The History of Tyres in Formula 1

One of the most significant roles in Formula 1 racing are played by the tyres. Throughout the history of Formula 1, from when it was first introduced in 1950 up until now, racing tyres have undergone a lot of major changes that have impacted the sport from what it was, to what we know and love today.

A majority of the changes to Formula 1 tyres changes were triggered by various technological advancements and the quest by manufactures in the automobile industry to provide a better and safer driving experience for both the driver and spectators of the sport. Tyre manufactures recognised the fact that the tyres are the first point of contact between the track and the car so it needs to be able to withstand any and all obstacles to ensure the safety of the driver. There are distinct differences between Formula 1 tyres and normal tyres: one of the most significant differences is the fact that the life span of a car tyre is up to 50,000 miles while a Formula 1 car tyre is built to last for a limited number of laps, dependent on conditions and usage. This article is going to be briefly exploring the history of tyres in Formula 1, the changes and regulations implemented by the bosses at Formula 1 to ensure the safety of its drivers.

1950s

The first tyres used in Formula 1 were thin and tall, with treads. All four of the car’s tyres were the same size and manufactured by Pirelli.

1960s

The early 1960s saw the introduction of wider and fatter tyres designed to stabilise the cars when making sharp turns. Towards the end of the 1960s, Dunlop introduced the idea of using different sized tyres on the same car: bigger in front and smaller in the back.

1970s

Slick tyres were first seen during the Formula 1 racing season in 1971 released by Goodyear, the design was introduced to provide more grip in wet weather conditions, something the slick wheels couldn’t accommodate. By 1977, tyre sizes were wider and bigger, the tyre positions were also switched so that the front tyres were smaller while the rear tyres were taller and wider. Around this time Michelin also released the first radial tyres, which were designed to give the driver a more constant ride height in reaction to the aerodynamics.

1980s

Previously the manufacturing of Formula 1 tyres was handled by specific companies mainly through competitive pricing at tender. But, by the 1980s, the market grew fierce and companies were now competing to win bids by trying to create the best tyres. Companies like Goodyear, Michelin and Pirelli won a majority of the bids and were therefore the sole providers of tyres. Goodyear went on to manufacture Formula 1 tyres from the 1980s up until 1997. This period also saw the reduction of the tyre sizes, and the front and rear tyre sizes started to even out to what we have today. In 1985 we saw tyre blankets being used for the first time. They were used to extend the lifespan of the tyres by warming them up while at pit stops.

1990s

The first major change to Formula 1 tyres in the 1990s was when grooved tyres were introduced, which also marked the end of Goodyear’s tenure as the official Formula 1 tyre providers. Grooved tyres were meant to improve grip and handling around sharp corners. Formula 1 approved tyres were later required to have 3 groves in the front tyres and 4 in the rear tyres.

2000s

From the late ’90s up until 2008, regulations about tyres got tighter. They required a minimum of four grooves in order to slow down the cars. They also specified the sizes of tyres depending on weather conditions. For the period 2005 to 2006, tyre changes were disallowed during races, which made it harder for vehicles to complete a whole race, as the tyres were not designed for such distance. This regulation was later over-turned in 2006 after some controversy surrounding the 2005 US Grand Prix. In 2009, slick tyres were also reintroduced at the start of the season along with other changes that stabilise the mechanical grip, especially when overtaking. From 2011 up until now Pirelli continues to be the sole provider of tyres for Formula 1 racing.

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