Why low profile tyres make sense for F1

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A 13-inch F1 wheel (left) and 15-inch IndyCar wheel (right)

A 13-inch F1 wheel (left) and 15-inch IndyCar wheel (right)

We’re now four months into 2010 and we still don’t know who will be supplying tyres to F1 teams next year.

While much ink has been spilled about the need to ‘spice up the show’ in Formula, the requirement for 24 cars to each have a set of tyres to go racing on is clearly a more pressing need.

Rumours suggest F1 could embrace a radical change in its tyre regulations, increasing wheel sizes from 13 inches to 18 and having more than one tyre supplier for the first time since 2006. But a less drastic step to 15 inches could prove a better compromise.

Low profile tyres

The IndyCar series uses 15-inch wheels

The IndyCar series uses 15-inch wheels

What size wheels does your road car run on?

Chances are they’re quite a bit bigger than 13-inches – particularly if it’s a performance model. Yet F1 has stuck with the same small wheels and thick sidewalls for years.

With Bridgestone set to leave the sport at the end of this year there’s a strong case for F1 to take the opportunity to change its tyre rules to bring in wheels that better reflect what people use on the road – and therefore make supplying F1 rubber a more attractive proposition for the world’s tyre manufacturers.

Cost and complexity

A figure of 18 inches has been put about as a potential new wheel size but this is surprising for a couple of reasons. It could look like a swing too far in the opposite direction – the picture above compares a 15-inch racing tyre with a 13-inch one and the difference is very noticeable.

It would also create several technical challenges for the team. One tyre manufacturer estimated the increased wheel sizes would add a total of 33kg in weight. That extra weight increases the strain on the gearbox – as A1 Grand Prix discovered when it tried to use a similar tyre specification.

There is nothing more important to a car’s performance than how its tyres work and the design changes needed to cope with new wheels and smaller sidewalls would go beyond just a re-thinking of the suspension.

Such a costly change would not be popular with those teams who are visibly short on sponsors and those taking their first tentative steps in F1.

Better racing

But we shouldn’t write off the idea as a non-starter as there’s quit a lot to be said about bringing in lower profile tyres. First, there’s no denying they look better.

Tyre warm-up would be quicker, allowing the governing body to finally get rid of tyre warmers, something other single-seater categories did a long time ago to put more emphasis on driver skill.

There is potentially a safety benefit too. A tyre with a smaller sidewall will bounce less far if it is ripped from a car in an impact.

Perhaps what’s needed here is a compromise between 13 and 18-inch wheels. The answer could be the sized used in IndyCars – 15 inches – where tyre warmers are banned and, you have to admit, the wheels look a lot more sporty than F1’s.

There’s another reason why 15-inch tyres could be a smart choice for F1. IndyCar tyres are supplied by Firestone, which is a subsidiary of Bridgestone, meaning they already have plenty of experience and data for producing tyres of similar specification.

But they aren’t the only company who could supply F1 tyres in the future.

A new tyre war?

Cooper supplied tyres for A1 Grand Prix before the series collapsed

Cooper supplied tyres for A1 Grand Prix before the series collapsed

The last F1 tyre supplier to quit the sport, Michelin, have unsurprisingly been linked with a return to take Bridgestone’s place.

Michelin were understood to favour low-profile tyres when they last returned to F1 in 2001. On leaving the sport in 2006 they French company let it be known it was not interested in submitting a tender to be F1’s sole tyre supplier – it wanted to compete against other tyre manufacturers.

Michelin is presently the sole tyre supplier for the FIA’s new GT1 World Championship. But it has requested that other manufacturers be allowed to supply tyres to the championship.

If Michelin returned to F1 it would presumably want the same. But F1 cannot afford a tyre war of the kind we saw between 2001 and 2004 in any sense.

At a time when ‘the show’ is under greater scrutiny than ever, the last thing F1 needs is a repeat of the kind of dominance by a single team we saw in those four seasons, in that case Ferrari, largely thanks to the fact that none of their serious rivals were using the same brand of tyres.

A new tyre war would also bring a huge demand for tyre testing from the teams. With testing days far more strictly limited than they were in the last year of the tyre war, they would have to resort to other means to conduct tyre testing.

Perhaps that’s why the following new clause was added to the Sporting Regulations in time for this season:

25.5 Testing of tyres:
a) Tyres supplied to any competitor at any time may not be used on any rig or vehicle (other than an F1 car on an F1 approved track, at the exclusion of any kind of road simulator), either Team owned or rented, providing measurements of forces and/or moments produced by a rotating full size F1 tyre, other than uniquely vertical forces, tyre rolling resistance and aerodynamic drag.
b) Tyres may be used on a test rig providing forces control and monitoring by F1 rim manufacturers for the sole purpose of proof testing their products.
FIA F1 Sporting Regulations 2010

Who could replace Bridgestone?

