Tyre management is one of the most important skills in Formula 1 – as Ferrari have found out in 2022 and 2023 – while graining and blistering can ruin a race.
With Pirelli sending three different dry tyre compounds and most races ending with just one pitstop, making tyres last longer while still retaining pace also gives teams more strategy options.
Drivers like Lewis Hamilton and Sergio Perez are both thought to be masters of this, while Charles Leclerc‘s monster final stint at the 2022 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix secured him second place in the drivers’ championship.
But why do tyres wear in F1, how can it be prevented, and what are marbles, tyre graining and blistering?
What’s tyre graining?
A word you’ll hear on commentary dozens of times per race, graining is where uneven wear occurs across the tyre.
If the tyre surface is too hot then it can cause a strip of the tyre to deform too far and start to flick little strips of rubber off. A lot of these fall back onto the tyre and stick, giving it a grainy texture where they’ve landed.
The problem is it’s poor-quality rubber that’s flicked off, and stops the proper surface of the tyre having so much contact with the track. It can be solved without needing a pit stop though – eventually this just wears away and depending on how skilled a driver is, they can speed up that process (or prevent it happening in the first place).
Additionally, some of these flick onto the track and are left as ‘marbles’. Again, they’re low-quality rubber that accumulates off the racing line and this is why drivers can become more and more reluctant to go off-line as the race goes on.
What’s tyre blistering?
In contrast, blistering is all about what happens on the inside of the tyre. if it gets too hot under the surface, the rubber will separate from the casing and show blisters on the outside of the tyres.
These blisters come from that hot pocket forming underneath the surface of the tyre and bursting out of the rubber, causing a chunk of the tyre to break away.
It’s easy to spot – particularly on slow-motion replays – as a spot on the tyre surface.
Why do tyres wear in F1?
It’s not really the tyres, it’s the track. Or more specifically, track temperature, the surface and corner types.
Tyres wear because they heat up under racing conditions and deform, so tracks in hot countries with plenty of high-speed corners and a rougher surface to begin with form the holy trinity.
On the flip side, street tracks are usually the lowest-deg circuits on the calendar with smoother surfaces and more slow-speed corners. The exception is Singapore, with its vast heat.
Tyres heat up as they are forced sideways across the track while cornering, as despite how they appear on TV, F1 circuits aren’t completely smooth.
Any micro-ridges in the track – what the tyres use to grip – cause the tyres to heat up as the rubber passes over them so the gripper the track, the more the tyres will heat up and wear.
Aside from that, the faster a car corners then the more force is being exerted on that tyre, and the hotter it becomes. With Barcelona increasing the speed of its final sector dramatically by reworking turn 10 and the final chicane complex, that’s made one of the highest-deg tracks on the calendar even more tyre-hungry.
Also important is corner direction. The outside tyres always get worked harder under cornering as the car leans to that side under the immense forces of the corner, so if a track has loads more high-speed left turns than right, then the right-sided tyres will wear out quicker.
How do F1 drivers manage tyres?
When attempting to minimise tyre wear, tyre temperature is the key thing to manage. It’s all about striking the balance of keeping the temperature from getting too high that the rubber is burned through too quickly, while also not driving so defensively that you’re losing too much time anyway.
At the 2023 Spanish GP, Carlos Sainz admitted he’d been managing his tyres for almost the whole race after starting second, which isn’t a good place to be.
The most obvious way to manage the tyre is not making any errors. Running off onto grass or gravel, or even tarmac runoff, won’t do them any good while locking up under braking is the big thing to avoid.
That flat-spots the tyres – literally squaring off a bit of the circle – and can damage the suspension if it’s a significant spot and the driver stays on flat-spotted tyres for too long. It ruins the ride of the car and gets worse and worse as the race goes on, as the tyre will find the flatspot under braking more.
Apart from that, just being gentle with the car without sacrificing too much speed is the best thing to help. Not turning in too harshly, and exiting corners smoothly, helps greatly for example.