If you think the topic of tyres is boring, think again. It is one of the most crucial factors in F1 performance and teams spend hours of every race weekend analysing the temperatures, pressures and wear rates because of the huge effect they have on the end result.

Some drivers – like Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz – are hailed for being able to make a single set of tyres last for ages, while other drivers seem to suffer deterioration far quicker. Likewise, some cars are harder on tyres than others.

Ultimately, the key to good tyre preservation is a good set-up and good tyre management – and those who can do that well in F1 have a big advantage.

What is tyre saving in F1?

Tyre saving is all about managing how the tyre wears and degrades, to maximise the lifetime and give the biggest options on strategy choice.

In both qualifying and racing, getting tyres up to temperature and into their optimum operational window as soon as possible is crucial. Too cold and they will slip, slide and wear out quickly; too hot and they could blister, even before the end of a single lap.

That is why drivers not only focus on the fastest time but must also make sure the push for performance does not deteriorate their tyres too quickly. Otherwise, they will be grumbling for grip and having to make a quick return to the pits for new rubber.

Used Pirelli tyres

What makes a tyre degrade and wear?

The performance of a tyre is affected by two unique aspects of deterioration: degradation and wear. Tyre degradation is the effect of temperature on the compound, whereas tyre wear is the deterioration of the tyre surface through contact with the track.

If the tyre temperature goes too high, the compound can break up more quickly and that can alter its ability to grip the surface. Equally, in low temperature the tyre can slide across the track surface more and will be worn away like wood is by sandpaper.

SO many different factors can affect how a tyre deteriorates. Some can be managed, others must be overcome, but all combine to create an extremely complex challenge for the engineers and the drivers. The key ones include…

Track layout

The types of corners can make a major difference on how the tyre is loaded, and that will affect how it deteriorates. High-speed corners, particularly esses, involve high energy transfer and can quickly heat up the tyres, whereas slow hairpins can see more tyre slip.

Track surface

Different tracks are made using different materials and some are billiard smooth while others are rough, like different grades of sandpaper. Suzuka, for example, is particularly tough on tyres because of its high abrasion surface added to a lot of high-energy corners.

Weather conditions

A cold track is likely to cause more wear while a hot track likely to create more degradation. To protect tyres from extreme heat in Qatar, a maximum stint length was enforced.

Tyre choice

Teams have three types of tyres to choose from on a race weekend and must use two different types during the race, making deterioration a major factor on strategy.

Car setup

The way a car is set up can dramatically affect the tyre forces. Different factors include suspension set-up, ride height, centre of gravity, downforce and brake balance.

Driving style

Driving aggressively puts temperature into a tyre and can also make it slide. Locking a wheel can cause a flat spot, which creates horrible vibrations and adds to deterioration.

Pirelli tyres

Why do some tyres degrade and wear faster?

The tyres used in F1 vary in construction and compound – and that affects how they deteriorate during a race.

There are five different tyres in the current Pirelli range, from the hardest, C0, to the softest, C5. The C0 is used at circuits that take the most energy out of the tyres, as although they provide less performance they can run for long stints; the C5 is better for slow circuits where maximum mechanical grip is required, but it is prone to high wear and degradation.

Before each race weekend, Pirelli will select three of the compounds from the five available as the tyre options for the race weekend – marking them as red (soft), yellow (medium) and white (hard). These are usually consecutive in the range – for example C0/C1/C2, C1/C2/C3, C2/C3/C4 or C3/C4/C5.

Why do drivers save their tyres?

The fundamental factor behind the need to save tyres is race strategy. During a race weekend, teams will analyse performance data to determine the ultimate pit stop strategy for the race. They will define the number of stops and when they will make them, based on computer models that use real life data to predict lap-by-lap tyre degradation.

To achieve the optimum strategy, the driver must match those tyre degradation models. If the tyres wear too quickly, the lap times will slow and they will quickly move out of that ideal window. That could cost them positions, podiums and points.

The aim is to balance target lap times and tyre deterioration and the team’s engineers are constantly analysing data and re-working the models to take into account what is happening lap by lap. Those messages are then relayed to drivers – telling them to either speed up or take more care of their tyres.

