Throughout an F1 race, tactics and data are involved in every corner, none more important than tyre management.
School is in session as Sanctum Network’s Getting A Grip F1 takes you through tyre management.
If you are new to F1, drivers have no assistance when it comes to turning, braking or even spinning – each movement is felt and handled by the car’s tyres.
This means the slightest lapse in concentration can ruin a race weekend.
What causes tyre wear:
For starters, drivers can lock up their tyres. Locking up is when too much force is applied to the brakes, causing the disc to stop or rotate slower than the car’s motion.
The tyre then scrubs along the surface of the track, sometimes creating smoke which leads to tyre degradation.
The damage to the tyres will produce vibrations and limit the driver’s ability to overtake other drivers or maintain a gap in front.
How teams manage tyres:
There are numerous ways drivers and teams can manage their tyres throughout a race weekend.
The speed at which an F1 car is driven is a key contributor. More speed means more tyre wear so to combat this drivers can’t send it around the track the entire time and will have to pick and chose where they give the car maximum power.
Another aspect is the downforce of the car, although determined by how the team designed the car in the offseason it is still a key factor.
The more downforce a car has means the more contact it has with the track which can lead to increased tyre wear especially when there are high cornering and braking sections.
The tyres selected on race day will also impact how quickly they will wear. Softs are the fastest tyre and will help the car stick to the track to create faster lap times but wear out quicker due to the immense speed drivers are racing at.
Hard compound tyres will struggle for grip at the beginning but improve as the race progress which means you can stay out for longer, whilst mediums are the middle ground between the two.
How temperature can impact tyre wear:
Throughout an F1 season, drivers will go to 23 different circuits and each time encounter different track conditions.
In 2020 the 70th anniversary Grand Prix at Silverstone saw track temperatures reach a bubbling 40 degrees.
This saw Pirelli tyres get destroyed by the heat, constantly blistering during the race.
Given the boiling conditions, a softer compound was always going to be more susceptible to alarming failures which meant teams had to do their best to get a sound strategy for race day.
On this day Redbull had a stroke of genius and compromised Verstappen’s qualifying so he could start the race on a hard compound.
Without obvious wear showing he was able to complete a 26 lap first stint compared to half that from his main rival Mercedes.
It was an amazing performance from Verstappen who followed his team’s strategy which was to hold back on his hunt for the silver arrows and still grabbed a podium finish.
How circuits can impact tyre strategy:
In the most recent F1 race the heat and coarse nature of the surface made the Bahrain Grand Prix a difficult one for teams to decide upon a strategy.
In Bahrain to aim for a one-stop is challenging given the levels of deterioration faced over 57 laps.
If the drivers rear tyres overheat then cars will struggling for grip out of turns 3,9 and the final corner which leads to straights and the DRS zones.
To preserve the tyres throughout the race we saw drivers qualify on a medium tyre, saving the hard compound for race day which allowed for a longer opening stint.
Tracks like Spa in Belgium often make for exciting races due to the unpredictable weather.
However, when the weather is fine, it often makes for a boring race as most teams opt for a one-stop race in a cautious approach to their strategy.
In 2020 frustratingly, many drivers reported vibrations throughout the race.
In doing so no one could mount a challenge to Mercedes as drivers were worried about their lack of grip on the hards.
Drivers constantly complained about their tyres overheating, meaning they had to watch their speeds.
As the race dictated a one-stop drivers couldn’t go all out and damage their tyres as they would be overtaken whilst pitting.
Monaco is also a one-stop race for teams as the lack of high-speed corning around the street circuit is helps tyre health.
Given Monaco has low tyre wear the pitstop windows allow for a much wider range of strategies.
Given the tight circuit, an accident that deploys a safety car is likely which allows teams to make on the fly to changes take advantage of the situation.
Teams will also use data from practice sessions and qualifying to help them plan a race day strategy.
A prime example of this was the 2019 Monaco GP, where Mercedes fitted Lewis Hamilton with medium tyres for the majority of the race.
Mercedes believed that through the data they collected during FP2, they could be fully confident that Hamilton would get to the end of the race with no issues.
James Vowles, Mercede’s chief strategist stated ” In Monaco, you typically want the softest rubber you can get away with for the stint length that you are trying to get to”.
“We knew it would be tight, we knew it would need a lot of management but believed based on the Thursday data that the Medium tyre would do the job,” he said.
So there you have it, F1 tyre management and strategy explained! This is just scratching the surface of what teams go through over a race weekend.