Pirelli has been the official tire supplier for F1 since 2011 and has done an admirable job. The Italian tire manufacturer replaced tire giant Bridgestone in 2010 when the Japanese brand did not want to continue its association with the sport. Since then, the partnership has grown from strength to strength.
Pirelli's journey in F1
The first few years of the partnership between Pirelli and the F1 teams were, however, rocky, to say the least. The Italian manufacturer was given a clear mandate to produce tires that would degrade much faster than what was the norm with Bridgestone in the past.
The reasoning behind this was what happened in the 2010 F1 Canadian GP, where the Bridgestone tire compounds were too soft for the track and in turn produced a race that had multiple stops.
The race saw drivers trying to manage their tires and extend their stints. Consequently, it produced much better on-track action as multiple strategic options opened up for the teams. While Lewis Hamilton triumphed and won the race for McLaren, it was not clear who would win until the very end. Such an entertaining and engaging race was a rarity in F1 and the custodians of the sport learned from it.
Using the race as a blueprint, F1 wanted to replicate that model and Pirelli obliged. After the first few years, where Pirelli tires used to be one of the biggest newsmakers every weekend, a much better consensus was reached between the manufacturer and the F1 teams.
The focus was now on having tires that yield one or two pitstops per race and not a multi-stopper that started to become the norm in 2011 and 2012. Since then, Pirelli has been more or less on the mark, with tire failures becoming a rarity.
Earlier, there used to be five different tire compounds in the entire range that were color-coded and named accordingly: Hard, Medium, Soft, Super-Soft, and Ultra Soft. Pirelli has now opted for a simpler approach. The tire range will continue to have 5 different tires, but the names have been changed to C1, C2, C3, C4, and C5. So what do they mean? Let's take a look.
What does the tire compound range mean?
The C1 tire is the hardest compound in the entire allocation. This tire is reserved for very abrasive tracks that cause excessive tire wear. Tracks like Bahrain, Barcelona, or Spa, where the load on tires is the highest, tend to see C1 used.
The C2 tire is a step softer than the C1 compound. Every step softer means that the tire compound could be around half a second to a second quicker than its predecessor in terms of peak performance. Simultaneously, tire life will also see a clear drop as compared to C1. C2 tends to be one of the most used tires across the year since Pirelli brings three different compounds to every F1 race weekend.
The C3 tire is right in the middle of the entire compound range. It is softer than the C2 compound and is around 0.5-1 seconds quicker than C2 while suffering from a drop in tire life. C3 tires tend to be used at almost every F1 race weekend during the season, courtesy of their positioning in the range.
C4 tires are softer than C3 tires and are often the softest compounds available. It is around 0.5-1 seconds quicker than the C3 and tends to be the go-to race tire for most teams on tracks like Monaco with the smoothest surfaces.
The C5 tire is the softest of the entire Pirelli range and is brought to use on tracks with the smoothest surface on the calendar. Tracks like Monaco and Canada, where grip is at a premium, require the C5 tire to generate any level of grip from the surface.