A History of Rubber

While Formula 1 takes its summer break, we look at the history of rubber, its many uses and how it is integral to the motor industry.

Rubber is elastic and water-resistant, it floats and doesn’t conduct electricity. As latex it is used to make adhesivescontraceptives and tennis balls for Wimbledon; when vulcanised (nothing to do with Star Trek) it is used to make tyreswellington boots and artificial hearts.

phil hearing ERiVAQk unsplash

The Rubber Tree

The rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) is native to the rain forest of Brazil. The sap or latex from the rubber tree is harvested by tapping the trunk and collecting in bowls.


The Story of Rubber

1731: During an expedition to South America, French explorer Charles Marie de La Condamine (1701-1774) sends back samples of rubber to Europe, prompting intense scientific interest.
1770: The English scientist Joseph Priestley (1733-1804), who discovered oxygen, finds he can use pieces of rubber to erase the marks made by pencil on paper. In England, erasers are still widely called ‘rubbers’ today.
1791: Englishman Samuel Peal develops a method of waterproofing cloth with a rubber solution.
1818: Scottish medical student James Syme (1799-1870) uses rubber-coated cloth to make raincoats.
1823: Englishman Charles Macintosh learns of Syme’s discovery, refines it and patents it, earning fame and fortune as the inventor of the rubberized, waterproof coat. Waterproof coats have been known as Macintoshes ever since. Harold Wilson, British Prime Minister, was famous for his Mac.
1839: American inventor Charles Goodyear (1800-1860) accidentally discovers how to vulcanize rubber after dropping a piece of the material (which had been treated with sulfur) onto a hot stove.
1876: Englishman, Henry Wickham, collected 70,000 seeds from Brazil and shipped them to England where some 2,800 of the seeds germinated and were sent to Colombo in Sri Lanka.
1895Henry Ridley, head of Singapore’s botanical garden, persuaded two coffee growers to plant 0.8 hectares of Rubber trees. Twelve years later more than 300,000 hectares of rubber grew in plantations in throughout Sri Lanka and Malaya. New innovations increased efficiency, and production doubled every two years. Rubber could be produced at only a fraction of the cost of collecting wild rubber in Brazil.
WWII: The Japanese invasion of South East Asia prompted the Allies to develop synthetic rubber and by 1964 synthetic rubber accounted for 75% of the market.
1973OPEC oil embargo doubled the price of synthetic rubber and made oil consumers more conscious of their mileage. The radial tyre replaced the simple bias tyres (which had made up 90% of the market only five years earlier) and within a few years virtually all cars were using radials. Synthetic rubber did not have the strength for radials; only natural rubber could provide the required sturdiness.
1993: Natural rubber had recaptured 39% of the market. Today, nearly 50% of all car tyres and 100% of all aircraft tyres are made of natural rubber.

Harold Wilson wearing a Mac

Prime Minister, Harold Wilson wearing his famous Mac

The Beginner’s guide to Formula 1 tyres

Tyres are the only parts of a Formula 1 car that actually touch the racetrack and, as such, serve as a crucial reference point for drivers. Italian manufacturer Pirelli has supplied F1 teams with tyres since 2011, making a return to the sport after previous spells of involvement in the 1950s, ‘80s and ‘90s.

Moving on from an era of 13-inch supply, Pirelli produced all-new 18-inch tyres for 2022 as part of sweeping changes to the technical regulations, with every element made from scratch – spanning the profile, structure and various compounds. Pirelli factored in more than 10,000 hours of indoor testing, 5,000 hours of simulation and 70 virtually developed prototypes to create 30 different specifications, which were then tested by teams across more than 20,000 kilometres. Beyond their impact in F1, Pirelli’s 18-inch tyres are also more in line with the products used by motorists every day – meaning transfer of technology becomes easier and the road industry benefits from the sport’s year-on-year innovation.

Pirelli’s range of 18-inch tyres for 2023 comprises six slick compounds (from hardest to softest: the C0, C1, C2, C3, C4 and C5), along with intermediates and full wets to account for inclement weather conditions. On a standard weekend, drivers are given 13 sets of dry weather tyres, four sets of intermediates and three sets of full wets. An extra set of softs is reserved for those who reach Q3, while all drivers must use at least two different slick compounds in the race, providing the track is dry.
For more information, visit www.formula1.com/en/latest/article.the-beginners-guide-to-formula-1-tyres.61SvF0Kfg29UR2SPhakDqd.html