Some teams are better at it than others. Red Bull, for example, has a big team of strategists working the data and a pair of drivers who are pretty strong at managing race pace. They also have an exceptional car, which helps a lot. In contrast, the Haas regularly has potential for strong race pace but often eats through their tyres, reducing their strategy options.

Lance Stroll and Sebastian Vettel at Miami GP 2022

How do F1 drivers save their tyres?

F1 cars are fitted with a multitude of sensors that continually monitor tyre conditions. These include pressure sensors, temperature sensors and thermal imaging cameras. All of this data helps the team analyse what is happening and guide the driver on how to manage the race.

To keep a tyre in good shape, a driver generally needs to be ‘kind’ to it. Treat it gently and it will last for longer; drive aggressively and it will overheat quickly. Some of the factors that can help reduce deterioration are:

Tyre selection

Choosing the correct tyre for the conditions in the first place is essential. That comes down to gathering and understanding practice data to predict how the tyres will behave, then choosing the right tyres and strategy to maximise the potential of the car. One team, for example, may prefer a three-stopper with two softs and a medium, whereas another may be better off on a two-stopper with soft then hard.

Tyre temperatures

Teams use tyre blankets to heat them up into the right window on the grid and on the formation lap drivers will often spin the rear wheels to raise their temperature before the start. During the race, tyres are kept in racks in the garage, with electric wrap-around covers carefully managed to a specific temperature until they need to be used. If there is a safety car, drivers will be seen weaving on track before the restart, as the friction from the rapid swerving motion quickly brings the tyres back up to temperature.

Car set-up

Drivers can alter settings such as brake bias in the car to help reduce tyre wear or improve tyre warm-up, while the teams can also change mechanical and aerodynamic settings during pit stops, and these minor tweaks can sometimes have a major effect. For example, shifting brake bias from rear to front will reduce the heating effects on the rear tyres, helping to prolong their life; adding more front wing will create more grip on the front tyres, which can reduce wear if tyres are slipping and the car is understeering.

Using all the road

There is an optimum racing line for every corner, but by changing a braking point, altering a turn-in point or hitting the apex differently, drivers can maintain pace through the corner but reduce the work done on the tyre. Lowering the braking, acceleration and cornering forces that go through the tyre is a core part of tyre management.

Lift and coast

Lifting off and braking at lower speeds reduces the heat in the brakes and, therefore, means less heat goes into the tyres. Equally, easing through a corner, rather than powering out of the apex, is easier on the tyres too. Clearly, it also reduces the speed at which the car gets back onto a straight, but in certain circumstances that is a price worth paying.

Smoother inputs

A smooth driving style is an essential part of saving tyres and allowing the car to flow and gently putting the power down when exiting a corner will give the tyre a much easier time. If a driver turns and adjusts the steering angle aggressively, the tyres will move more and take more damage. Likewise, if a driver is aggressive on the throttle and causes wheelspin, that will cause more damage to the tyre – so a smoother application of the throttle will limit how much the tyre spins, reducing unnecessary wear on the tyres.

Do other series have to tyre save?

Different series have different approaches to tyres – and that affects how much tyre wear there is and how important it is to save tyres.

In Formula E, for example, cars use road car tyres and degradation is taken out of the equation. There is rarely any mention of tyre wear, as the strategy is more focused on the percentage of battery power at the end of the race, with energy conservation the key factor.

IndyCar and DTM experience similar wear and degradation issues to F1, but they do not have tyre blankets to benefit from. Meanwhile, MotoGP runs asymmetrical tyres, which helps to reduce wear when tracks have more turns of a certain direction.

Falken Tyres

Looking after your own tyres

While looking after tyres in F1 is always a hot topic, very few F1 fans actually pay attention to the tyres on their own cars – and it can be costly. Underinflated road tyres cause problems with handling and performance and they also cost UK drivers a collective £1bn in fuel efficiency losses each year.

When was the last time you checked your tyres? To help you out, Esso has joined forces with Kwik Fit to offer free tyre check pop-ups at 25 fuel stations across the UK from October 16th to October 27th. They are even giving out prizes to encourage you along.

To find out where your nearest pop-up is, visit the Esso website here: https://www.esso.co.uk/en-gb/tyrepressure