18-inch Michelin tyres on a Ferrari F138

Should F1 switch to larger wheel rims?

Debates and PollsPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

18-inch Michelin tyres on a Ferrari F138Recent rumours linking Michelin to a return as a tyre supplier in Formula One centred on their desire to see an archaic aspect of the F1 rules brought up-to-date.

Formula One wheel sizes have been fixed at 13 inches (330mm) for two decades even as the side of road car rims and racing cars in less restrictive series have increased. Pirelli are expected to remain F1’s single tyre supplier next year and 13-inch wheels will remain.

Michelin were believed to want to see F1 wheel sizes grow to 18 inches (457mm) – a significant increase. Is it time for F1 to catch up with developments in the world of wheels?


On a purely philosophical level, if Formula One is supposed to be the pinnacle of motor racing, an update to this area of the rules is long overdue. Formula One’s 13-inch wheels look oddly small compared to the larger wheels used in the World Endurance Championship and forthcoming Formula E series.

One might assume that where an F1 car is different from a road car it is because of reasons of performance. But in this case Formula One is well behind the times – modern road cars tend to have far smaller tyre aspect ratios than F1 machines.


Stagnant areas of development in Formula One usually have two root causes: safety or costs, sometimes both. In this case it’s largely the latter. Limiting tyre development is a significant cost saving for teams.

To change the size of wheel rims now would force teams to redesign their suspension, which would also bring significant costs. And the new tyres would require further track testing – yet more costs. All this at a time when teams are already feeling the squeeze from expensive new engine regulations.

I say

18-inch Michelin tyres on a generic F1 carIt does seem strange to have the world’s fastest racing cars running on dinky wheels of dimensions so small it’s getting increasingly difficult to buy an equivalent for a road car. F1 does not use these smaller wheels for performance reasons, it’s purely a throwback in the regulations.

Given the choice there are many things I would like to change about F1’s current tyre rules. Given a red pen and a copy of the FIA Sporting Regulations I’d quickly strike out the obligation for drivers to use both tyre compounds during a race, and abolish the requirement for the top ten qualifiers to start the race on their used tyres from Saturday.

Of the many aesthetically displeasing characteristics of modern Formula One cars the bulging sidewalls so at odds with modern car design is not the most offensive. But it is another reminder of how F1 is falling further away from the cutting edge.

And I do rather like these illustrations of how F1 cars might look on (Michelin) 18-inch wheel rims.

You say

Do you think F1 should increase the size of its wheel rims? Cast your vote below and have your say in the comments.

Should F1 increase wheel rim sizes to more than 13 inches?

  • Yes - to 19 inches or more (12%)
  • Yes - as high as 18 inches (53%)
  • No - keep it at 13 inches (23%)
  • No opinion (12%)

Total Voters: 461

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119 comments on “Should F1 switch to larger wheel rims?”

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  1. Chris (@tophercheese21)
    27th September 2013, 11:21


    1. Chris (@tophercheese21)
      27th September 2013, 11:40

      Just to explain my view;

      Having low profile tyres does not appeal to me because it’s more like a road car. It’s the same reason as my view on the new engines becoming more “road relevant”. I love Formula 1 for the fact that it’s so extremely unique. The speed, the noise and the grip.
      If I wanted Formula 1 to look and perform more relevantly to road cars, then i’ll just watch the WEC, or the V8 Supercars.

      From a fan’s POV, it shouldn’t be about “Let’s see how quickly we can make F1 realistic to everyday roads.”

      It’s the same reason you might play ridiculous video games. You play them because they’re ridiculous and not trying to replicate real life.

      F1 does not use these smaller wheels for performance reasons, it’s purely a throwback in the regulations.

      In my view, it’s all the more reason to keep these higher profile wheels in the sport. Formula 1 is already changing so quickly, with these 2014 regulations, and a vast expanse of Herman Tilke circuits that are on their way and are utterly rubbish and have no tradition at all.

      Formula 1 needs to keep all the tradition it can hold on to.

      1. I agree, largely, with your reasoning and motivation, but come to a separate conclusion.

        I don’t want F1 to mirror what is happening on the road, i want it to lead what is happening on the road, be that in terms of safety or performance.

