• The Inside Line

Cold rubber (a history)

Kate Walker February 18, 2014
Tyre warmers 1974-2014 © Sutton Images
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Some things in life you don't pay any attention to until they're no longer around. Like the (dearly departed) GoogleReader, which was vital to my day-to-day life but merited little to no actual thought or engagement until the powers that be took it away.

Tyre warmers are one such thing. Like trolley jacks, or the pit stop lollipop, they have long been an important part of Formula One, but are very much a background element. Always the scenery, but never the prop. They'd almost always been there, and they probably always would.

Except tyre blankets are on their way out, and will no longer be seen from 2015. That gives them a 40-year lifespan in the sport, from 1974 to 2014.

The 1974 Canadian Grand Prix took place in late September, towards the end of the season. As is hardly unusual in Canada in the autumn, conditions outside were somewhat chilly. The early part of the weekend saw drivers struggle for grip, and there were concerns that on the race start, tyres might separate from their rims.

McLaren responded by converting their pit into a heated shed, creating an environment that would keep the tyres warm enough that they could withstand more pressure per pound. But there was still the problem of the grid - the cold temperatures would negate much of the effect from the heated pit, and the answer was to be found in the team's hotel. Duvets and blankets were requisitioned from the beds, kept warm, and wrapped around the still-toasty tyres on the grid.

Emerson Fittipaldi took the chequered flag that afternoon, having started on pole, and the concept of a tyre warmer entered the F1 lexicon, even if it took a few more years for the technology to be perfected. Which is why credit for inventing the tyre warmer goes to one Mike Drury, who was inspired by a trip to the 1985 European Grand Prix at Brands Hatch.

"It was November and very cold and I saw that the teams were trying to keep the cars' tyres warm by wrapping them in blankets and duvets," Drury explains on his corporate website. "It occurred to me, since I was already in the business of making weatherproof jackets and anoraks, that here was an opportunity for a more creative approach."

Drury's creative approach eventually bore fruit, after time spent convincing the teams - Williams were the first to bite - that a technological approach to tyre temperatures was the way forward. In the years since, the technology has fallen out of favour with other series, and is now on its way out for good.

It will be interesting to see the results of Pirelli's prototype no-warmer tyre in Bahrain this week, but given that the desert temperatures make cold tyres rather less of a challenge (and for the sake of historical completeness), it would be much nicer to see them take to the track during FP1 of the Canadian Grand Prix, nearly 40 years since they made their debut at the nearby (ish) Mosport Park.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'.
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Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'.