Next year F1 could have 13 teams and 20 races on the calendar. Which other tyre companies have the experience and the infrastructure to produce nearly 10,000 tyres and fly them around the world?

It’s likely to be a short list. Besides Bridgestone (if they could be persuaded to stay) and Michelin it could feature Cooper, who produced tyres for the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix championship and whose Avon brand is the tyre of choice for historic F1 racers. And potentially Goodyear – still F1’s most successful tyre supplier of all time despite having been out of the sport since 1998.

F1 fans with long memories will recall how Bernie Ecclestone once used a stock of Goodyear tyres owned by one of his companies to supply tyres for the 1981 Argentinean Grand Prix. (A race which, for reasons too complicated to go into here, was struck from the F1 calendar.)

Not for the first time, F1 faces a sticky problem and the expectation is Ecclestone will have a solution.

Do you think F1 should use low profile tyres? Whose name do you expect to see on F1 tyres next year? Have your say in the comments.

Read more: F1 needs a tyre supplier for 2011 ?ǣ and a new tyre war isn?t the answer

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147 comments on Why low profile tyres make sense for F1

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  1. Dougal said on 7th April 2010, 23:03

    Lower profile tyres and competition between multiple suppliers for 2011, if handled properly could be good for the sport. It should produce a variable, and as the rain has shown over the past two weekends has shown, variables can lead to exciting racing.

    Obviously not as extreme as a downpour, but if different suppliers are producing differet tyres capable of different levels of performance, then there could be a level of unpredictability brought to the sport. It will need to be assisted by rules encouraging mechanical grip over aerodynamic grip, and regulations over supply as well.

    Bridgestone were “so good” in the last tyre was because their tyres were designed specifically for Ferrari and their cars, and everyone else was a secondary consideration. If Michelin had done the same for Mclaren, instead of a compromise to best suit all of their customers, maybe things would have been closer.

    • RFB said on 8th April 2010, 0:30

      Michelin didn’t provide all teams with the same tyres, but had different rubbers addapted to each team, sometimes even went as far as having different constructions. No compromise.

      • Dougal said on 8th April 2010, 1:39

        I’m not quite sure where you get that idea, perhaps our host can confirm that?

        Michelin were unable to provide the level of care and specialist build to any of its customers from their return to F1 in 2001 until the rule change in 2005 that elimanted tyre changes.

        Where as previously they provided a selection of compounds that was best for everyone (and not a tyre compound designed specifically for one particular car – the developmental cost of such an action would be astronomical and completely impractical), the ability of Bridgestone to provide a fine tuned tyre for their only front running customer gave the Scuderia the edge (admittedly only really from 2002 onwards since Mclaren then ran Michelin and Bridgestone had benefitted from their input previously, with their boots on Mika Hakkinen’s 1998 Championship winning car in only Bridgestone’s second full season in F1).

        They also had a headstart in the last “tyre war” as they were the only supplier in 1999 and 2000 as well following the withdrawal of Goodyear at the end of 1998.

        2005 was different because of the massive amount of feedback from their huge customer base made their tyre totally dominant in all but one race (the US Grand Prix), while Bridgestone relied completely on Ferrari for developmental purposes.

        • RFB said on 8th April 2010, 20:51

          For the record, this “idea” from a discussion with a Michelin engineer in 2003/2004, when I was working for Williams.

          • Clay said on 9th April 2010, 7:11

            Up until 2005 Bridgestone pretty much concentrated on Ferrari and all other Bridgestone runners had to use what Ferrari wanted. The Michelin guys built tyres for all michelin runners and when they were allowed to tailor the rubber to each team Michelin were doing this for far more teams than Bridgestone were. As a result up until 2005 you saw most top teams other than Ferrari using Michelin.

            ’05 saw the one tyre per race rule and Michelin dominated. The rules were changed in ’06 to include tyre changes again before it was announced that in ’07 there would be a control tyre, probably at Ferrari’s request as a result of their poor performance in ’05 which was almost entirely down to them being on Bridgestones.

            So in short i agree with Dougal.

            For 2011 onwards however I would say the various sizes of wheel and tyre don’t matter so much as changing the amount of compounds available for each race – five would be a good number, with super soft, soft, medium, hard and super hard being the choices – and allowing teams to use whichever tyres however many times in a race they want. Make the compounds a second a lap different, i.e. super soft is 5 seconds a lap faster than super hard, but it only lasts 5-8 laps.