        I’d be interested to know more about the performance or practicality benefits to having lower aspect ratios. Do they make the tyres grip better? they seem to have a more square shape – what is the benefit of this? Would punctures be less likely, due to smaller tyre walls? Would it make the tyres more dangerous – ie would a tyre made up of more metal be more of a hazard to marshals and other drivers?

        I’d be interested to hear a more developed argument, especially from a manufacturers POV – would it deter or tempt other manufacturers?

        1. And could the increased size have a cost/benefit gain in the brakes.

        2. +1
          Couldn’t agree more with you guys… I would be open to bigger rims if they manage to improve the car’s performance… unlike things like KERS, that is a technology with a very low specific power output (power to weight)…

    2. Yes.
      Wider rear tires withe 18″ rims with a lower profile would be perfect.
      Todays tires and rims don’t have that intimidating look that wider rear tires had in the past and larger rims would look more like road car.

  2. If anything, this reminds me of when we put big rims on our formula student concept. I hate to admit, but it looks terrible

    Honestly, i find the current size rather cute, so I voted NO

    1. To be fair, the biggest problem for me there is the rim design, which makes it hard to decide of the rim size is actually bad.

      (sorry if it was you who designed the rims)

      1. the rims were scavenged from another project (for a road car) as we were running out of time. Their scale is my fault though))

        But this is just another highlight that not everything that is good for road cars is good in the world of formulas.

    2. I agree I too find the 13 cute. I also like those illustrations of 18’s but I still prefer the 13’s. As I’m staring to my f310b and f2002 models I’m reminded of how much did the 13’s enhance the wow factor of moving f1 cars.I think the 13’s look outdated because of the increase in wheelbase since 2010.

    3. You might be on to something. F1, the pinnacle of “cute”.

      Perhaps they should add some Hello Kitty touches and Little Tikes design cues.

  3. It does seem strange to have the world’s fastest racing cars running on dinky wheels of dimensions so small it’s getting increasingly difficult to buy an equivalent for a road car.

    It’s also difficult to buy road cars which weight as little as F1 cars, after-market aero parts as effective as F1 wings, or steering wheels as integral to the car and complex as those in F1. Maybe the tyre size should change (it would be nice to see it simply de-restricted, but that isn’t feasible), but that is not the reason why.

    I used to think larger rims would look strange, but I was wrong. That doesn’t stop me liking the relatively unique appearance of F1 tyres though, so aesthetics don’t really concern me either.

    I’d rather see a review carried out to assess which rim size (and the resulting changes in suspension) is likely to result in the fastest cars, then opt for that if it’s financially viable for most teams. It would be nice to see one of these rigid regulations based on maximum performance rather than an arbitrary number (as the rim size is now) or something intended to limit performance (strict engine regulations, wing dimensions, etc.).

  4. I have always found large wheel rims horrible aesthetically but its clear amongst car enthusiasts I am in the minority. And I have never understood what the performance gains are from larger rims when the F1 cars are able to be much more compliant over kerbs and bumps with the smaller rims but I am sure there is an obvious answer.

    Anyway, no is my answer. Even if I was in favour there are so many other things I would like changed first.

    1. @dworsley 19″ or 20″ rims would be indeed “horrible aesthetically”, but I think 17″ or 18″ would be perfect fit for a Formula 1 car. I really dig this look.

      I have never understood what the performance gains are from larger rims

      Larger rims can accommodate larger brakes, but that’s only important if we’re talking about road cars and racing series where brake development isn’t locked. In F1 low profile tyres would be easier to warm-up (no need for tyre-blankets). Low profile also means better structural integrity and less “bouncy” tyres. So when a car looses a wheel it’s less dangerous for bystanders.

      1. But also consider that a lower profile tyre would mean a larger hub, which would be heavier, making it more dangerous were it to get launched.

        Swings and roundabouts!

      2. Larger rims give many benefits, as well as having some downsides, and it’s all down to the situation.

        In general, lower profile tyres are “stiffer”, so will deflect less due to cornering forces, and Larger rims (as stated above) allow for larger brakes. There are many others. A larger rim, however, tends to be heavier.

        I am pretty certain, however, that the main reason they are used on road cars is for aesthetic reasons. This is similar to alloy wheels. They were originally used because they were lighter. You can now get cars with alloys which are much heavier than steel wheels. They are there purely for aesthetics.

