It’s time for F1 to bring back the iconic Pirelli tyre rainbow

Oliver Harden
Pirelli F1 tyres lined up. 2018.

Pirelli F1 tyres lined up. 2018.

The 2023 season marks five years since Pirelli decided to discard the ‘rainbow’ colour coding of its Formula 1 tyres.

It it a decision that seemed counterproductive at the time and still makes little sense now.

The reasoning behind the move at the conclusion of the 2018 campaign seemed sound enough – providing more simplicity to the watching public, many of whom with even less interest in tyre talk than the average F1 anorak – but merely swapped one set of problems for another.

2018, some readers may recall, was the year in which two new types of tyre were added to the roster, bringing the total of dry-weather compounds up to seven, putting the painters to yet more work – Pirelli never did include a brown-striped tyre in the range for some reason – and making the rainbow the subject of ridicule.

Just what exactly is a superhard when it’s at home? In the battle of the softest compounds – the supersoft, the ultrasoft and the hypersoft – which soft compound is the softest?

Clearly, it was unsustainable to keep causing such confusion.

But the real solution was never to rename the tyre compounds – it was to reduce them in total.

Since 2019 the three tyres brought to each grand prix have been nominated as soft, medium and hard yet the exact compound in use can vary wildly from week to week, the rainbow replaced by a naming system that until this season made C1 the hardest on the spectrum and C5 the softest.

The supersoft lives on, you see, just under a different name. recommends

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With television commentators still referencing the exact compound in play during the introduction to each session of a grand prix weekend, the issue has not been resolved but instead moved to the shadows and ultimately leaves the average fan less informed.

How, they must sometimes ask, are the cars struggling to switch on the hard tyre in this grand prix when it worked fine at the previous race two weeks ago, unaware that the harder compound is actually two steps harder now than it was then.

The issue was brought back into focus at the 2023 pre-season test in Bahrain, where Pirelli were obliged to bring every compound they plan to use throughout the campaign and the Italian manufacturer gave birth to another new compound, the new C1, which is there to bridge the gap in performance between the old C1 and C2, with the 2022-spec C1 now becoming the C0.

With the white/yellow/red colour coding remaining rigid, the different compounds were made distinguishable by whether or not the tyres had stripes – or “brackets” as Pirelli call them – running down the sidewall.

The yellow tyres with brackets, for instance, were C3s; the yellow tyres without brackets were C2s.

Predictably, that resulted in situations in which commentators – poor David Croft for example – had to squint at a car moving at full speed to decipher whether or not the tyres carried stripes.

The solution, once and for all? Enough of this folly.

Drop the C0 at the earliest opportunity and return to the system of old, with five clearly labelled compounds ranging from very hard to supersoft.

Let the very hard be orange; let the hard be white; let the medium be yellow; let the soft be red; let the supersoft be purple.

See how simple this can be? Time then, at last, to bring back the Pirelli rainbow.