The huge forces F1’s fastest cars ever are exerting on their tyres

2020 F1 season

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Formula 1 cars are faster than ever in 2020, and may prove to be the fastest we see for many years to come.

Track records have fallen at three of the four circuits the championship has raced at so far this year. But those falling lap times mean ever higher cornering speeds. That, plus the growing weight of the cars, means their tyres are under great strain than ever.

The sport’s official tyre supplier Pirelli discovered this at Silverstone, where its hardest compound was pushed to the limit. Prompted by an early Safety Car period, teams ran long stints on the tyres in the race, which led to several drivers experiencing late tyre failures during the final laps.

Speaking exclusively to RaceFans, Pirelli head of motorsport and F1 Mario Isola gave insight into the forces its tyres are being subjected to by the fastest-ever generation of F1 cars.

“In a condition like 2019-2020 where the technical regulations are consistent, the normal [performance] increase is in the range of 10%. It is reflected on the lap time, average lap time, of an improvement of one to 1.5 seconds. That is a normal situation.”

This is not necessarily always reflected in real world differences in lap time at every track (below) due to variations in conditions from year to year. Particularly so in 2020, as some races are being held outside of their usual windows: The Spanish Grand Prix was moved back three months and run in much hotter weather than usual, for instance.

Silverstone is one of the most demanding circuits for tyres, and through its quickest cars some spectacular forces were recorded.

Copse corner subjects F1 tyres to extreme forces
“Talking about the front left tyre, they are running in turn nine, Copse, at 290kph [180mph]. On that turn you have a vertical load on the single tyre that is 1,300 kilos and you have a lateral load on the same tire at the same time that is 1,400 kilos.”

Each of these simultaneous forces is therefore well in excess of the weight of a current F1 car fully loaded with fuel.

“I don’t think that other corners are much lower loads,” Isola added, “we have many other corners where the load is huge.

“Then you are braking, you have traction from the rear, so there are many other loads and forces that are acting on the construction of the tyre. That’s why we have we have to monitor that and improve the construction.”

The failures seen at Silverstone were a result of the highest forces Pirelli has ever encountered, it said. Unsurprisingly the two quickest cars in the field – the Mercedes W11s – were both among the three cars which suffered late-race front-left tyre failures in the closing laps.

Pirelli ordinarily revises its compounds from year to year. This did not happen in 2020 as the teams unanimously rejected the tyres which were developed for this season. Isola believes those unraced prototypes would have been better able to withstand the severe forces modern F1 cars are generating.

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“The reason why every year we change the product – that is something that didn’t happen last year to this year – is that we increase the level of the integrity or the level of stress that the construction can sustain.”

Mercedes suffered blistering at second Silverstone race
This weekend F1 heads to Spa-Francorchamps, where corners such as Eau Rouge, Raidillon, Pouhon and Blanchimont will deal another hammering to the tyres. This is another circuit where Pirelli has experienced tyre problems in the past, notably for Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel five years ago.

But while the demands of Spa and Silverstone were foreseen, Pirelli faces an added challenge this year. The disruption caused by the pandemic has led to several new circuits being added to the calendar.

Some of these may prove particularly demanding for the tyres. Mugello, for instance, features many high-speed corners in quick succession. A return to Istanbul Park is expected, meaning F1 cars will once again tackle its renowned, quadruple-apex left-hand turn eight.

Isola says Pirelli “need to supply tyres that can support any load” and will draw on their experience of these circuits from other championships to ensure they are well-prepared.

“We have worked together with FOM and the FIA in order to get simulations and understand which is the level of load also for a new circuit like Mugello or Portimao that is also quite high severity.

“We have experience with other categories because we supply many championships. We go to Mugello, to Imola and Portimao for example, with GT cars more than once per year.

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“But Formula 1 cars are different so we need proper simulations to understand the level of load or to predict the level of load and then come back with an idea of prescriptions. That means limitation in camber and pressure.”

However demanding these new circuits prove to be for the tyres, Pirelli has to ensure its 2019 compound range performs at them.

Vitaly Petrov, Caterham, Mugello, 2012
Mugello will be a demanding new challenge for F1 tyres
“Obviously we’re not here to say we are not going or we are going to a certain circuit,” said Isola. “It’s a very difficult year for everybody with this pandemic, with this situation.

“F1 is putting a lot of a very big effort in trying to put together a calendar. Europe at the moment is the place where we can race so they are looking for new circuits.”

F1 will visit the first of these new venues, Mugello, in three weeks’ time. Isola expects these tracks will bring a welcome extra challenge for the teams which may even produce some unexpected results.

“It could be interesting and nice because there is a bit more unpredictability. For the engineers it will be more difficult to set up the car. Think about Imola, if it is a two-day event they will not have a lot of time to set up the cars and so on.”

