A day in the life of a tyre fitterWe’ve all marvelled at the speed and precision of Formula 1 pit stops. That highly orchestrated handful of seconds when a car is fuelled and its tyres are replaced. They can make or break a race.
But that tyre change is just one facet in the lifecycle of a Bridgestone F1 tyre. The logistics behind its global travels are mind-boggling. Here’s why…
For Bridgestone, any Grand Prix weekend begins in Japan and well before Saturday morning. Bridgestone's latest specification tyres are made 10 days prior to the race at their manufacturing plant on the outskirts of Tokyo, before being flown to their European Formula 1 headquarters in Langley, near London's Heathrow.
Once in Langley, the tyres are sorted into team allocations and car numbers, before being loaded onto tyre trailers and sent to the F1 circuit.
"It's a military operation," says Graham Mitchell, chief tyre fitter for Bridgestone. "The beginning of a race weekend is intense, so we must be organised and efficient."
The trucks normally arrive trackside on Tuesday afternoon, which is when the Bridgestone team kicks into its race weekend routine. The trucks are cleaned and then, on Wednesday morning, a temporary garage is set up in the paddock. Only then can the tyre fitters get to work, beginning with the wet tyres.
Thursday is the busiest day of the weekend. The fitters have to fit the majority of the dry tyres before nightfall, which amounts to nearly 1000 tyres. Each team has the choice of two different specifications of tyre, and each driver has a maximum of seven sets of dry tyres over the weekend (total: 14 sets including wet weather tyres). Then there are the third cars at Williams, MF1 Racing and Super Aguri to cater for as well.
"We take approximately 1200 tyres to each race," says Mitchell. "We have five teams and they each have different needs. Ferrari has lots of wheels and they like us to mount all 14 sets per car prior to the start of Friday practice. Other teams don't require that; they are happy to start with a couple of sets of each spec and we continue to service them throughout Friday and Saturday."
It takes five minutes to fit a set of tyres, split between two fitting machines. One machine fits the front tyres, which each weigh 10kg; the other machine fits rears, which weigh 12kg each.
"Fitting the tyre is quite a physical process," says Mitchell. "It takes about 20 seconds to fit, and they are then inflated to 40psi to ensure that they fit onto the wheel properly, before being balanced."
By Sunday morning, all the necessary tyres have been fitted, so the Bridgestone technicians turn around the contents of their garage, ready for the end of the race when they have to strip everything.
"It takes about two minutes to strip a set of tyres," says Mitchell. "We don't have to be so careful taking them off because even if a tyre hasn't been run, it is still scrapped because there is too big a risk of the edge being damaged in the fitting process."
The stripping process takes until 9pm on race night, when the trucks then head back to base and the technicians return home. Ready for the whole process to start again for the following race.