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. Benjimiah said on 8th April 2010, 17:39

    This simply wouldn’t work. Going to a tyre size like 15 or 18 would change the entire car. Current F1 cars are built around the regulation that states that most aero devices (wings, etc) cannot be bolted directly to suspension components, they must be bolted to the frame (i know, i know) itself.

    Remember the crazy aero era with all the wing failures a few decades ago? If you noticed, thats when we moved to smaller wheels and larger sidewalls. It’s necessary. If the aero devices are mounted to the body (current spec) then as the aero load (downforce) increases, the body would be rammed into the ground, annihilating all suspension travel. The solution? Using tires with a larger sidewall.

    Larger sidewall tires effectively as as the suspension under high load. Changing the spec of tire/wheel combo would effectively necessitate a complete redesign of the Entire Car.

    Make sense? It just flat-out would be the worst possible solution. The technical ramifications are just too costly both literally and figuratively.

    • Too costly??? We are talk F1 here,change is good…time to put the rear wing on the shark fine tail too.

  2. Benjimiah said on 8th April 2010, 17:53

    I decided to explain a bit better…

    This simply wouldn’t work.

    Going to a tyre size like 15 or 18 would change the entire car. Current F1 cars are built around the regulation that states that aero devices (wings, etc) cannot be bolted directly to suspension components, they must be bolted to the chassis itself.

    Remember the crazy aero era with all the wing failures a few decades ago? If you noticed, thats when we moved to smaller wheels and larger sidewalls. It’s necessary. If the aero devices are mounted to the body (current spec) then as the aero load (downforce) increases, the body would be rammed into the ground, annihilating all suspension travel. The solution? Using tires with a larger sidewall.

    Now, back in the day (a Wednesday ;P), when aero devices were mounted directly the the suspension/tires, low profile tires were necessary. Back then, the actual suspension actually had travel (the wheel would move up and down by quite a bit). In that time period, the low profile tires were necessary because the downforce was Not affecting the entire car, it was just pushing down on the tires. With less sidewall, the tires wouldn’t deflect or compress as much under lateral or longitudinal load.

    Makes sense right? This way, you could have massive downforce levels while retaining plenty of suspension travel. The downside to this is were those Massive failures in that time period which led to many injuries (i don’t remember if tons of people died) as suspension components failed.

    So…the Entire rulebook changed. As we moved to aero devices mounted onto the chassis directly, the suspension ended up getting super compressed at high downforce levels, effectively destroying the car’s handling. Thus, the move to higher sidewall tires was necessitated. The Tires were now tasked with the responsibility of compressing and deflecting under load, something that the suspension (being hyper compressed by tons of downforce) could not do anymore.

    Larger sidewall tires effectively act as as the suspension under high load. Changing the spec of tire/wheel combo would effectively necessitate a complete redesign of the Entire Car.

    Make sense? It just flat-out would be the worst possible solution. The technical ramifications are just too costly both literally and figuratively.

    • No their run with carbon wing lets all over the car now…yes the suspension will have to be more active, but designers will fig. it out.

      • Richard Merk said on 8th April 2010, 20:06

        As stated by Benjimiah, the designers have already figured it out and the solution was 13-inch wheels.

        The sidewalls are one of the most important suspension components to a F1 car.

        Look at the incredible slow motion replays of a car going through a chicane, such as at the Nurburgring. The tires are vibrating almost out of control because of the amount of energy they are absorbing. If the tires are not longer able to dissipate that energy, and the suspension cannot allow any more travel becuase of downforce levels, its going to be felt by the driver.

    • Romeo - Mex in USA said on 8th April 2010, 22:19

      Excellent explanation.

    • Patrickl said on 8th April 2010, 22:47

      Of course they would have to redesign the suspension and the brakes and the gearbox.

      So what?

      • Benjimiah said on 9th April 2010, 14:01

        “Of course they would have to redesign the suspension and the brakes and the gearbox.
        So what?”

        Uh…

        That’s almost everything.

        • Patrickl said on 9th April 2010, 14:36

          Yeah, so what? They spend millions on imrpoving/redesigning these items anyway.

          Besides, it’s not like they have to design completely new ones, just make them a bit tougher.

          How much do you think it cost to increase the fuel tanks? They basically had to redesign the whole car for that too.

  3. Stu said on 8th April 2010, 18:13

    F1 needs to move with the times, rather than being stuck in the 70’s and 80’s with tiny wheels, i dont think it’s an issue of what would improve the racing it’s just modernisation and more road relevant, i don’t think they build road car wheels smaller than 15 anymore do they? and i believe also, having larger wheels in F1 would help develop road technologies for alloy wheels.

  4. BasCB said on 8th April 2010, 19:34

    What if Michelin would supply say the harder tyres to teams, and Bridgestone would supply softs and have Goodyear for the middles etc.
    We would have competition, but not a completly parallel development of the same tyres by 2 or more competitors.
    I think the 15″ would be better, on the other hand, 18″ would be fine for me as well.

    • Icthyes said on 8th April 2010, 20:44

      I think that would be a brilliant idea. then the different suppliers could compete in the performance-durability stakes without having to design four different kinds of tyres, keeping their own costs down.

  5. Stuart said on 8th April 2010, 19:38

    Firestone would be my bet.They already supply Indycar with 15″ tyres.
    Or one of the Korean companies.Kumho or Hankook

  6. What’s all this nonsense about making F1 road relevant. There was never any talk of this until very recently. F1 cars are open-wheeled single-seaters that generate masses of downforce! Making wheels low profile because that’s what my cars have would be such a slight similarity that it sounds ridiculous. I’m not interested in road relevance in my racing, if I was, I’d watch touring cars – I want rules that let cars follow each other more closely through corners.

  7. steen said on 9th April 2010, 3:19

    I think the right balance of aspect ratio would come with a 15″ or 17″ racing rim. The OD doesn’t have to be changed at all with the lower profile rubber. Too low a profile 18″+ (IMO) will lead to lower overall performance, for the reasons given by others. The aesthetic will also be compromised with too low AR rubber.

  8. Stuart said on 9th April 2010, 15:07

    Yes.Bridgestone Americas

  9. Bailey Bass said on 11th April 2010, 12:26

    I like the idea of increasing the tyre width. I think they should decrease the mirrors, and have a brake lights on f1 cars.

  10. Chaz said on 12th April 2010, 16:57

    I’m in favour of low profile tyres and as its F1 I think the 18″ would be good. I concur with your points about 15″ Indy experience but this is F1 and its nice when F1 leads and tries something different, no not a very good argument I know, but nothing ventured nothing gained.

    I am not in favour of a tyre war again. This would not be good for the sport especially when we are supposed to be looking at reducing costs by standardising all sorts of various components etc. As for who supplies the tyres, well that not really a big issue for me, so long as it is just one supplier for all the teams…

  11. Take it a step further, at present tyres are consumed in sets of 4 of each type. I don’t know if this is because of the rules, but, if a team finds its rear tyres going off before the front for example, why can’t they use a different compound front to rear. Even if the rules state that they must use 4 of each of 2 compounds, that would still be accomplished in only one tyre change.

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