Cool Technology For Hot TyresThese blankets - known as tyre warmers - work like electric blankets and heat the rubber to between 80 and 100 degrees. That not only ensures optimum grip levels from the moment the car leaves the pitlane, but optimises tyre pressures as well.
"On stone cold tyres," says Toyota star Jarno Trulli, "the car would be very difficult to drive. If you went at anything like racing speed, you'd be straight off the circuit."
Electric tyre warmers were first introduced in 1985 by Mike Drury of the company MA Horne. Teams had tried various methods to pre-heat their tyres prior to then, including wrapping them in black bin liners, but it was Drury who introduced the first bespoke 240-volt blanket.
He now supplies the majority of F1 teams, including Bridgestone-shod Ferrari, WilliamsF1, MF1 Racing and Super Aguri F1, and has a large presence in other categories of motorsport.
While the operation of the blanket has remained largely unaltered over the years, the product has evolved. It now heats the sidewall and internal rim of the tyre as well as the tread area, and the cords used to tighten the blankets are made of Kevlar to stop them burning.
"The teams realise how much of a difference tyre pressures make to the handling of the car," says Mark Drury, son of company founder Mike.
"We developed our product to cover a larger area of the tyre in an effort to speed up the process of getting the pressures up to operating temperatures."
As a rule, it takes approximately 1.5 to 2 hours to heat up the tread area of the tyre and for the pressures to reach their optimum levels. The tyres are then put on the car with the tyre blankets still attached, except at a pitstop, when the blankets are removed 15 seconds before the car arrives in the pitlane.
The blankets cost approximately £2200 per set, and with the teams needing between 36 and 40 sets each, they are a costly - but vital - feature of the F1 pitlane.
And they are set for further development as teams experiment using carbon sheets inside their blankets in an effort to get a more even spread of heat across the tyre.
However, the blankets are at least durable: Ferrari still uses the blankets that Drury made for them in 1996. "We don't need to send an engineer to races," says Drury, "because we never have any problems with our blankets."