Cornering Confidence: How F1 Tires Redefine Racing Dynamics


Throughout the history of grand prix racing, tires have held a pivotal role in determining victory, serving as the sole connection between the vehicle and the road. This fundamental truth remains consistent from the inaugural world championship event in 1950 to the present day, despite the evolution of Formula 1 technology. The perpetual challenge persists: how to extract maximum grip and cornering speed from the tires without compromising their durability.


Specification of Formula One Tires

The current specification of Formula 1 tires has transitioned from the previous 13-inch size to all-new 18-inch models, introduced several years ago as part of significant technical regulations changes. Manufactured by Pirelli, these tires underwent meticulous development, including over 10,000 hours of indoor testing, 5,000 hours of simulation, and the creation of 70 virtual prototypes across 30 different specifications. Following a successful debut season under the revised regulations, Pirelli implemented compound adjustments in 2023, informed by testing during practice sessions at select Grands Prix and post-season trials in Abu Dhabi. Beyond their impact on Formula 1, Pirelli's 18-inch tires align more closely with everyday automotive products, facilitating technology transfer and benefiting the broader road industry through continual innovation.


In Formula 1, tire compounds denote the hardness or softness of the rubber, introducing a critical variable to race strategy and pit stops. Pirelli, the exclusive tire supplier since 2011, offers drivers a choice of soft, medium, and hard compounds for dry conditions, distinguished by red, yellow, and white markings respectively. Additionally, blue-marked full-wet tires and green-marked intermediate tires are available for racing in rainy or damp conditions. Unlike other motorsport categories allowing mixed compounds, Formula 1 mandates the use of a single compound across all four wheels at all times.


Difference Between Soft, Medium, and Hard Tires


 Tires and alloy wheels for Ferrari racing cars


There are three types of tires that drivers can choose during the race.


Soft Tires

Soft tires are the quickest option but tend to degrade faster than harder compounds.


Medium Tires

Medium tires serve as a middle ground, slower than softs but faster than hards. They offer a balance between performance and durability.


Hard Tires

Hard tires offer the least grip but are designed to last the longest without deteriorating.


Scoring and Terms Related to F1 Tires

The C1 to C5 scoring system categorizes the five dry compounds available throughout the season, ranging from the hardest (C1) to the softest (C5). Pirelli selects three compounds for each Grand Prix weekend based on track characteristics, aiming to balance performance with safety and marketing considerations to prevent blowouts and excessive wear-related failures. Thus, the same compound may receive different markings depending on the event's tire selection.


Formula 1 terminology includes terms specific to tire management, such as "scrubbed," which refers to preparing new tires for optimal performance; "blistering," a result of overheating damaging the tire surface, and "graining," where excessive heat causes the rubber to break off and adhere to the tire surface, among others. These terms reflect the intricacies of tire behavior and degradation observed in high-performance racing environments and the challenges of street racing.


Reasons Why Some Tires Feature Grooves

The primary function of grooves on a tire is to expel water from wet road surfaces, a safety necessity for everyday consumer vehicles. However, these grooves compromise dry-weather handling to some extent by reducing the amount of rubber in contact with the road. In contrast, this isn't critical for regular road use, in Formula 1, where every fraction of performance counts, a completely smooth "slick" tire is preferred for optimal cornering speed in dry conditions. The transition from grooved to slick tires in Formula 1 began in the early 1970s and gained popularity rapidly. However, a mandate required the return to grooved tires from 1998 until the end of 2008 in an effort to reduce car speeds, a period not fondly remembered by many.


Number of Tires a Driver Can Utilize over a Formula 1 Weekend

The complexity of tire management is compounded by regulatory constraints. Each driver is limited to a maximum of 13 sets of dry-weather tires for the entire three-day weekend, with allocations distributed across different compounds: two hard sets, three medium sets, and eight soft sets. Further nuances arise from the requirement to return two sets after each of the three practice sessions, leaving only seven sets for qualifying and the race. Additionally, drivers must retain at least one set of soft tires for potential use in the Q3 qualifying session. Those advancing to Q3 must return this set after qualifying, while those who do not may keep theirs for the race. Moreover, during a fully dry race, drivers must use at least two different slick compounds, necessitating a pitstop.


Drivers have the freedom to change tires multiple times if deemed strategically advantageous and if sufficient sets are reserved during practice and qualifying. For wet weather, each driver has access to four sets of intermediate tires and three sets of wet tires. During sprint race weekends, the dry tire allocation is reduced to 12 sets, and drivers are mandated to use soft tires throughout qualifying. Following the sprint race, drivers must return the set they used for the most laps during this shorter race.


Rules on Drivers Sharing Tires

Tire allocations are strictly allocated per driver, regardless of their team affiliation. If one driver withdraws from the race or the entire race weekend prematurely, their teammate cannot utilize their unused tire sets. Tire sets are distinctly marked according to their allocation, simplifying enforcement. This regulation does not accommodate errors; for instance, when George Russell was mistakenly given Valtteri Bottas's tires during the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix, resulting in a 20,000 fine for the team.


How Do Teams Formulate Tire Strategies?


Ferrari pit-crew practices tire change on practice day


While tire strategy regulations are driver-centric, the decision-making process for tire planning throughout the weekend is a team effort. Teams typically utilize the first practice day to experiment with different compounds and evaluate the optimal tire strategy for the race as part of racing tactics. This decision involves a combination of insights from Pirelli, degradation assessments from simulated long runs mimicking race conditions, evaluation of circuit characteristics, and consideration of Sunday's weather forecast. If rain is predicted, there is less pressure on dry tire resources as drivers can rely on their wet-weather allocation, preserving their dry allocations. Conversely, if hot weather, which typically increases tire wear, is anticipated, teams must ensure they have sufficient tires for multiple changes. Circuit layout influences tire strategy in several ways: if overtaking is challenging and being stuck behind another car is probable, teams may opt for more pitstops to keep their driver on a clear track.


Additionally, tracks with close walls and a higher likelihood of safety car deployments may prompt teams to plan for more stops, as changing tires during a safety car period incurs minimal time loss compared to competitors driving at reduced speeds. Once the target resources for Sunday are determined, teams can plan their tire usage for the remainder of practice and qualifying sessions accordingly. While the ideal scenario may involve using soft tires throughout all three parts of qualifying for optimal performance, regulations necessitate compromises, the ramifications of which may only become apparent during the latter stages of the race.



Formula 1 tires represent far more than mere rubber on the road; they are the linchpin of racing dynamics, influencing every aspect of competition. From the evolution of tire technology to the intricacies of tire management strategies, F1 teams are engaged in a perpetual quest for the perfect balance between grip, durability, and performance. The transition to larger 18-inch tires, meticulous compound selections, and the strategic allocation of limited resources add layers of complexity to the sport, shaping the outcomes of races and championships alike. As Formula 1 continues to push the boundaries of automotive engineering, one thing remains certain: the role of tires in redefining racing dynamics will remain paramount, driving innovation and excitement on the track for years to come.