Pirelli are known worldwide for their ‘interesting’ calendars, but they are also the current (and only) Formula 1 tyre supplier, they took over the supply of the controlled tyres after Bridgestone deemed that it wasn’t financially viable for them, in other words, the costs were far outstripping the benefits – hardly surprising when you hear Pirelli say that it costs them more than one of the back of the grid team’s budget for a season.
While Pirelli are the current suppliers, there have been a number of brands involved with the F1 circus over the years, these include Dunlop, Michelin, Bridgestone, Avon, Firestone and that well-known brand Englebert (no, we haven’t heard of them either).
But what makes F1 tyres special? Aside from the ability to withstand loads of up to 1 tonne of downforce, 4g’s of lateral load, 5g’s of longitudinal load and the unequalled ability in emptying wallets? (A set costs in the region of £1350 – multiply that by two cars, an average of 7 sets each over the weekend and 20 races per year = £378,000).
A Brief History
In days gone-by, race cars were prepared in a similar fashion to what we know today – builders were always looking for the extra edge, that little more power or reliability, something that could make them faster than their competition.
One crucial area missing was tyre development – the cars raced on what rubber was available at the time, usually something with the grip levels of a piece of wood; we’ve all seen the old videos of cars that never seem to go in a straight line, oversteering around the slightest bend in the road while seemingly travelling at less than walking pace – there just was no grip to them at all.
As tyre technology developed, grip levels went up and lap-times came down.
The full racing ‘slick’ tyre wasn’t actually raced until the early 70’s, although the name ‘slick’ had been used for a few years, these weren’t tread-less, the closest that we’d know today would be a ‘hand-cut’ slick.
Modern F1 Tyres
A modern F1 tyre doesn’t really share much with a road-going tyre, even at the hypercar end of the motoring spectrum. Yes, they’re black, round and sticky but that is where the comparison stops.
We all know that F1 tyres have custom compounds, the compound can change from race-to-race, but what you may not know is that these tyres can also have custom constructions – how the tyre gets laid up through the construction process.
An F1 car uses the tyre in a different way from a road car; the clever people behind an F1 car know that certain construction types give more or less deflection through the vehicle, they incorporate that deflection as part of the suspension travel – those beautiful 4K slow-motion shots of the cars riding the kerbs demonstrates that perfectly.
From Race to Road
While we have benefitted enormously with F1 car technology being developed and then transferred to road-cars, unfortunately, the old adage of ‘circuit today, road tomorrow’ doesn’t really apply to modern car tyres.
A ‘normal’ car tyre is designed with many different elements in mind; it must last for a reasonable amount of mileage, be low on road noise, be capable of controlling the car in ever changing weather conditions, give a firm yet compliant ride, operate in temperatures ranging from -5o through to 35o+ and still give the grip levels needed to stop the car in the shortest distance possible. An F1 tyre has none of those restrictions, aside from ultimate grip.
What regular tyres owe to Formula 1
But having said that, there are some advances that have come about thanks to F1 tyre technology.
Inflating your tyres with normal air could see a pressure differential of as much as 10 PSI (perhaps more) from a cold to hot reading, meaning that a tyre pressure set when cold could (in theory) be over-pressurised when hot, leading to premature wear or even odd handling.
F1 tyres are inflated using a nitrogen-rich mixture, this has the advantage of increased pressure stability throughout a temperature variation, many garages and tyre fitters are now using a nitrogen mix for this reason. It should lead to increased tyre life and stable handling characteristics.
Further, tread-patterns owe much of their water-clearing abilities to F1 tyres – a modern-day F1 tyre can clear as much as 65 litres of water every second (for a ‘full-wet’ tyre), the tyre designers have utilised some of the design and transferred it to the road tyres – this means that there have exceptional developments in rain-tyre technology and the risk of aquaplaning is almost a thing of the past.
So even if you’re driving around in a seven year old diesel, it means that your average daily-driver is using at least some F1 technology and development in keeping you safe.
You may not be the next Fernando Alonso (insert the name of your favourite racing driver here), but thanks to the tyre tech developed by F1, you do have something in common with him!
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