You may have watched a few Formula One (F1) races, and it must have felt like everyone was always talking about how the type of tire installed during pit stops decisively impacted the performance of each driver.
So why are tires so important in F1? How are they manufactured? And what are the different types of F1 tires?
F1 tires are engineered to ensure they can withstand the intense friction generated during high-speed track races. They are divided into dry and wet tires with dry tires being available in five specifications designated C1 to C5, while wet tires are either intermediate or full wet tires.
In this article, you will discover the sole manufacturer of F1 tires, the different types of F1 tires, what’s inside these tires, and much more.
Which is the Official Formula 1 Tire Brand?
The highly-renowned Italian specialty tire manufacturer, Pirelli, is the sole supplier of tires to Formula 1. The company has maintained this complete monopoly since 2011 after it took over from Bridgestone which had also been the only supplier since 2007.
There used to be multiple F1 tire suppliers including Michelin, Avon, Continental, Dunlop, Goodyear, and Firestone. Everything changed in 2007 when the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA)—the auto racing international governing body, decided to restrict competition to help reduce the massive gap in performance between teams with tons of resources and other teams.
Pirelli has not disappointed and the tire manufacturer continues to supply quality, ultra-high-performance tires to F1 teams.
What’s Inside Formula 1 Tires? How Are They Made?
An F1 tire is a completely different piece of kit from the regular tires you will find on passenger vehicles. They are produced through a complex manufacturing process that mixes natural and synthetic rubber with artificial fibers.
The entire construct consists of a bead, a carcass, a belt, and the outer tread. The bead is made of fibers and is the thickest section located in the deepest recess of the tire —it is designed to grip to the rim.
The carcass encompasses the entire outer surface including the sidewall and is made of rubber. The belt wraps around the carcass and makes the construct rigid. The outer tread covers up everything and can be slick (smooth) or treaded with grooves.
To make the tires harder or softer, a different recipe of rubber and tire compounds is used in the production of each class of tire. The entire process is all about looking for the best balance between durability and speed.
Here’s a highly interesting (and entertaining) video created by Scott from Driver61, where he cuts open an F1 tire to take a look inside:
The Different F1 Tire Types Explained
There are two main classes of Formula 1 tires, they are:
- Dry tires (C1-C5)
- Wet tires (full wet & intermediate)
So, there are five types of dry tires and the two types of wet tires, but what’s the difference between the tire classes, and when are the racing teams allowed to use each tire?
We should start with the dry tire classes:
The Dry F1 Tire Classes (C1-C5)
The C1 to C5 dry tires are classified as such from the hardest to the softest, and each tire class comes in a different color. The hardest tire is given a white stripe, the medium tire gets a yellow stripe, and the softest tire gets a red color.
There are only three colors because only three of the five types of dry tires are made available for each race event. The teams are always told the class of tires to expect a few weeks before the next race weekend.
C1 (Compound 1)
This tire is the hardest among the tires and it is designed for race circuits with fast corners and abrasive surfaces that put the highest energy loadings through the tires.
Compound 1 takes its time to warm up and get grippy, but it is the most durable of all the tires, and it suffers much lower levels of degradation. It is always color-coded white.
C2 (Compound 2)
The C2 tire also sits on the harder part of the spectrum but it has demonstrated its adaptability to a wide range of race tracks.
Nonetheless, just like C1 tires, Compound 2 is truly at home on high-speed tracks or high ambient temperatures. It can be color-coded white or yellow.
C3 (Compound 3)
The medium F1 dry tire is the most versatile of all the tires. Its core advantage is that it strikes a perfect balance between performance and durability, which makes it suitable for the vast majority of circuits on the F1 racing calendar. It can be color-coded white, yellow, or red.
C4 (Compound 4)
This tire is on the softer end of the spectrum and it is at home on tight and twisty circuits. It warms up and finds grip quickly, but the downside is that it degrades rapidly. It can be color-coded yellow or red.
C5 (Compound 5)
This is the softest among the dry tires and it is the fastest. It can be used on all types of race tracks where high levels of mechanical grip is required.
However, it degrades much more rapidly than the other tires and teams require an excellent strategy to get the most out of it during a race. It can only be color-coded red.
What about the wet tire classes:
The Wet F1 Tire Classes (Full Wets & Intermediate)
The full wet and intermediate rain tires are color-coded blue for the former and green for the latter.
The major difference between dry and wet F1 tires is in the style of their tread. Dry F1 tires have a smooth or slick tread surface to ensure a greater surface area of the tire has maximum contact with the road which creates optimal grip on dry roads.
Wet tires, on the other hand, have tread patterns and grooves to ensure the tire stays glued to the road at high speeds and to break the surface tension of any road water.
