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Formula 1: Rubbered Tracks

Formula One is the most famous motor racing event in the world, attracting millions of fans who watch live and on TV. However, it has a significant effect on the economic and employment markets of the regions that participate.

Also known as Formula 1, or F1 for short, the sport is certainly known as the playground of the rich and famous. With an estimated annual cost of running a Formula 1 team coming in at around $120 million, this includes designing, building and maintaining the racing cars, paying the staff and funding transport costs to races across the world.

Race track

© Bob Daemmrich / Alamy Stock Photo

Thanks to its unrivalled merchandising opportunities, the sport has such a high profile that it attracts investment from many major sponsors. In September 2016, it was reported that Liberty Media was to buy Delta Topco (the company that controlled Formula 1) from private equity firm, CVC Capital Partners.

The deal was finalised in January 2017, when Liberty Media confirmed the acquisition for a hefty $8 billion price tag. While Europe has traditionally been the sport's base, F1 is a global championship, which seeks out new venues. In 2018, 11 out of the 21 races took place at prestigious venues outside Europe.


Formula 1 cars

The cars used in Formula 1 are the world's fastest regulated road racing cars. They achieve high cornering speeds as a result of the huge amount of aerodynamic downforce that they generate.

The races and the design of the cars are governed by the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile, while the brand is owned by the Formula One Group. Since it began in 1950, the annual FIA F1 World Championship has been the leading event on the motor racing calendar.

The cars are governed by a strict set of rules (the "formula"), to which they must all conform. Driving aids such as traction control have been banned since 2008. In 2017, there were major changes in the rules governing the cars' design, which permitted wider rear and front wings and wider tyres. This led to top speeds of around 235 mph.

F1 further embraced hybrid engines in 2019, in a bid to make the sport more environmentally friendly. Engines are limited to a maximum of 15,000 rpm, with the cars being increasingly dependent on electronics, suspension, aerodynamics and tyres.


Track surfaces

Races are dependent on variables such as weather conditions. In particular, the they become more hazardous on wet tracks caused by continual heavy rain. Although measures are put in place to enhance safety, the drivers have to be vigilant and remain aware of the varying grip throughout the race.

The race tracks around the world have numerous different surfaces. Bridgestone Motorsport visits every track on the Grand Prix circuit, including the designated racetracks and the public roads used as a race track in some countries. Each venue has different design considerations to take into account.

Most surfaces are asphalt, although some venues have concrete tracks - the type of tyres used for the race depends on the surface. The layout and roughness of the surface determine which tyre compound will be used.

The smoothest surfaces on the F1 circuit include Montreal and Monaco, while the rougher tracks include Barcelona and the UK's Silverstone. However, it's not as simple as that, as track surfaces aren't constant and can change over the years.

As tracks age, the colour of the Tarmac begins to fade. New tracks are blacker than older ones and attract more heat from the sun as a result. When a track is used often, its surface can get smoother over time, but there can also be a knock-on effect of stones coming up to the surface as the bitumen wears, so it can be hard to predict what the state of the track will be.


Rubbered tracks

Engineers from Bridgestone Motorsport scan each track surface at several points early in the race weekend to ascertain whether it has changed from the previous season. Over the course of a race weekend, the track surface changes continually, as it becomes what the engineers call "rubbered".

Early in the weekend of the Grand Prix, the track surface normally has less grip than it will have after the F1 cars have done a few laps. It is known as "green" at this stage.

As the practice runs and qualifiers take place, the Bridgestone Formula One rubber "goes down", as the process is called. Tyre engineers term this as the track being "rubbered-in".

The effect of the rubbered tracks can vary from place to place. If the tracks are used for a lot of motorsport on a regular basis, a Grand Prix weekend may not make a massive amount of difference to the surface's grip on the whole, but if the Grand Prix is taking place on a seldom-used circuit, then there will be a more dramatic change in the grip over the course of the weekend.

Sometimes, the track will have been resurfaced and this can create issues in itself. Tyre engineers have to analyse the new surface from scratch. They will have no idea what to expect and will have to change their thinking on how to approach the circuit. A new track can have oil emitting on to the surface, making it more slippery. This can become more treacherous if it rains.

If only part of the track has been resurfaced, this creates bigger headaches for the F1 teams. A prime example was a race at the Montreal track, where the hairpin bend was resurfaced AFTER the Saturday qualifiers!

This made it incredibly difficult to work out what the grip would be like for the race itself on Sunday and which tyres to use. Drivers have to be extra-vigilant on these occasions. Adding rain into the equation makes it an even tougher decision in regards to which tyres to use.


Drivers' preference

The drivers each have their own preferences for tracks and surfaces. The current F1 world champion and this year's championship leader, Lewis Hamilton, was vocal in his criticism of Silverstone during the 2018 season. After it was resurfaced, he said it was way too bumpy. In fact, he labelled it the "bumpiest track" he had ever experienced.

However, not every driver shared his views, with McLaren's Fernando Alonso liking the surface, saying it provided more grip and was "less bumpy" than it had been in 2017.

The current racetracks on the 2019 circuit are very varied. Albert Park, the Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit, in Australia, is fast and has hardly any grip until lots of rubber is laid down over the weekend.

There are other challenges to overcome at the Bahrain Grand Prix circuit, which was one that Michael Schumacher was said to favour when he drove for Ferrari - he won there in 2004. The curvy 5.41 km track (the first Grand Prix held in the Middle East) is in the middle of the desert and surrounded by sand. A special adhesive material has to be sprayed on the surrounding sand to try and stop it from blowing on to the track!

This year's British F1 Grand Prix takes place at the Silverstone Circuit on 14th July, when Hamilton is hoping the track is more favourable to his driving style than it was last year!

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