Ostentatious excess and lavish extravagance are still traits you associate with Formula 1, even years after the introduction of small capacity turbocharged engines, hybrid powertrains and promises to become carbon neutral. Yet, even by the standards of F1, scrapping 1800 unused tyres seems utterly outrageous.
But after the Australian Grand Prix was cancelled at the weekend as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, F1’s sole tyre supplier, Pirelli, is having to chuck away 1800 never-been-used race tyres.
The problem, and the reason for the waste, is that tyres which have been mounted on rims and then taken off, cannot be reused. Pirelli considers that it’s just too risky for a tyre to be put under the huge forces that an F1 car generates after the tyre’s bead has been stressed when removing it from a wheel.
All the tyres for the race in Australia had been fitted before it was decided to cancel the race and, as the rims are transported by air by the teams and not Pirelli, they now need to be removed from the wheels and therefore cannot be used again.
Pirelli has also shipped tyres to the next two GP destinations, Bahrain and Vietnam, even though the races have been postponed. However, none of the 3600 tyres shipped via sea to these locations have been mounted yet, so they can safely remain in their temperature-controlled containers until they need to be used.
Pirelli is looking into ways that it might be able to safely reuse tyres that have been removed from a wheel, rather than having to discard them. Until it has found a way to strip them from a rim and remount them without compromising the tyre’s safety, Pirelli is recycling the unused rubber.
The tyre company’s most ecological solution to disposing of its waste tyres is to shred them, then ship them to the UK before burning the scraps to create energy for a cement factory in Didcot.
After an ordinary F1 race weekend a certain amount of unused tyres will need to be scrapped; 560 brand new wets are often disposed of if there is no rain. But the 1800 tyres that are to be burnt after the cancellation of this year’s first race is unprecedented.