As for why F1 doesn’t simply use a single tire optimized for all weather conditions, you must understand that the core philosophy of the competition is to facilitate an event where cars are operating at the maximum regardless of weather conditions.
It is simply impossible to achieve the best performance if you use dry tires in wet weather and vice versa. Dry tires lack grooves that will provide the friction to protect them from sliding over rainwater on the track, while the grooving of wet tires will produce suboptimal levels of performance on a dry track.
With that said, let’s look at the difference between the full wets and the intermediate tires:
They are designed specifically for heavy rain and have high resistance to aquaplaning. Full wet tires can evacuate 85 liters of water per second at high speeds to ensure the race car will stay glued to the track in heavy rain.
Intermediate tires are more versatile than full wet tires. They can be used in less severe rain conditions as well as on drying track surfaces. This is because its tread patterns and grooves are not as aggressive as those of full wets tires, which ensures the tire can still maintain good performance on tracks with no standing water.
F1 Tires Usage Rules
So, what are the rules governing the use of tires during the race weekend?
- A maximum of 3 sets of dry tires can be used during the free practice sessions
- 1 set of soft dry tires is allotted for the qualifying session
- 2 sets each of medium and hard dry tires are allotted for the final race on Sunday
- If it’s raining, a full set of full wet and intermediate tires can be used during the qualifying session if the race director permits it
- If it rains during the final race, the driver must start with wet tires and can subsequently decide to switch to dry tires
Why Did F1 Change From 13-Inch to 18-Inch Rims?
Interestingly, F1 recently increased the size of its rims to 18 inches, after using 13-inch rims for over 50 years. The 13-inch rims were fast and they did an admirable job for half a century, however, the tall sidewalls of the tires used on these rims made them squish over the track surface to achieve excellent grip at lightning speeds.
The excess motion created by all the squishing and morphing causes the tire to wear and tear rapidly, which will make the driver gradually lose his grip as the tire degrades. This is why F1 drivers always try to manage tire wear to ensure it will last long enough for them to make the next pit stop.
The new 18-inch rims were designed to last much longer and this ensures the driver will be able to focus on racing hard instead of managing tire wear.
It’s important to mention that it’s the rims that changed from 13 to 18-inches and not the tires. The total dimension of the rim and tire together were 26.4 inches back when 13-inch rims were used, and are now 28.3 inches with the new 18-inch rims.
This means that rim size went up a lot more compared to the overall size, this was achieved by creating tires with a lower profile (aspect ratio) than before.
Here’s a tweet made by Pirelli where they explain the new 18-inch wheels and the 2022 tire rules:
How Much do F1 Tires Weigh?
The new tires used on the 18-inch rims have a front tire weight of 9.5 kg (21 lbs) and a rear tire weight of 11.5 kg (25 lbs). The old tires used on the 13-inch rims had a front tire weight of 8.5 kg (18.7 lbs) and a rear tire weight of 10 kg (22 lbs).
How Much do F1 Tires Cost?
After verifying with Pirelli, I’ve found that a single set of F1 tires cost right around $2700 depending on the type of tires. Each team pay for the tires themselves.
If we do the math here we can realize that a whole season worth of tires reaches a staggering sum of money for the teams.
Afterall, every car is granted 13 sets of tires per race. Let’s assume that on average one driver in the team uses 10 sets of tires during a race, this would reach an amount of $270,000 per race.
Furthermore, with a maximum of four drivers allowed in a team it would reach an amount of $1,080,000 per race for a team with four drivers.
Then let’s consider the total tire price for this teams during a whole season of 21 races. They would reach a total season cost of $22,680,000 just for the tires. That’s a huge sum of money spent on steel and rubber!
Why do F1 Tires Look Shiny?
Formula 1 tires look shiny because of special moulds with chrome treatment used by Pirelly during the manufacturing of the tires. As you’ve probably seen, the shine only lasts for a short while as the car leaves the pit lane, then it quickly scrubs of when the race begins or continues.
What Happens to F1 Tires After a Race?
After every race the tires are transported to Didcot, Great Britain, where they are being recycled.
They are first shredded together with other road car tires. The shredded tires are then burnt at very high temperatures as fuel for various factories. These high burn temperatures (1400 degrees centigrade) causes no poisonous fumes and the particles that remains from the burning process is fine, non-poisonous ash.
This ash can then be recycled to make asphalt and other compounds that can be used for various constructions.
This article has shown you everything you need to know about how tires facilitate fast-paced F1 races, and you should now have a better understanding of the impact the right set of tires can have in helping a driver win the race.
Hi, my name is Niklas, the head content creator & CEO of Whirling Wheelz. I am very interested in vehicles of all kinds, mainly cars. I have a car mechanics degree from high school and a big hobby of mine is to follow the WRC (World Rally Championship) both online and through travel.