. For each circuit, Pirelli indicates the camber values to be observed in order to control the stresses to which the tyres are subjected.
To achieve an optimal grip from the tyres, drivers and their teams make sure the tyres are well heated at the start. To this end, a formation lap is useful, during which the drivers zig-zag around on the track, but there is also a purpose-designed tool to help heat tyres to the optimal temperature. Electric tyre blankets are tyre blankets that are heated by a current generator used to cover the tyres until a few moments before the start. Here too, the temperature is the same for all and must be observed: for the 2022 season, all four tyres can be heated to 70 degrees Centigrade for slick tyres, 60 degrees for intermediate ones and 40 degrees for full wet versions.