Tires are one of the most important features of any car, as they are what ultimately provide the connection between the car and the road. The tires on Formula 1 cars are even more important than the tires on your car, however, as the type of tire teams use can potentially make or break their success during a race.
Today, we'll be going over the various types of tires used in Formula 1 and explaining the differences between the various types and when each type is used.
Over the years, Formula 1 tires have been made by numerous manufacturers. Usually, tires are made by a single manufacturer, but in previous years, multiple tire companies have competed with each other to become the tire provider for the various teams. Since 2010, however, Pirelli has been the only tire provider in Formula 1.
Pirelli makes their Formula 1 tires using a variety of compounds to produce tires that are harder or softer. They also produce tires for both intermediate and full wet conditions. Currently, Pirelli makes a total of seven different tire compounds for Formula 1, consisting of five dry-weather compounds and two wet-weather compounds.
When it comes time for race weekend, it's actually Pirelli that decides which tires the teams get, and not the teams themselves. Pirelli chooses three of the five dry compounds for the teams to use and colour codes each of them; tires with white sidewalls are the hardest, tires with red sidewalls are the softest, and tires with yellow sidewalls are in the middle.
Unless the race is affected by wet weather and the teams need to use the wet-weather compounds, the rules state that teams need to use at least two of the dry-weather compounds in each race.
As we've mentioned, Pirelli currently makes seven different compounds for present-day Formula 1 tires. The five dry-weather compounds are labelled as C1 through C5, with C1 being the hardest and C5 being the softest.
It's important to make a variety of compounds available depending on the driving conditions. For example, for a longer race with less frequent pit stops, you would want to use a harder tire compound, but for a shorter race where tire durability isn't as important, you would want to use a softer compound with more grip.
Here's how the seven compounds compare:
As we've mentioned, C1 tires are the hardest compound available for Formula 1 cars. This compound is designed for use on circuits that put the most strain on the car's tires, such as circuits with a lot of rough surfaces or fast corners, or circuits where the ambient temperature is relatively high.
Being that this is a particularly hard compound, it takes longer for C1 tires to heat up, meaning they're not as grippy at first as softer tires. However, C1 tires are the most durable and take the longest to degrade under normal driving conditions.
C2 tires are still pretty hard, but not quite as hard as C1 tires. As such, they offer a little bit more versatility in terms of which conditions they can be used in, but they're not quite as long-lasting as C1 tires.
Like C1 tires, however, C2 tires are best used on circuits where high speeds and high temperatures are more common.
C3 is the middle-of-the-road compound that strikes the best balance between durability and grip. As such, C3 tires are among the most commonly used tires in Formula 1.
C3 tires are often used as the softest tires on really demanding circuits, and as the hardest tires on more easygoing circuits.
C4 tires are on the softer end of the spectrum, and as such are great on circuits with lots of tight, low-speed turns. Since they're made from a softer compound, they heat up way faster and have a lot more grip than harder tires, but the tradeoff is that they wear out a lot more quickly.
C5 tires are the softest Formula 1 tires that Pirelli makes. Because of this, they offer tons of mechanical grip, but they wear out faster than any of the other tire compounds.
Intermediate tires are designed for mildly wet conditions, for example, if the track is wet but has no standing water. Unlike the dry-weather tires, which are all full racing slicks, intermediate tires are treaded.
Full wet tires are designed for conditions where there is a lot more water on the track, such as during heavy rain. These tires have fairly deep treads, which helps the tires resist aquaplaning. Full wet tires are also wider than slick tires by 10 mm.
Photo of different Pirelli tires, Morio, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Of course, with all of these tire compounds to choose from, there have to be regulations in place limiting how these tires can be used.
Teams are allotted three tire compounds in total per race weekend; two of these compounds are used during the actual race, while the third is only used during qualifying.
The softest of these three compounds is used during qualifying because this helps drivers set the best lap times. This is important because the position you place during qualifying affects where you are placed on the starting grid for the actual race.
During qualifying day, there are three different qualifying periods that drivers must take part in. When race day comes, the top ten drivers from qualifying are required to use the same kind of tires they used in their second qualifying period. The bottom ten drivers, however, can start the race with whatever tires are available to them.
In a normal dry-weather race, teams are required to use both of the dry-weather compounds they were allotted; using just one is not permitted. However, if the weather requires the use of wet-weather tires, this rule doesn't apply.
During qualifying, wet-weather tires can only be used if the race director mandates it. In addition, all drivers must start the race with wet-weather tires if the weather necessitates the use of the safety car at the start of the race.