For some teams this year though, it could be the rubber that turns out to be the most expensive.
After four years of incredibly hard-wearing and reliable Bridgestone tires, the elite division of motorsport is turning to the Italian manufacturer Pirelli as its sole supplier.
The brief given to the company executives in Milan was simple, don’t build them to last.
Bridgestone tires were uber-dependable, as were the Michelins before them. But gone are the days when Sebastian Vettel could drive for almost an entire race on one set of soft tires, only pitting in for a spruce-up on the last lap as he did in September 2010 at Monza.
This season, the world champion is going to be seeing a lot more of his pit-crew.
Of all the changes teams have been getting their heads around in testing - KERS and moveable rear wings being the other significant adjustments for 2011– the tires are causing the biggest headache.
Cars that are not set up correctly will chew through the rubber quicker than others, slowing them down and costing precious seconds in the pit-lane. Drivers who are too aggressive will face the same problem, giving smoother drivers like Jenson Button and Felipe Massa an advantage before the lights turn green in Melbourne.
Pit-lane stats from testing in Barcelona showed that soft tires were lasting a maximum of 14 laps, the harder compound only 8 laps more. And when they go, they go. As the rubber rapidly degrades, lap-times slow dramatically.
McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton reported he was almost down to the canvas at one stage in testing, with the result being that he might as well have been driving on an ice-rink.
As the season develops, teams and their drivers will undoubtedly get better at eking more life out of the Pirelli product, but expect to see three pit-stops becoming much more common and in longer races – such as the Canadian Grand Prix – four stops won’t be out of the question.
Teams with two cars still in the race will have to be on top of their game, strategically and operationally. More pit-stops means a smaller margin for error and more surprises.
Last season was arguably the most exciting Formula One has ever seen, with four drivers taking the title battle down to the very last race in Abu Dhabi.
This year should be just as competitive, if not more; five world champions on the grid and plenty of others who think they are good enough to have the ‘1’ painted on their car.
The fastest drivers in the world will not only be burning rubber this season, failure to manage their tires correctly will see their championship prospects go up in smoke as well.