Why are the highest performance racing (F1) tires soft, but high performance summer tires for consumer cars are hard?


Why are the highest performance racing (F1) tires soft, but high performance summer tires for consumer cars are hard?

In: 65

Tires in racing don’t last very long. They’re changed pretty frequently and that’s why. Being soft means they have amazing grip, but they deteriorate amazingly fast as well. Consumer tires are hard and can last a few tens of thousands of miles.

Not to mention they need to tolerate much harsher road conditions. F1 races are held on clean pavement. They don’t have potholes to worry about.

Consumer tires are a very different balance relative to race tires. A very soft tire will only last a few thousand miles and few people would buy them since they’d have to change tires as often as they changed oils. And it would be a rather big safety issues – while not changing oils at the recommended intervals will damage the engine, a worn out tire can lead to accidents involving lives. So it is not in the interest of tire companies in general to offer expensive, short lived tires even though they are more expensive because it will likely lead to expensive liability lawsuits. So it is a compromise – make the tires less grippy but harder and therefore more durable.

The highest performing road tires (consumer) are also softer than the long lasting ones. Nonetheless, you cannot compare across very different use cases. Racing tires and their conditions are monitored and maintained by experts and driven by experts – not something that an everyday driver would be committed to do.

Soft racing tires wear fast (50km or less) and have great grip. Hard (road) tires don’t have the same grip but will last 100,000+km.

Race tires are trying to grip the road as much as possible, so they’re super grippy and wear away very fast because they’re soft. On a passenger car that would result in bad gas mileage and having to replace tires every few hundred miles. No one wants that, and no one needs that much grip for normal driving anyway. So passenger tires are harder, trying to provide *enough* grip while lasting much much longer.

Engineering is often about balancing competing factors. There is no “best” tire, only different factors required for different applications. Racers want grip at all costs, but need at least one set of new tires per race. Daily commuters don’t have $1000 a week for tires, but need enough grip not to crash. It’s all about balance.

Just one thing to add past things like wear and cycles: Water. Consumer tires need to deal with the environment. They are hard and treaded so if they go into water, the water is forced into the treads and the tire itself can make good contact with the road underneath. Without those treads, the water would form a film around the tire and you’d lose contact with the road and crash every time (hydroplaning).

They’ll cancel a race due to serious rain far faster than my boss will let me stay home due to bad weather. So my tires need to be more adaptable to varying road conditions.