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

  1. F1Yankee said on 8th April 2010, 5:44

    i am definitely pro-low profile and anti-tire war. i think further road-relevance is gained by the low-profiles because cars would need more robust suspensions (like hinges) to cope with the lack of sidewall. this, combined with reduced tire performance, greater unsprung weight and greater rotating mass would put a decent dent in lap times and level the playing field all quite holistically…as long as there’s no war.

  2. Jev said on 8th April 2010, 6:51

    well, since there has beenmuch discussion above, i just like to say that i agree with bigger rimsize (15″-17″), increased width, and a nice healthy tyre war…

  3. CLK_GTR said on 8th April 2010, 6:51

    The low profile tyre makes sense as one of Michelin condition for a return is to make the sport more Green. Tyres are one of items that are used on a massive scale in F1 with 8 sets each weekend per driver. A low profle tyre means less rubber which fits in with the Michelin Green theam.

    Low profile tyres also will enable the company to develop systems such as run flat run systems in F1 which is a lot more road relavent.

  4. PeterG said on 8th April 2010, 8:36

    When Tyrrell made the six-wheeler they produced special small fronts for this car.
    I liked the 18-inch picture but I would love for the teams to have some freedom to get it done.
    If you can find a supplier that gives you the 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 inch wheels you think will do best for your car, then do it. When everything was free not every race was won by the same team. Tyrrell won races that suited the car. Just like the Michelins outperformed Bridgestone on tracks that suited them better and vise versa.
    I would like for some freedom of construction.
    I like to have have competition. For that fact alone I praise Michelin. Whats is racing all about if you know you are going to win anyway?

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 8th April 2010, 9:18

      I like to have have competition. For that fact alone I praise Michelin. Whats is racing all about if you know you are going to win anyway?

      I agree, it’s very laudable. But the cost involved is what worries me.

      When everything was free not every race was won by the same team.

      No team has won more than one race so far this year.

    • Tim said on 8th April 2010, 10:10

      The need to produce special fronts is what killed off the Tyrrell six wheeler in the end. Goodyear simply couldn’t justify investing the time and money in developing small front tyres at the same rate as tyres for the rest of the grid.

  5. W-K said on 8th April 2010, 9:11

    And what did I say in the “The 2010 season in 20 questions” thread.

    5. What will be the biggest political story?
    5. Modern tyres, i.e. small side walls.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 8th April 2010, 9:19

      Very prescient, W-K!

      • W-K said on 8th April 2010, 9:37

        The reason I think it will become political is because most would think you can just bolt them on as a one to one replacement.
        But the arguments about costs to develop the stronger gearboxes and revised suspension etc. will be worth watching.

        • yes, someone from the 5-live commetry team during free practice called it the ‘silent crisis’ currently affecting F1, and came to the conclusion that the only other manufacture who is even capable of producing tyres under their current regs for next season is Michelin and bernie and the FIA had affectively gone hat in hand to them.

    • sato113 said on 8th April 2010, 17:31

      it isn’t the biggest political story YET. hold ur horses! ha.

  6. maciek said on 8th April 2010, 9:34

    As far as looks are concerned I guess I’ve stayed in the dark ages, but I just can’t get with the aesthetics (or lack thereof, in my view) of low profile tyres…. they just look plain cheesy to me, especially when people put them on 70′s muscle cars – way to ruin cool cars.

    But, on topic, as others have mentioned, the rumours are that they are discussing tyre width more than anything else, aren’t they?

  7. Jeff said on 8th April 2010, 9:43

    Stick with the 13s please, much prefer the look of the current tyres…

  8. Derek said on 8th April 2010, 9:43

    The ride on a bumpy track would be very uncomfortabl with these low profile tyres.

    Even if the brake disks remain the same size, there would be better cooling with more space inside the wheels.

    The overall diameter (Wheel and tyre) would be the same as now, it’s just the profile that would reduce with the rim size. So the amount of rubber that can contact with the road would be the same, so I don’t see more mechanical grip from these.

  9. tombo said on 8th April 2010, 10:54

    i remember the idea being dismissed by someone in some interview in the late 90s (sorry, can’t be more precise!) because it would enable bigger brake disk sizes, therefore shorter braking zones. this would make passing very difficult indeed. also, it would do nothing to aid the fundamental flaw in F1 racings right now – turbulent air!
    teams should have to pass a turbulence test, much like a crash test, in order to be legal. this would allow innovation to take place (in a way that putting massive aero-restrictions would not) and result in a much less turbulent wake, which is the ultimate objective.

    also, why are we so obsessed about improving the show – the last few seasons have been spectacular. think back to ’96-98: those seasons were only saved by the title battles, the on-track racing was, largely, unmemorable. the more chaotic seasons (ones with more winners, more teams winning) are always exceptional.

    • Damon said on 8th April 2010, 16:02

      “it would enable bigger brake disk sizes”
      - Irrelevant. Disk sizes are regulated.

      • Regulated for ‘now’, and I think we all know how long it takes for a change in regulations at the hands of the FIA! In F1, from one season to another, its safe to believe that nothing’s regulated.
        All I’d say is – I hate spec! So, a well regulated tyre war is welcome in my books. But, I see that as a major risk as none of us would want it to go back to the 2001 – 2004 period, when it was a pure tyre formula.
        So, the best bet here is to keep the sole supplier rule and go to someone else if Michelin are being too choosy & bossy. There’s a load of other tyre makers who can more than handle F1′s demands, viz. Goodyear, Pirelli, or even one of those Korean peeps (Kumho, Hankook). I don’t see enough reason to bend down to Michelin’s demands.

    • Woffin said on 14th April 2010, 10:36

      “teams should have to pass a turbulence test, much like a crash test, in order to be legal. this would allow innovation to take place (in a way that putting massive aero-restrictions would not) and result in a much less turbulent wake, which is the ultimate objective”

      That is an excellent idea! Someone get this man the FIA’s telephone number! :D

  10. Bigger tyres means slower acceleration, less stability in the corner, because of the torque generated on the far edges of the tyre.
    IndyCars use them because they can be quicker on the straits.
    F1 needs a tyre with a filling that is not affected during the puncture like air.
    It is really silly to think that F1 needs air in the tyre, since they are not a series to jump over hurdles, like rally.
    Better suspension, or maybe even an active one, plus a tyre with a new filling would do the job.

  11. W-K said on 8th April 2010, 12:20

    Thinking about it, with some of the observations made here. Changing to larger wheels and low profile tyres probably means everything, except the engine, needs re-designing.
    And if kers is re-introduced, probably with differences from the last version, then we would be into another everything changes year for 2011.

    How are the smaller teams going to manage that?

  12. How about Kumho and Hankook? There are rumours that those two companies would like to enter f1. And I think that tyre war would be good for f1.

  13. Robert McKay said on 8th April 2010, 12:54

    Michelin also did A1GP tyres, in the last season, if I remember rightly…didn’t have any competitors there.

  14. LeRoy said on 8th April 2010, 13:57

    Would love to hear the teams reaction to the amount of changes to the car due to smaller sidewalls, which I think would have a large impact on performance. No more tire flexing as the car goes through a corner. Mechanical grip would increase. I’m not sure if 18′s are the way to go, but why does EVERY other series (bar NASCAR) have large rims and small sidewalls?

    Smaller front wing + smaller diffuser + smaller sidewall + wider front tires + wider cars = following cars closer = easier overtaking!

  15. johnno said on 8th April 2010, 14:05

    What about Pirelli? They supply the WRC.

    Personally, I’d like to see another japanese brand, like Yokohama or Toyo.

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