        1. “I am pretty certain, however, that the main reason they are used on road cars is for aesthetic reasons”.
          Yes that is correct, but the origins of the aesthetic inspiration comes from Le Mans and Porsche Cup racing series. They have large rims and low profile tyres.

      3. Those bouncy tyres are actually integral part of suspension. So, changing them means huge cost to do complete redesign of suspensions.

        For me, those Formula E tyres look like some tuning gimmicks instead of high performance race tyres :D

      4. From my experience you always wanted the smallest wheel possible that would fit the brakes required to stop the vehicle from Vmax at the maximum rate that the tyre grip allows. Increasing the wheel size will increase the rotational inertia which means it will require more power to accelerate and more braking to slow down compared to smaller wheels. The only reason you would want to increase the brakes is for cooling and there are very few times you hear F1 cars having an issue with overheating brakes (usually caused by things getting stuck in the brake ducts). The reason other race series have larger wheels is often due to regulations not allowing a change from production wheel size. They are also often a lot heaver than an F1 car (approx 640kg F1 VS 1150kg WTCC) requiring a larger disk.

    2. @dworsley in road cars, bigger wheels and rims actually reduce performance, because makes the gear ratios longer and the wheels are a lot heavier.

      That being said, isn’t there a clear performance gain with this big walled, small tyres? I always supposed that it’s fundamental to the car behavior because the sidewall acts as a suspension, and effectively, the travel is a lot bigger with the tyres than the suspension.

      I don’t think team NEED bigger rims. Bigger wheels, for sure, as it increases the contact patch to the road. But bigger rims, not at all.

      I say: I don’t have a problem with these 13 inches. I never had. I’d love to have bigger tyres at the back like we used to have in the 80s, but I doubt that’s happening. It’s not an issue I think about every fortnight

  5. From a technical standpoint it would raise costs not only from the redevelopment of suspension components but would also likely have an aerodynamic impact due to the change in vehicle dynamics. Afterall lest we forget the significant challenges the teams faced at the start of this season from a change in philosophy from Pirelli and tyre construction. Increasing rim size would likely mean reducing the sidewall size to keep the same rolling radius thus changing the dynamic properties of the car. For these reasons alone it would be better (both technically and financially) to stick to 13″ wheels for the foreseeable future in my opinion, with the first opportunity for change coming around 2016/17.

    1. But a vote for a change in 2/3 years is a vote for a change, I also voted for a change with the caveat that it will need to be planned for well in advance.

  6. To me this is only an issue for Michelin, and their business case of wanting to get back into the sport.
    For the good of the sport the wheels need to stay at 13″ purely because several midfield teams are really beginning to struggle with funding. Change in F1 is fiendishly expensive, as we are now being made acutely aware of regarding next years engine and transmission units costing teams roughly double what they have been paying for their V8’s. When you have championship winning teams like Lotus and Williams struggling to find that money, this wheel/hub change is one too many at the moment. I won’t even begin with the Sauber and Sergey Sirotkin situation…

  7. 18 inch wheels and wider rear tires by 1 – 2 inches would look the best.

  8. I voted 13 inches.
    Although I think that a change to 18 inches would be good in many ways, but I simply cannot vote for it right now because of the costs of making such a change.
    With the new engine regs. putting all-ready economically pressured teams into much more trouble it is just not the time to make the switch.
    I know pay drivers isn’t a new thing, but it seems to get increasingly worse. Just look at the number of brilliant talents standing the sidelines, having to give way to average drivers with a very large checkbook.
    That is, very much a problem for F1 right now. Outdated tyres, is not. That can always be changed later on. But loosing Sauber or Williams is not going to be reversible.
    So while I am in favour of 18 inch wheels, I would rather have that they limit the costs of competing to help the struggling teams until a more financially sustainable solution can be agreed upon. And THEN they can make the change.
    We have had those tyres for decades. I think we can live with them for the next 5 years as well.

  9. Yes, I’d like to see the wheel sizes increased to 17 or 18 inches for 2015. Small wheels are a ridiculous anachronism. And they introduce an element into suspension design which is very hard to control or fine-tune, compared to suspension done via springs and dampers. It’s really sad how many people like the small wheels just because they’re used to it in F1, or to see people justify it because they want F1 to be different from any other form of wheel design. Yawn.

