Why low profile tyres make sense for F1

CommentPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

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. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

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

          1. 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…

    2. 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.

      1. 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!!)

        1. 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.

    3. 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.

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

      1. i think 15 is bearable but more than that is just ugly and just bad taste

    5. his_majesty
      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.

      1. majesty tottally agree 15 looks good

      2. 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.

      3. I agree stick to 13s

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

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

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

    1. 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. 15 inches is definatley a better idea than 18.

    1. 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
    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.


    1. Wow that looks all wrong!

      1. I think you may be up a gum tree here.
        Reading on another site it talks about Michelin wishing to increase the rear tyre WIDTH from 15″ to 18″.
        Can you confirm wether it’s wheel rim diameter or tyre width please ?

      2. NO! It looks awesome!

    2. F1withMySon
      7th April 2010, 23:28

      And it looks great that way.

    3. Great picture there.

      Personally I completely in favour of this change. Apart from the looking better, getting F1 to use technology that can be applied after experiancing the fearsome sight of 12 F1 R+D departments is exactly what the sport needs to do.

    4. no that looks sick!!! :D

    5. Now throw some 22’s on it…

      1. Would there be any tyre left? haha

      2. 22″ Chrome Spinners, someone mock that up.

    6. Cool pic,now could you move the rear wing over the tail pipe…2011 passing F1 rocket

    7. Really, there’s hardly any difference. The rims chosen here might look a bit naff, but the 18″ size looks perfectly normal. I can’t understand what people are so upset about.

      The most important thing is that they aid overtaking. Whether they look like road tires or not is a silly point…F1 doesn’t have any relevance to the road in the first place.

    8. Haggis Hunter
      8th April 2010, 10:08

      looks silly imho

    9. Tht looks great

    10. I know it is mainly due to what I am used to, but the tyres do look odd to me in that picture.

    11. Looks fine to me, if anything these wheels look smaller

    12. Wow! Looks like wagon wheels, 15″ will be more suitable.

    13. That looks like a 1920s road car with the large spoke wheels. Looks weird.

    14. You need 18″ speakers to go with 18″ wheels…and maybe some neon lights underneath….then you have the whole package.

  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.

    1. Maybe but have you seen Stephen’s picture (above)? That would take some getting used to!

      1. Maybe, but so did the wings, people have stopped complaining about those now! (mostly)

  7. DamionShadows
    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. 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.

    1. Agreed. I could stand to see them with 15s, but 18s are just too big. That mockup looks like some ghetto lowrider, not a high performance race car.

      1. yes exactly. Why is there a need for change? I personally like the 13s, and i dont believe changing this would help bring more fans to the sport. Reducing aero, and increasing passing would. Visually, i think they are awful (18s). There is nothing to frame them. In a car, they are surronded by body work and they look fine, they are ‘framed’ and look in proportion. On the pic above from Stephen Hopkinson (thanks for that by the way) they look out of scale to the car, and the lack of rubber makes it look like some cheep track car set. The 15’s look fine on the indy car and i would be happy with them.
        Also, if they want to get rid of tyre warmers, whay not just do it??? It would be hard to begin with, but everyone is in the same boat… you just have to cope better with it than your competitors. Also, this could work well with a cahnge in rules, you dont have to change your tres, but if you do, you will have to warm them up yourself.

      2. “That mockup looks like some ghetto lowrider, not a high performance race car”
        – Woah, WHAT?!? What’s wrong with you?! You seem not to have seen a “high performance race car” in your life!




        1. the differnece though with those cars is that the tyre is surrounded by bodywork, imho that makes a big differnce.

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

    1. 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
    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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

      1. theRoswellite
        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?

    3. 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. 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.

    1. 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.


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

  12. 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,

    1. I’m surprised a few teams didn’t put neons under their cars for Singapore ;)

  13. 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.

    1. Break size might be kept the same to produce exactly the oposite effect.

      1. Yes, just regulate the brake sizes and hey presto – no shortened braking distances.

  14. Untitled258
    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.

    1. 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
    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.