            THAT would be interesting…

    • macahan said on 8th April 2010, 1:25

      Low profile tires just make sense. Bring a tire that ratio is in par with what is used elsewhere in the world. I don’t know of really anything that have such a odd ratio as a F1 tire (not a tire expert though so I could be very wrong). Lower side walls would mean less rubber needed since the sidewall don’t have to be reinforced as much (long stick breaks easier then a short stick of same thickness).

      I would welcome multiple tire manufactures but they would have to supply the same tire to everyone not a purpose built tire to one team, as well even possible allow to use both mfgs so each driver could use the tire of their choice (kinda like breaks, some drivers prefer Brembo and some prefer Hitco or Carbon Industries) unless team require specific tire mfg.

      • Adrian said on 8th April 2010, 10:48

        I like that idea…why limit 1 team to 1 tyre…

        Maybe Button could make a Michelin last a race distance, but Hamilton would be better with a Goodyear (just as an example).

        (As for the stupid ratio, the only other example I can think of is aircraft tyres!!)

        • Hallard said on 8th April 2010, 14:56

          I think that would be the best approach for in terms of actual racing, but the marketing depts of the tire companies would never go for it. It could greatly diminish their brand exposure.

    • Lachie said on 8th April 2010, 1:53

      I’ve wondered about this every now and then. I don’t know a great deal about how the tyres work and how the tyre companies work with the teams but with that in mind it always seemed to me like the teams should be able to make their own deals with tyre companies as there are certainly enough out there.

      Maybe it isn’t economical for a company to supply only one team but if say McLaren team up with…. Continental, and win. Then the marketing for Continental would be huge as they beat eg. Ferrari and Pirelli, Red Bull with Goodyear etc.

    • MigueLP said on 8th April 2010, 2:13

      thats because bridgestone didnt had a true team back up it was obvious that still with that help ferrari tyres were lasting less

    • his_majesty said on 8th April 2010, 13:09

      18 inch rims would be a bad idea. Would you make the brakes bigger to fit inside of the tire? I don’t think so. 15’s I could live with, but am I the only old school fan left? I would say I like the 13 inchers actually. To me it’s a “problem” that has been working fine for as long as I can remember.

      • MigueLP said on 8th April 2010, 16:22

        majesty tottally agree 15 looks good

      • Dan M said on 8th April 2010, 19:02

        I’d imagine they would need to clarify the rules on caliper sizes. A 18″ or even 15″ wheel would create much more room for brake discs and calipers.

        I think this would destroy any chance of overtaking. A smaller brake would leave more room for error (or bravery) and thus more passing.

        For instance, Montoya said that passing in Nascar road courses is much easier because if the car must brake 150ft before a turn, he could brake as much 20ft later. Impossible with 40ft braking zones.

      • fordsrule said on 9th April 2010, 6:36

        I agree stick to 13s

  2. Sam Hyatt said on 7th April 2010, 23:04

    Great article, would love to see 15inch low profile tyres supplied by goodyear.

  3. John K Waggener said on 7th April 2010, 23:05

    Do I think F1 should use low profile tyres? The answer is really quite simple……AbsoFriggingLutely!!!

    • Patrickl said on 8th April 2010, 11:55

      Lol, yes indeed.

      Lets get rid of these daft 13″wheels with balloon tyres and bring on the performance 18″ wheels!

      Would you put 13″ wheels on a supercar? Even on your own car? 15″ then? No, of course not.

      Why should the fastest cars in the world suffer the shame of driving around with lame wheels?

      Bring on the 18″ wheels!

  4. Oli said on 7th April 2010, 23:07

    15 inches is definatley a better idea than 18.

    • Here’s a good idea why not have the 18 inch tyre vs the 15 inch tyre. That way will make the sport more exciting. Oh, i like the idea of the tyre war by the way. Michelin vs Kumho vs Goodyear vs Hancok vs Cooper, it’s all good :D

  5. Stephen Hopkinson said on 7th April 2010, 23:08

    Here’s a mockup I did of the MP4-25 with 18 inch wheels. A shocking difference, I’m sure you’ll agree.

    http://twitpic.com/1dw53c

  6. This assumes that 15 inches is an option. According to Dieter Rencken’s latest piece on Autosport 18 inches is the only option, as Michelin as experience with this size.

  7. DamionShadows said on 7th April 2010, 23:15

    I see nothing wrong with what they have now, but if it is changed i’d rather it be to 15 instead of 18.

  8. Dave said on 7th April 2010, 23:16

    I must admit I like F1’s little wheels, in much the same way I like 10″ wheels on old Minis, retro cool. F1 cars would look odd with bigger wheels IMO.