This was supposed to be the last season before new rules both cut downforce levels and introduced 18-inch wheels to F1. This has now been postponed by a year.

In order to assist Pirelli, F1 announced changes to the cars’ floors for next year to reduce downforce and therefore alleviate the high forces the tyres are experiencing. Following the Silverstone failures it told teams further changes would be made to ease the strain on the tyres.

Record-breaking lap times and extreme corning forces are therefore likely to be a thing of the past in 2021.

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 24 comments on “The huge forces F1’s fastest cars ever are exerting on their tyres”

    1. Not necessarily a 100% given in response to the last sentence: I expect the lap times to still be more or less the same or thereabouts as in this and the last two seasons (for some tracks, the 2018 event is the one that holds the outright record). Slightly faster on some tracks, slightly slower on others, but time will tell.

    2. (1,400)^ + (1,300)^ = (1,910)^ … 4,203 pounds on the tire.

    3. Many people have given Pirelli a hammering in relation to their tyres, at times me included (I personally hate the effect that thermal tyre degradation has on the races). I think what would be useful in terms of getting across to fans and media how difficult a job they face, would be to supply us with “relative”, “quantifiable” data (if they can obtain it). 1300-1400 kilos at 180mph does sound like a lot, but it’s still difficult to quantify compared to other eras in F1. What were the forces like: before the halo, before the hybrid era, during the refuelling era, during the 90s, 80s? It’s all well and good saying that the tyres are being subjected to the “highest forces ever” but that doesn’t mean that much to the layperson if they can’t compare it to anything. Comparable figures are much more meaningful (etc 30% higher than in 2009, or 1300 kilos of vertical load through copse corner in 2020 compared to 1000 kilos in 2005). If Pirelli took this approach, I think everyone would be much more understanding of the task they face and understand what beasts are being driven today.

      1. I like that idea, however Pirelli wouldn’t have this information as they were not involved, and teams either would be unwilling to share if they had it or bound still by confidentiality with their suppliers (Michelin, Bridgestone etc) through commercial agreements at the time, or the going back even further, this data wouldn’t have measured

        G

        1. Thank G, surely someone would be able to give a reasonable estimate…

        2. You would have to think that Pirelli would have data from every year they have been supplying tyres and also a good idea about it what sort of loads they should be expecting this year and next. It would be good to see the load increase from last year as a reference, greatest forces ever could be an increase of 1kg from last year! I imagine last year was also the greatest forces ever, until this year, and I guess next year also has a chance at being the greatest forces ever.

          I don’t envy their job, but with all the criticism leveled at them, I do feel like tyres will always be a battle between tyre companies and team engineers. The team engineers have a task of building a car to exploit the tyres to their fullest potential and the tyre company needs to constantly build a better tyre to exceed the new equilibrium levels of force/heat etc. Even at the lowest levels of motorsport there is always tyre management, a go-karter who puts a new set of tyres every time they go out on track will always have an advantage over the competitor who can’t afford to do that. WRC, MotoGP, WEC all have the same situation, they all need to manage tyres, I can’t think of one that doesn’t.

      2. @3dom with regards to forces, there is an SAE Technical Paper (No. 980399) “Aerodynamic Design Considerations of a Formula 1 Racing Car” by Ben Agathangelou and Mike Gascoyne, which gives an indication of the potential magnitude of the vertical forces.

        That particular paper discusses the effective coefficient of lift (Cl) of the cars, with a reference area of 1.47 square metres used, for the period from 1989 to 1997 for Tyrrell’s Formula 1 cars.

        The maximum value occurs in 1992, where Cl is about 3.05; assuming normal atmospheric conditions, a 1992 Tyrrell 020B would have been producing a total of approximate 1,800kg of downforce at a speed of 290kph. Now, there is the caveat that the above answer is for a steady state condition, whereas the article is talking about transient loading conditions due to dynamic effects.

        1. Thanks anon, maybe Pirelli could use equations to get a rough estimate

    4. I wish articles like this (reasoned, clear and balanced) would be actually read by all the haters and go some way to dispel the viscous comments that get laid at Pirelli, criticising them for the product they make… lets wait and see if any of these sorts pop up

      G

    5. People are making excuses for Pirelli given these 2019 tyres cannot bear the 2020 loads, but I’d argue having tyres with such narrow margins of allowable load are a huge error on their part in the first place. If a manufacturer finds 1 second unexpectedly, the tyres can’t cope anymore.
      Bridgestone or Michelin would do a far better job.

      1. Michelin and Bridgestone wouldn’t do the job at all. They would only make everlasting tyres that wouldn’t give any racing.

