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Each part of an F1 car works in unison to produce a symphony of sound and fury. Everything from the bodywork to the engine provides that extra boost needed to win each race. Of the most important features, tyres rank very highly, providing a winning combination that would otherwise never be achieved. This work will attempt to illustrate the history of the tyre and show how the development illustrated that of the wider sport.
When we look upon Formula One tyres one is immediately struck by their large size and shape. Certainly different from the tyre's we have on our own vehicles, these tyres are designed to last for a single race, assuming that they survive that long. The force that such tires are under due to vehicles speed and torque ultimately means that special types of rubber have to be implemented.
The tyre division can be best understood through a division into six classes: hard, medium, soft, super-soft, intermediate, and full wet. They are differentiated by colour, tread, grip and durability. The best way to understand the list is by viewing the first 4 types of tyres as being useful in dry conditions whilst the latter two being used in wet conditions.
The history of the tyre system has gone through an enormous array of changes, with the 1990’s and 2000’s marking a particularly exciting time. Different regulations marked drastic alterations, like in 2005 where tyres were required to last for a full race distance without switching. Although this changed in 2006 after the 2005 US grand Prix incident where an accident caused by the tyres caused the regulators to alter their positions.
Since regulations change their use, between periods noted above, the four-grove tyre became a standard thereby eliminating the slick tyre system. With width limitations of 355 mm in front and 380mm at the back, even the diameter was limited to 660mm. However, in 2009 the slick tyres were once more introduced although a greater emphasis was given to mechanical grip of the car.
Tyre suppliers also vary from year to year, with a huge amount of money and investment changing hands. The main division lay between Goodyear, Michelin, Bridgestone and Pirelli. In 2010 Bridgestone ended its monopoly over the system and Pirelli became the sole supplier with a 3 year contract cementing its position. Already testing with Toyota at the Magellan Circuit, the tires are working based on the 2010 rules. Since the 2011 Malaysia Grand Prix, Pirelli took the initiative to provide coloured bands around the tyres for better differentiation.
In whatever form they take, tyres for an essential backbone in the Formula One industry. Their place and history shows a wider alteration in the system, with an abundant array of technical achievements that set this features apart form all others. As the sport evolves so will their purpose, allowing for great innovation and exciting alterations to take place, offering us all a glimpse into the technology that we see in our own cars on a daily basis.