Why do race cars change their tyres?


Pit stops these days are blink and you miss them. With the perfect tyre change taking as little as 1.9 seconds to complete (Mark Webber at the U.S Grand Prix in 2013), it’s a thing of beauty to watch up to 20 pit crew members working in unison, choreographed like ballerinas.

The purpose of pit stops for racing cars is multi-fold, they stop for refuelling, repairs, mechanical adjustments, tyre change, driver change, or as a penalty. While you know why refuelling, adjustments, repairs, driver change, and penalty requirements have to be fulfilled, the question that most minds ponder over is- why in the middle of such a crucial race do drivers need to change the tyres?

Well, the permissions regarding the activities that pit crew can perform depend upon the regulations of the race, and some of them allow the team to replace tyres. Here are the reasons why this change of tyres is important or takes place.

  • For Better Traction

In the car racing universe, it is believed (and is true) that the softer tyres have a better grip on the track. However, they wear out quicker than any other type of tyres. So, the softer the tyres are, the lower will be the lap time, helping you save time even if you opt for a tyre change.

It can be better explained in terms of time you spend completing each lap. Say, you have got hard tyres to begin with and they help you complete the lap in 100 seconds, whereas, the softer ones cover the same lap in 98 seconds. Doesn’t sound like much of a difference, does it?

However, if you consider the number of laps you have to cover, in our example 30, you are saving 2 seconds per lap with softer tyres. So, overall, you save 60 seconds. Now, even if you send 30 seconds in changing softer tyres that last 20 laps, you still complete the race 30 second faster. And if you are at all familiar with car racing, you know that every second counts.

Here, the breakeven point lies in the time you save. Had the softer tyres helped you save just 1 second per lap, the tyre change would have made no difference at all.

Even though the above example is extremely basic and does not take into account various factors such as heat, rain, and lack of grip as the tyre wears out, you can see that the time difference is not huge.

Therefore, the above reason might not come across as strong as the next one.

  1. F1 Rules Require you to Change Tyres

In order to make the race more competitive and introduce some uncertainty to the results, the world famous Formula 1 race requires the cars to use 2 different tyre compounds.

It is the intellect with which the tyre change is managed by Formula 1 Pit Stop about which compounds to use, the order of use, when to perform the change, etc., that make the results vary.

According to the Formula 1 mandates, and unlike any other form of racing, the cars are allowed just one pit stall where their cars are serviced for the winning lap. Yes, almost all cars visit the pit stop when they need a tyre change to fulfil the regulations of Formula 1 racing.

Therefore, the two cars entering the race have to stagger for their pit schedule so that the second arriving car does not lose significant time waiting. Sometimes that cars use ‘double stack’ strategy, allowing both the cars to get serviced within the same lap. In this way, both of them can race with fresh tyres, leaving none with an advantage over the other.

Apart from ‘double stack’, there are two more popular formula 1 pit stop strategies:

  1. Undercut, where the second car battling for the track position decides to make a pit stop first. Taking the first-mover advantage, and that of the new tyres, it can easily overlap the leading car. Especially, if the leading car is stuck in traffic, this strategy becomes unbeatable.
  2. Overcut, which also revolves around the two leading cars, takes place if the leading car uses the time it has to cover as many laps as possible to widen the lead for the second car. For the success of this strategy, the tyres of the leading car have to be in good condition for completing the laps faster. Also, if the car behind gets stuck in traffic, it is always a plus.

The Pit Crew and its role in a Formula 1 Race:

  • Every Formula 1 pit crew has 4 tyre changers who use a pneumatic wrench to remove the lug nut from the car and reinstalling it. Each member is responsible for 1 tyre.
  • Also, there are 8 tyre carriers, two for each wheel. One of the two removes the old tyre and the other puts the new one in place.
  • Two other members stabilise the middle of the car on both sides, aptly named stabilisers.
  • The front wingmen are required to adjust the wings or replace them in case of severe damage.
  • There are front and back Jack Men who use the jack to lift the car and put it back on the ground when needed. The front jack man is at a lot of risk of injury because he has to stand at the entrance as the car enters the pit. It all depends on the brakes whether the Jackman will survive or not.
  • While all of the pit crew is in position when the car enters the pit, the rear jack man takes its position later, owing to their position.
  • Race cars catching fires is quite common and requires a lot of care in the pit crew. Therefore, there is one or many firemen who stand ready with fire extinguishers as soon as the car enters the pit box.

In the end, the car races can be extreme and cars go through a lot of wear and tear in their course. Therefore, many adjustments such as tyre changes can either be required by the participating cars or by the race regulations itself.

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