      2. Nonsense.
        Michelin and Bridgestone – and indeed any other manufacturer – would do essentially the same thing.
        A tyre that is much stronger and more robust than required would inevitably be rejected by the teams for not performing well enough or feeling nice enough on the current cars that it was designed for. That’s basically what happened with the 2020 spec Pirelli’s.
        Every race tyre supplier is in a constant struggle to make tyres that perform to a desired performance level subject to varying physical demands.
        This Pirelli bashing is seriously tiresome. They aren’t perfect by any stretch, but comparing them to other suppliers who last made F1 tyres a decade ago for vastly different cars is just pointless.

      3. Finding an extra second isn’t the problem, the problem is how the driver uses the extra power that gives them the extra second. The teams rejected the stronger tyres that were better suited to what Pirelli believed were the forces likely to be encountered this season, saying they much preferred the weaker 2019 tyres.
        I don’t see how Michelin or Bridgestone tyres could have fared any different. F1 put out a tender and chose the cheapest tyres that met their specifications. If Michelin or Bridgestone had won the tender then they’d be making a cheaper tyre than what Pirelli make. It’s unlikely such a tyre would be stronger, more resilient, and perform better than what Pirelli make while making a profit for the tyre company, and they’d have to bear the grumblings of disgruntled fans who blame them for the teams who don’t change their tyres when they wear out in a race.

    6. This is self harm by the teams who rejected the new tyres Pirelli offered because they thought they would benefit Mercedes most of all.

      Sometimes these team bosses look remarkably like a pack of squabbling kids happy to destroy what is clearly good for them collectively just to damage a rival.

      1. Bridgestone and Michelin did 50.000 km of tyre testing each year, Pirelli don’t. We are witnessing how good Michelin are in MotoGP where they can’t even provide consistente tyres one set from the other and they have more testing time than F1 anyway…

    7. Bridgestone and Michelin did 50.000 km of tyre testing each year, Pirelli don’t. We are witnessing how good Michelin are in MotoGP where they can’t even provide consistente tyres one set from the other and they have more testing time than F1 anyway…

    8. Gravity is by far the weakest of the known forces – approximately one with thirty nine zeros after it times weaker that the electrostatic force.

      The gravitational pull of the entire Earth on a piece of paper is less than the electrostatic pull from a plastic comb run through one’s hair [should one be fortunate enough to have retained one’s hair] – the paper sticks to the comb and does not succumb to gravity.

      Engineers can easily calculate the forces involved in the motion of a motor vehicle. The vehicle and its components should be designed to cope with those forces.

    9. The thing is though. Hamilton actually went substantially slower during that stint in Silverstone compared to 2019.

      The problem pointed out by the drivers and fixed for the next race, was the gap in the kerb at the Chappel. We saw the same issues at Spa when there was kerb issue through eau rouge.

      Combined with the long stint. Vettel and Raikkonen had the same tyre issue at Silverstone in 2017 when they went for longer stints.

    10. Isn’t making the cars lighter a simpler solution? less stress and strains on the tyres and brakes, cars more nimble so can be pushed more, drivers feeling the car more…etc

      1. Gordon Murray would certainly think so, however I personally feel that this is dangerous ground. One of the single biggest contributing factors to the increased weight of the cars is the PU and all its inherent technology (another being safety and strength of the chassis themselves)
        I am a huge fan of the PU’s (and obviously safety as well) however, so its hard for me to criticise the weight of the cars on that basis

        G

        1. @unklegsif Agreed. And based on the things you’ve pointed out, making them lighter is far from a ‘simple solution,’ other than just in theory. Perhaps with their next iteration of engine/pu they can look at a weight loss program.

    11. So, my tires are outperformed by the cars that I am suppling. And the organizer, instead of putting pressure on me, to make tires that actually fit the current force loads that the cars generates, put the pressure on 10 design teams (well, 9 design teams and one copying team), that now have to modify their floor for the next year. Bravo.

      F1, The pinnacle of stupid rules.

      1. But you DID design and manufacture new specification tyres to meet the performance of the cars, however the teams decided to veto your new and improved product for their own, selfish purposes

        these are the exact sorts of short sighted, Pirelli bashing comments that I was expecting :roll:

        G

        1. @unklegsif the counter argument from the teams is likely to be that, based on their experience of testing those tyres in 2019, they felt that the 2020 tyres that Pirelli had produced didn’t meet the targets that Pirelli said they would (namely the larger working temperature window and reduced potential for overheating).

          The response from the drivers was largely neutral to negative, as it was from the teams, as they both felt that the 2020 prototype tyres were basically no different to the 2019 tyres in terms of their performance characteristics – with that negative criticism in mind, it does raise the question of whether the 2020 prototype tyres would necessarily be all that better.

          It also has to be said that, at the moment, we do seem to be largely hearing Pirelli’s side of the story – has anybody asked the teams to give their opinion on whether the 2020 prototype tyres would have been any better this year?

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