    1. I are agreeant.

    2. Me too, I think Keith missed an opportunity by not asking people to vote on what they would like to see rather than what they think the teams can afford.

  10. Not bothered. What does it matter.

    1. Then why did you comment?

    2. It matters for aerodynamics, it matters for suspension geometry and load paths into the chassis, it matters for spring rates and the range the dampers need to work over, it matters for the rim manufacturer marketing to consumers, it matters for safety, it matters for the drivers, it matters for aesthetics.

      So that’s engineers, drivers, fans and sponsors it’ll matter to, which including the governing body who will legislate for it, is pretty much everyone.

  11. I voted for the 13 inch rim because I actually like the bulging sidewall. I don’t agree that it is one “Of the many aesthetically displeasing characteristics of modern Formula One cars” to me that makes it look like a Formula One car. I actually thought the Bridgestone tyres didn’t bulge enough and was pleased that the Pirelli’s do bulge more. I’ve no other reason than that – I just like the look.

    1. You could put wheels and tires like this on your road car. Maybe you’d need to use 9- or 10-inch wheels to achieve the same ratio of sidewall height to tread width. Could also be quite a bouncy, flobbery ride, but hey – wheels are all about the look and nothing else, aren’t they?

  12. An F1 ‘balloon tyre’ weighs a bit more than a low-profile equivalent due to the extra five inches or so of sidewall. Shipping these extra heavy ‘balloon tyres’ around the world to however many locations is consequently more expensive than it would be to ship normal-style low-profile tyres. There is also the material cost – that rubber is presumably recycled, however, with five inches less sidewall then there would be material savings.

    Sure it is going to cost a bit more to test the cars on the new tyres, however, this is a one-off expense and, from then on, there is going to be on-going savings in rubber and shipping. To mitigate against cost the disc size for the brakes could be maintained to the 13″ standard.

    Despite what some people say, those Pirelli ‘balloon tyres’ are not a good advert for the sport (or even Pirelli), I think some innovation would be welcome. Who knows the change could actually help the mid-back-marker teams if they can somehow do a better job than the front-runners of adapting to this new change. Without giving it a go we will never know.

  13. Honestly, until I read this article, it’s not something I’ve ever thought about, and certainly the current wheels don’t bother me at all. They look they way they’ve looked for long time.

    Given that at present teams as well established as McLaren, Lotus and Sauber are struggling financially to greater or lesser degrees, let’s not fix something that probably isn’t broken. It would just cost teams a whole lot of money for no improvement to the racing.

    1. McLaren aren’t struggling financially – The F1 team is just having an off-year and is reviewing costs in the wake of the reduced prize money they’ll be accepting at the end of the year, as any company should do.

      The main company is in rude health.

      1. McLaren aren’t struggling financially

        There are strong rumours that Telmex haven’t paid them on time. I said “to greater or lesser degrees” because I’m not suggesting that McLaren are in the same boat as say Lotus – but even the Woking based team are having headaches.

  14. michelin’s slick wet weather tyres probably depended on the 18 inches rim

  15. I say leave well enough alone. Besides, the laws of physics say smaller diameter means quicker acceleration whereas larger diameter means more top end. I’ll go with acceleration in racing every time.

    There are far more urgent things that need changing before the size of the rims do. I know more than one thing can be changed at a time but to be honest, until you mentioned it now, the size of the rims wasn’t even in my mind. It’s simply not an issue.

    1. acceleration logic is not really applicable here as we are talking about rim diameter, not the overall diameter of the wheel, which would stay more or less the same

      for the rest of what you said, i agree

    2. @bealzbob
      You do realize we’re not talking about the outer diameter, but just the rim size, right? Complete wheel diameter would stay at about 26″ (to be precise: 660 mm with dry-weather tyres and 670 mm with wet-weather tyres).

      1. That being said, in drag racing, where acceleration is very important, they use big tyres and relatively small rims. However there are slightly different principles at work there. These tyres have relatively soft sidewall, which means that they have a huge initial contact area with the road. When the wheels start turning, they literally bite into the asphalt.

        Once they start going their geometry changes drastically (the diameter increases, but they become narrower, which helps with top speed). The problem is that these sidewalls can’t handle any serious cornering.