  9. zplol said on 7th April 2010, 23:17

    I hope that if the size does change, they only make it happen for 2012.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 7th April 2010, 23:18

      Bridgestone go at the end of this year so whoever replaces them will have to come in for 2011. Making them produce one specification of tyres in 2011 and a different specification in 2012 isn’t going to make it easier to find a new supplier.

  10. Untitled258 said on 7th April 2010, 23:18

    The more i think it about it, the more i do not want a tyre war. I just like atm that there is a consistency with the tyres across the teams.

    Being the only contact point with the road i would rather everyone had the same rubber so the emphasis is on the car design and the teams and not the wheels. It would be to easy for a team to loose a race because they are with the wrong tyre manufacturer and there is nothing which the team can do about it. It would annoy me to no end.

    As for bigger rims, bring it on, I’ve always wondered why f1 cars have such big sidewalls compared to every other racing series, they look kinda off.

    • Icthyes said on 8th April 2010, 0:11

      Same here. Yes, different tyres produce different variables, but they can’t be relied upon to counteract existing variables and in many cases could merely inflate them. Remember how much better Bridgestones were in the wet? Now, a Red Bull that had the worse wet-weather tyres would even things up with a Ferrari on the better kind, but it’s pot luck if such combinations happen and equally likely that the reverse would happen and every time it rained Red Bull would run away with everything.

    • John M said on 8th April 2010, 0:31

      I’m just the opposite.

      I’d like to see more variation. It’s usually not possible for one tire to dominate in all conditions. I’d rather see different teams and drivers adapt to how different tires react in different circumstances.

      Clearly, the biggest holdup on this is cost. F1 wants to keep costs down. Limiting testing is a big way to do so. A renewed tire war would require at least some level of testing that is above what is allowed now. That’s the sticky wicket with any new tire situation that involves multiple suppliers.

      Another potential positive of multiple suppliers would be getting rid of the artificial rule requiring more than one compound be used in a race. It’s pretty much a hokey way to generate buzz about the tires (in the absence of talking about competing suppliers). I’d love to see that rule go away. It would open up different strategy solutions.

      • theRoswellite said on 8th April 2010, 5:03

        @ John M:

        Would you still enjoy all the good points you emphasize if the races were all being won by one or two teams….because of the rubber?

    • Lachie said on 8th April 2010, 2:01

      See I feel like if they could choose from many tyre companies that that would be a component of car design. The teams would pick a company that can make a tyre that best suits their car. McLaren could go with Goodyear and that would be as intrinsic a part of the car as the (now) outsourced Mercedes engine.

  11. Sam Hyatt said on 7th April 2010, 23:19

    with the spinners on the tyres being banned this season i was hoping to see some action shots of the brakes glowing, but ive only seen it once on kubica renault.

    • Sam,

      During the Australian GP I saw many enjoyable moments of the brake discs glowing. The Renault and Lotus cars are most obvious, all the way down to Ferrari which was difficult to see at all due to their wheel design.

      Cheers.

    • Adrian said on 8th April 2010, 11:03

      Well, if at no other race you should be in for some goods shots at Singapore..!!

  12. Ratboy said on 7th April 2010, 23:22

    just think if they hadn’t of banned the spinners on wheels,
    they’d have 18″ wheels with spinners!! what next neons underneath :p

    but at least the tyres will look more like road tyres which may help to get a new tyre supplier in for 2011,

  13. Jim N said on 7th April 2010, 23:23

    Well because of the width the current tyres are pretty low profile, 46% front and 43% rear, which is lower profile than all but a handful of road cars. Personally I can’t see that going bigger on wheel size will help the racing which is what I’m bothered about. In fact quite the reverse as going bigger on wheel size also brings in the prospect of bigger brakes and even shorter breaking distances, which I don’t relish as it will make overtaking even harder.

  14. Untitled258 said on 7th April 2010, 23:25

    If the rims are 5 inches bigger in diameter, could they give them bigger breaks disks too, i would love to see cars coming down the massive straight at say, bahrain, and then being able to stop for the first corner in 20/30 metres. It would destroy the drivers with the G that would create.

    I know it goes against everything that is being done to aid over taking, i think it would just be awesome to watch.

    • Mike said on 8th April 2010, 3:02

      I think the rules concerning brakes would stay the same, meaning that they wouldn’t be able to increase the braking capacity of their cars… that being said, That could turn into one of these controversy thingamajigs…

      (Btw thingamajigs came from the spell check.)

  15. F1withMySon said on 7th April 2010, 23:31

    I’ve longed been bothered by the big bloated tires on the little wheels. It looks silly to me. I definitely think they should go to at least 15″.

    I would think that the engineers would prefer a lower-profile tire too, since they could control the contact patch better with the suspension instead of relying on the bounce of the air-filled tire. Just my guess.

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