The Tyre Rules in F1

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Explain Like I’m 5 Please:

So. I do not understand the tyre rules during practice, quali and race day in F1. Why a certain number of switches and when to switch? How do the strategies work? I sound stupid, I know. I have been watching F1 since I was small but I was always too shy to ask much about the rules and technicalities of it. Also, having a learning disability makes understanding things a a bit tricky sometimes. When I did ask online other places (why did I ask/comment on Instagram??) I got laughed at so I just did not bother. I really do want to learn though, and deepen my knowledge, so any help is really appreciated! Thank you!! 🙂

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3 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

So there are 5 dry compounds, C1 being the hardest going up to C5 being the softest. Plus intermediate and wet tires. All are manufactured by Pirelli (the tire manufacturer).

Now, before each weekend, some decisions are made and provided to each driver before the weekend starts:
1. 3 tire compounds are chosen from the 5 available based on racing conditions by FIA and is a decision followed by all teams, for example, if C2 to C4 is chosen, C2 is considered the hard (colored white), C3 will become medium (colored yellow) and C4 the softest (colored red).
2. In a dry weekend (no rain), each driver is allowed 13 sets of dry tires (combination of hard, mediums, and softs), which are predecided by FIA
3. The drivers are free to choose what tire compounds to use for practice and qualifying (the real rule which I will skip for now, is a bit more complicated with some tires given up after practice and getting back a set after Q3)

In the race (if not affected by rain), at least two pairs of different tire types have to be used.
Some rules are changed if it rains in the weekend, like not requiring two different sets of tires if it’s wet conditions during the race.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Tires are the dark art of racing. Their behavior is hard to predict and those that can light them up, keep the warm, and make them last have huge advantages during a race.

F1 currently has a single tire supplier which is Pirelli.

In years gone by F1 had a tire war where Michellin and Bridgestone would compete to supply teams with increasingly better tires.

This came to a head at the infamous 2005 US Grand Prix at Indianapolis when in testing the Michellin tires were exploding due to the high forces at the Indy motor speedways final banked corner. Michellin were unable to solve the problem in the time they had and told the teams it was too dangerous to race. The FIA refused a suggestion to install a chicane at the corner to lower the speeds and as a result all of the Michellin teams pulled into the pits at the start and refused to race leaving the Bridgestone runners Ferrari, Jordan (today’s Aston), and Minardi (today’s RB) to do a precession style race that was a total farce. This arguably is what caused FIA boss Max Mosley to lose his career, and killed F1 in the US for nearly a decade.

Partly as a result of this F1 agreed to move to a sole tire supplier which was originally Bridgestone.

Pirelli won the contract to be sole supplier in 2011, and that year there was a race that defined the tire direction for the next several years.

Jenson Button had the race of his career at the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix. The wet race saw multiple pit stops and tire changes leading to unpredictably that eventually saw Jenson take an incredible win. F1 decided that tires needed to degrade faster than necessary to ‘improve the show’ resulting in the rather crappy F1 tires we have today. Drivers from other categories like WEC have commented how awful the F1 Pirellis are compared to the Michellins they typically run. With many older F1 fans (and even the drivers) talking openly about how they want Michellin back, but the FIA likes their deal with Pirelli for some reason (money).

As for the rules:

Pirelli supplies 7 different tire compounds to F1 graded C1 to C5 with C1 being the hardest and longest lasting, and C5 being the softest and fastest but also degrades the quickest.

The other 2 being the intermediate and full wet tire.

During a race weekend each team is supplied 13 sets of tires. Being able to pick from between 8 softs, 3 mediums, and 2 hards across a grand prix weekend. Plus the wet weather tires.

They used to be able to pick how many of each compound they wanted, but not any more. Pirelli also used to label C1 to C5 Hard, Medium, Soft, Super Soft, and Ultra soft each with unique color coding but stopped doing that because it was confusing people.

Today whatever compounds Pirelli chooses for a race (C1 through C5) are called Soft, Medium, and Hard during that race.

Teams must fit the same tire compounds to a car, you can’t mix compounds. If you do you get a penalty and have to go back to the pits to fix it.

You also have to run tire pressures mandated by Pirelli. This is because teams were caught deliberately running lower pressures for advantage which was damaging the tires. Mercedes was later caught deliberately overheating their tires during the pre-race so that when they cooled down for the race they would drop below the minimum pressure.

Tires that have laps on them but still have remaining life can be cleaned up or *scrubbed* to be reused later. Sometimes you’ll hear of a team running ‘a scrubbed set’ during the race because they ran out of the compound they needed.

During qualifying the teams typically will run the softest tires available because it’s generally faster to do that. If you make it to Q3 you get an extra set of Softs to make sure your car is going as fast as possible. This is because in previous years teams were known to back off in Q3 to save extra tires for the race.

During the race you must run 2 different tire compounds, effectively forcing teams to pit at least once.

What tires you run is up to the team. The strategists will use the testing data available to them to decide what is the fastest configuration. Be that start on mediums and do 1 pit for hards and go to the end, or do 3 pits medium > soft > soft, etc. The drivers can also be on different strategies and tire compounds, and you can charge your mind during the race. Whatever is advantageous.

Again the softer the tire the faster it is, but it doesn’t last as long. Since pit stops take up to 30 seconds you have to factor in how much time you gain from mounting a certain type of tire.

Wet weather tires also count as a set, so if you swap to rains or back that counts as your 2 sets for the race.

If the race is red flagged the teams are allowed to change the tires on the car, effectively getting a free pitstop.

Similarly a safety car is the best time to pit. Since the cars are running around the track slower, the penalty for a pit stop is less.

You’ll also hear about undercuts and overcuts. This is when teams will decide to pit early or late to try to get an advantage over the other teams.

Anonymous 0 Comments

The basic version, during a dry race, each driver must use at least 2 different tire compounds. So maybe one set of soft tires, and one set of intermediate tires. The softer the tire, the faster the lap times, but the shorter will last.

These rules don’t apply during a wet race. A team could just use a wet tire for the whole race.

This is all part of strategy. How aggressive can you be on the tires, what compounds should you use? When do you switch the tires?
And even a great strategy pre-race has to be changed on the fly based on track conditions, number of yellow flags, etc.