  16. sorry, i may have missed something… but how do low profile tyres make for better racing???

    1. DamionShadows
      8th April 2010, 0:03

      I was thinking the same thing honestly.

    2. they are safer (they dont bounce if they break from the car)

      they warm up faster

      they look better (hey, every exotic car has wheels bigger than 19 inches for a reason)

      handle better on corners because of the smaller sidewalls

      1. ok, so better mechanical grip then. btw, why would smaller ‘sidewalls’ handle better than what we have now?

        1. Jarred Walmsley
          8th April 2010, 8:21

          They would get heat into them faster thus making them gripper earlier, this would mean that the teams could gun it from the start of the race or maybe 1 lap in as opposed to the 2 or 3 laps it takes for the current tires to get up to temp.

          The reason the smaller sidewalls do this is because they have less surface area and as such require less heating.

        2. Lower sidewall profile equals lesser roll (side to side tilting while cornering) as there’s less rubber on the sides and thus more rigidity and better handling.

      2. It was suggested that the larger wheels would add 33kg to the car, so over 8kg a wheel extra. Whilst they may not bounce as much, someone hitting, or being hit by, 8kg more mass is going to do much more damage!

        1. rims might get heavier but you would also get less rubber weight.

          With a larger side wall you have to reinforce the side wall a lot more to get stability. Low preasure of any kind will wreck a race or result in puncture or crash because the tire could fold on itself. Take the example of a stick it’s easier to break or bend the stick if it’s longer then if it’s short because you get more leverage. So a smaller side wall would provide more mechanical grip/stability in cornering offering better cornering ability not going on a perfect race line.

          Shows how low pressure affects the tire in cornering

  17. most ppl over the age of 35 wont like the idea of bigger wheels just for social reasons lol. the youth like big rims and low profile tyres no matter the performance gain or loss. personally 18s on a F1 car look ridiculous…not to mention the extra strain on the brakes and gear boxes. 15″ sound good to me! also is no one else bothered by the fact that there isn’t a supplier yet for 2011? if there is a new supplier im sure they need all the time they can get to develop a decent tyre of different compounds to handle the demands of a F1 car

  18. If F1 is to be more applicable to road cars then they should only have one treaded tyre compound and it should be suitable for wet and dry use – just like the rest of us.

    That will reduce mechanical grip and make the cars even less likely to overtake so I’m not sure if it’s such a good idea…

    1. Hmm, didn’t we just get slicks back?

      anyway, wouldn’t that get rid of the excitement of the weather when it’s half wet half dry?

  19. I think you may be up a gum tree here, excuse the pun
    Reading on another site it talks about Michelin wishing to increase the rear tyre WIDTH from 15″ to 18″.
    Can you confirm wether it’s wheel rim diameter or tyre width please ?
    It doesn’t mention low profile but there pretty low pro now and an increase in width would make them ultra low.
    Perhaps we can see the exact press release they issued and see what was said. Might save a lot of talk about the wrong idea.
    I think there talking tyre width myself !

  20. Am I the only person who is wondering why the imperial measure of “inches” is used considering that all F1 is done in metric now (km, kph, mm, etc)

    1. Probably as its still the most common way to refer to wheel sizes. I grew up on metric but if someone told me they got 540mm rims for their car I would not know what they were on about. Just like I tell people im 6’4” rather then 193cm

    2. What is truly bonkers is the conventional form for referring to tyre and wheel sizes mixes both imperial and metric – See Glenn’s comment below.

      1. That’s the influence of Michelin for you! That’s the way they came up with when they introduced the radial tyre which is what almost all road tyres now are. Cross plies and most racing tyres are still all in inches eg 14/23 – 13 is a 14 inch wide tyre, 23 inch in diameter on a 13 inch rim. Mind you even for racing tyres Michelin mix it up giving the width an diameter in cm!…… and you want Michelin deciding the wheel size?

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