Pirelli and F1: cracking the barcode

May 18, 2012

Pirelli brings around 1,800 tires to each grand prix, but the destiny of these tires is mapped out long before they arrive at the circuit. The tires for each race are made in a specific production run before the grand prix.

They are manufactured at Pirelli’s state-of-the-art motorsport facility in Izmit, just outside the Turkish capital of Istanbul. During the production process, each tire is allocated a barcode provided by the FIA (the sport’s governing body). This barcode is the tire’s "passport," which is embedded firmly into the structure during the vulcanization process and cannot be swapped.

The code contains all the details of each tire, making it traceable throughout the race weekend with Pirelli’s RTS (Racing Tire System) software, which can read and update all the data.

For European grands prix, the tires are then transported to Pirelli’s logistics and distribution hub at Didcot in the United Kingdom. Once they arrive there, an FIA official receives a list of bar codes, which relate to the tires that will be taken to the next grand prix. The FIA then allocates bar codes -- and, therefore, tires -- to each individual teams at random. Pirelli itself is not involved in this process at all, meaning that the Italian firm cannot influence which tires are allocated to which teams -- although a rigorous quality control process in Izmit ensures that all the tires leaving the factory are identical.

Once at the circuit, the tires are then allocated to the teams in strict compliance with the list that has been previously prepared by the FIA. The bar codes allow both the FIA and Pirelli to ensure that the right teams, according to the regulations, are using the correct tires.

Each team is allocated a Pirelli engineer, who works exclusively with that team for all of the year, but the database that every engineer works off allows the engineer to see only information relating specifically to his or her team over the weekend, so that individual strategies are not compromised. Development data is overseen by Pirelli’s senior engineers, who monitor all the information in order to assist the research team in charge of shaping the next generation of tires.

As Pirelli’s Motorsport Director Paul Hembery points out: “Even if we wanted to -- which we certainly don’t -- there is no way that we could influence which tires are being allocated to which teams, as this is a job taken care of entirely by the FIA once the tires have left the Izmit factory. It is just another way that impartiality can be ensured among all the teams, which is a huge priority for us as exclusive tire supplier. The way that our team engineers work also respects this confidentiality, which is always of paramount importance.”


Before the grand prix:

1. Pirelli, with the approval from the FIA, selects the tires for the race -- a softer compound plus a harder compound.

2. Production of the tire allocation begins at the Izmit factory in Turkey. We supply approximately 1,800 Formula One tires for each race; about 700 more if the race is a GP2 round as well as 600 for GP3.

Two weeks before the grand prix:

1. For European events, the tires for the race are transported by road from Izmit to Didcot: a journey of approximately 3100 kilometers that takes three days.

2. The tires arrive at the Didcot facility and have their bar codes scanned into Pirelli’s system. The FIA (the governing body of world motorsport) is then notified of the bar codes.

3. At random, the FIA allocates certain barcodes to each team. The allocated tires are then sorted out by team in Didcot and loaded into seven trucks for transportation to the grand prix (four trucks for F1, three trucks for GP2 and GP3).

One week before the grand prix:

The trucks set off from Didcot for the race, normally arriving on the Monday before the race takes place. The 18 fitters set up the fitting area and the barcodes are confirmed again with the FIA.

Five days before the grand prix:

The fitters start fitting tires onto the rims. It takes an experienced fitter 2.5 minutes to fit one tire from start to finish; for all the tires of the weekend they need two days. The teams own the wheels; they are brought to Pirelli at the circuit for the tires to be fitted onto them.

During the grand prix weekend:

1. The sporting regulations determine that one set of the harder dry tire must be returned after the first practice session, with one set of the softer and one set of the harder compound to be returned before the start of the third practice session. A further set of softer and one of the harder compound must be returned before the start of qualifying. This means that each driver has six sets of the dry compounds (three of each specification) available for qualifying and the race.

2. Tires that are returned get taken off their rims, as they won’t be used anymore, with the rims being returned to the teams.

After the grand prix:

All remaining tires, both used and unused, are taken off their rims and then transported back to Didcot. When they arrive, the tires are taken to a specialized plant where they are shredded and then burned at very high temperature in order to produce fuel for cement factories. The material produced in this process can also be used for road surfaces and other industrial applications.

This is the first of a series of Formula One features that Pirelli will distribute throughout the year.