As the sole point of contact between the cars and the racetrack, tyres frequently play a decisive role in Formula 1. The sport might rely on a single tyre manufacturer, but that company supplies teams and drivers with no fewer than seven different compounds of tyre across the course of the season: five for dry conditions (the famous treadless slicks) and two for use in wet weather.
Three of the five slick tyre compounds produced are made available to competitors at each grand prix weekend. It is up to the drivers to choose which of those tyres they wish to run, with the regulations stipulating that at least two different specifications must be used during the race itself, not including wet-weather variants, as were necessary at the recent rain-hit Chinese Grand Prix.
Each specification of tyre – recognisable via a colour code on the sidewall – is composed of a different type of rubber: ultra-soft (purple), super-soft (red), soft (yellow), medium (white) and hard (orange).
Every compound presents its own distinct characteristics when it comes to durability, performance and operating window – and each takes a different length of time to reach its ideal working temperature. In a nutshell, the softer tyres tend to offer greater performance, while the harder specifications are generally more durable.
Depending on the nature of the track and how abrasive, clean or twisty it is – not to mention the temperature – each specification of tyre responds differently when it comes into contact with the circuit’s asphalt surface. This places the onus on selecting the tyres that are best-suited to the conditions of the moment and each car’s unique characteristics.
In the particular case of this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix – which will rev into life at 5:00pm CET time on Sunday, April 6th – Nico Hülkenberg and Jolyon Palmer will face a choice between the medium, soft and ultra-soft compounds. Even at night, the temperature in Bahrain is likely to be high, making tyre selection a delicate balancing act. Encouragingly, however, it should be noted that in Shanghai five days ago, Palmer completed the longest race stint of anybody on the ultra-softs, managing to make them last for some 30 laps...
To know more about the Bahrain Grand Prix, click here