        1. wow, thanks for the pic, cool stuff

    3. That would only be true if you had no gears. You can always choose gears to suit the wheel size.

      In any case, as the others said, I don’t think the overall wheel size will change.

    4. Doh, yes, forgive me. Overall diameter would be staying the same so the acceleration/top end point is completely irrelevant.

      It then becomes a cost / aesthetics discussion to which I stick with my original vote. Leave well enough alone. Looking at the rim of a Formula E car, I don’t think it would particularly improve F1 or make F1 in any way ‘more relevant’ to today’s road cars in terms of tyre technology.

  16. Steve Hopkinson
    27th September 2013, 12:42

    I seem to remember that a couple of years ago a leading F1 engineer (possibly Brawn) said that moving to low-profile tyres would actually make the cars slower, in the short term at least. The compression that you get with current high-profile tyres is an essential part of the cars’ suspension, and in some ways is preferable to the behaviour of low-profile tyres. Switching to larger rims would mean a complete revision of the cars’ suspension and the way teams model suspension behaviour, which would be a major setback initially.

  17. For all these issues with costs, give the rules are fairly strict with regards to what a tyre can do (‘rotate’ is basically the limit of it) would the costs to change necessarily be that stratospheric, providing enough notice is given to teams so they can implement it into future car designs?

    The chassis rules are being tweaked for next year anyway, meaning teams are already likely to be redesigning their suspension and (unless they do a Ferrari or McLaren and go for a different concept entirely) as long as the main dimensions don’t change, there’s not a lot of airflow change.

    This is, of course, a layman’s view.

    1. it’s not just the airflow, it’s also the fact that current tyres act a lot like shock absorbers, allowing for less suspension travel. There are other things too, such as behaviour of the contact patch etc, which would require some dramatic changes to the suspension, when compared to what 2014 regs bring. In fact, I do not think we will see any noticeable changes to the suspension geometry of next year’s cars (other than Maccas who will be dropping front pull rod).

  18. Low profile also means better structural integrity and less “bouncy” tyres. So when a car looses a wheel it’s less dangerous for bystanders.

    They would also be heavier, maybe the cameraman hitted by Webbers tyre would be dead …
    I just want F1 cars to be fast, so what should I vote? People above said larger tyres would mean worse acceleration but better braking, is that true?

    michelin’s slick wet weather tyres probably depended on the 18 inches rim

    I think that those slick weather tyres would be great for Formula 1! :D

    Btw, now teams have to pay Pirelli for the tyres but if Michelin can use the +/- same tyres for Endurance and F1, that would mean less costs (and more road relevance) for Michelin and the teams would get cheaper tyres, no?

    1. @paeschli

      A larger diameter wheel (rim + tyre) is essentially like a ‘final’ final gear so for fixed gear ratios (like in a road car) yes it would result in poorer acceleration. However if the rim gets bigger the tyres will be made a lower profile so the net result will be the same. Even if not, the teams pick their own ratios, and next years engines have more torque.

      1. Also, regarding the costs to the teams, it’s not the cost of supplying the tyres which would be the problem, but the complete redesign of suspension and perhaps braking systems.

        Aerodynamically it would be rather pleasing, though.

  19. Would there be bigger brakes as a result?

    1. Exactly! The cooling will be easier and the brakes efficiency will increase.

  20. I’m with Keith, the ‘top-ten’ rule and the ‘both compounds’ rule are the first things that should go – scrap them for 2014. Sure, increase the size for 2015, but it’s too late for next year.

    1. Agreed… I’d even go one step further and have the choice of all four “hardnesses” available at any time (limit numbers to keep costs down if necessary.) I really don’t care if it’s faster (i.e. more winning) to do zero stops on hards or six stops on super softs. Just retain some limits on set-up changes between qualifying and the race. My gut feeling is that it would mix up the grid and lead to more overtaking and race position changes.

      1. Hmm.. It would be brilliant if every team could choose compounds for weekend. And maybe even pick only one compound (ie. prime and option both super softs etc) if they desire. It would raise costs a bit but reason behind those silly compound rules is that Bridgestone wanted that there is something to discuss about tyres after end of tyre war. Having that kind of tyre gamble every weekend would definitely keep tyres under discussion :-)

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