How do you conserve tires? They keep rotating?

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Got into Formula 1 recently, and they constantly talk about “conserving tires”, but the tires are always on the road? It’s always spinning? Do they just mean go slower??? Why would you want to go slower in a race?

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There is a saying in racing: To finish first, first you must finish. Going as fast as you can all the time is not always the way to win.

Race tires have a useful lifespan. There are two ways you can blow through it quickly. Lock up the brakes so you abrade a flat spot. Take it too hot for too long and get too much heat in them. Either will cost you traction and performance.

By going a little easier through the turns you build up less heat and wear off less rubber. Over a long race, the longer you can stay out on the track and not in the pits the further ahead you end up.

Yes, basically they just go slower, especially in corners. You do it so that you don’t need an extra pit stop and/or can defend against overtakes of the adversaries. Overtakes in F1 are more about braking later/accelerating earlier and less about raw top speed, so it’s more important to have good tyres in order to have better grip than going faster.

Races are usually won and lost in the pitlane, the less time you can spend in the pits for any reason, the more likely you are to win over a competitor.

When you drive as fast and hard as possible, you wear out tyres quicker and use up fuel faster – both things that will bring you into the pit lane for a stop.

So, you need a strategy, ideally, you want to try and pit for fuel and tires at the same time for example – this means conserving your tires to match your fuel consumption as much as possible, then on your last few laps, you might choose to go hell for leather knowing you’ll be pitting for fuel and tires. Or you might push hard on a new set of tires for a few laps to make up the lost pit time some, then ease off to preserve fuel/tires.

Racing is about more than who’s car can go the fastest 🙂

If you want to see how pit lane strategy can really shake up a race, check our endurance racing, like the 24 hours of le mans – teams can end up rebuilding half a car in the pit lane mid-race and still come back for a podium finish for example. During the LMP1 Hybrid seasons, the manufacturers were also limited on how much fuel they could carry and how much electric power they could deploy each lap etc – race strategy gets really interesting when you add those in!

Racing tyres (Formula 1 is primarily based in England, so “tyres” they are) are very different to the tyres on your road car. The rubber compound is much softer, so that it is stickier and provides more grip. But that grip is only optimum at a certain temperature (around 200^o F) Cold tyres don’t have as much grip, and if you slide around too much on the tyres and overheat them, they will “blister, and “grain” which are indications that the tyre is being destroyed.

So drivers have to keep the tyres at the proper temperature so they have grip but not so hot that the tyres are destroyed. Even within the “acceptable” temperature range, a driver can push the tyres too hard and shorten the life of the tyres. So it is a balancing act: go as fast as you can without taking the life out of the tyres and necessitating an early pit stop for new tyres. In fact, F1 racing can be thought of as a combination of tyre management and fuel management, because they are limited on the amount of fuel they can use, and if they ran at full power the whole race, they would run out of fuel long before the chequered flag.

In racing and F1 specifically it’s not the driving in a straight line that tends to wear out the tires, it’s the braking and cornering.

Concrete is a very abrasive surface which is both good for grip and terrible for tire wear. The very act of driving on it tears rubber off the tires and buries in in the surface of the tarmac. The drivers actually refer to this as rubbering in the track as this thin layer of rubber improves the traction of the surface of the road allowing the cars to go faster. You can actually see the racing line getting darker as the race goes on.

As you brake the tire slows down its rotation with much of the energy absorbed by the brakes in the form of heat, but part of the cars speed it bled off by the tires friction against the ground. This tears off the rubber.

In the corners the lateral G-forces want to push the cars sideways. This tears the rubber off the tires sideways as well creating little balls of rubber called marbles. This is what litters the track with rubber.

F1 tires are also very soft by design compared to much harder road tires. At temperature putting you hand on an F1 tire is like touching hot chewing gum. This makes the tires a lot grippier so the cars can go faster, but the softer compounds wear out more quickly.

So why conserve tires?

Changing tires in a pit stop costs time, and under the current rules going a little slower and not taking the corners as harshly costs you less time during a race than an extra pit stop. You also have to consider the risks of something going wrong in a pitstop.

Back in the 00’s though the tires lasted longer because the Michelines and Bridgestones had better and more durable compounds, and re-fueling was allowed. So the teams had much longer pit stops anyway so changing the tires made sense.

The current range of Pirelli tires are *intentionally* designed to wear out more quickly to “Improve the show” causing the cars to wear out their tires prematurely.

There’s absolutely no reason they couldn’t make the tires last the whole race.