A Technical Account on How 18’ Tyres Will Affect Formula 1

By Hillary Chinyere

Harare, 14 July 2014, 10.00 CAT.

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One of Lotus’ Renault-powered E22 sporting the 18-inch Pirelli rubbers.

13-inch tyres have been part of Formula1 for many years and are effectively the sport’s living fossils, as the rest of the car has been literally evolving around them. Italian tyre manufacturer Pirelli, Formula One’s exclusive rubber supplier debuted it’s 18-inch tyre prototype on the second day of the second in-season testing done at Silverstone a couple of days after the British Grand Prix. This comes at a time when there has been talk on the imminent return of Michelin to the F1 pits. Lotus were given the task of testing the new tyres which have largely received negative reaction from the elitist fans. I’m one of those.

Formula 1 Thrives on Standing Out

Having more low profile tyres does not appeal cos it makes the F1 car look like a normal road vehicle. Can you imagine an F1 car with tyres bigger than those of a Land Cruiser Prado or aftermarket rims on an ex-Japanese Toyota Altezza? It’s the same reason why I oppose the notion of making F1 engines more road relevant. We love F1 for its uniqueness in speed, downforce, grip, noise, aesthetics and handling. For more road relevance, we’d rather watch Rally or better still, NASCAR. It’s the same reason why you might play ridiculous computer games, you play them for their ridiculousness and not their similarity to real life. Formula 1 is already changing so quickly and most of the change is in the wrong direction, with the 2014 and recently-announced 2015 regulations, along with the slow replacement of classic circuits with modern Herman Tilke tracks which have proven to be boring to many a car racing fan. Formula 1 must not follow but lead what is happening on our ordinary roads, both in safety and performance.

Death of the Pit Stop?

Some fans in support of novel tyre technology cited enhanced durability as a positive but it has a deleterious effect on the beauty of F1. We want to see races being decided based on team strategies with respect to rubber compounds used at different stages of the race. First it was the ban on re-fuelling based on safety reasons, now there is talk on a tyre made of more metal and meant to be high on longevity. This, I’m afraid, might reduce the pit lane to merely a site for drive-through penalties or as a grid for multiple offenders such as Pastor Maldonado. Maybe this could be both a pro and a con as drivers such as Lewis Hamilton have blamed their not so quick pit-stops for some of their finishing positions?

Performance Vs Aesthetics

I would be open to bigger rims if only they could improve the performance of the car unlike technologies such as KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) with very low power-to-weight ratios. In that respect, I would welcome a review carried out to investigate the rim size which give the best overall speed to the cars and at the same time financially viable for all teams.

It’s next to impossible to buy a regular car with weight as little as that of an F1 car, aftermarket aerodynamics parts as effective as F1 front and rear wings or steering wheels as integral to the car and with the complexity found in F1. I’m not really worried about the aesthetics but by the functionality of changes we make to the car as it is not a status symbol but a mobile piece of engineering. Can we borrow from Le Mans and adopt the 18” for looks alone?

Braking

On the up side, larger rims can accommodate larger brakes as brake development in Formula 1 is relatively fluid. Low-profile tyres, as the Pirelli 18-inch prototype would be easier to warm-up as they remove the need for tyre blankets. If you are already familiar with Formula 1, you might have heard that warming up tyres improves grip of the tyres and performance of brakes.

Keeping a Low Profile

Low profile means better structural integrity and less bouncy tyres. As a result, when a car loses a wheel as happened to Mark Webber’s car during the Germany Grand at Nurburgring, it will be less dangerous for bystanders. At the same site, a lower profile tyre would mean a larger hub, which would be heavier, making it even more dangerous were it to be accidentally launched. Worth to be noted however is that a larger rim is heavier and thus tends to reduce performance of car as more power will thus be in demand to move the extra weight. Other F1 will argue that the bouncy tyres are an integral component of the cars’ suspension and changing them would require a total redesign of the entire suspension, at a huge cost.

I Can Get Even More Technical

When using Laws of Physics 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 grip allows. Increasing the wheel size will increase the rotational inertia, meaning it will require more power to accelerate and more braking to decelerate (slow down) compared to the smaller wheels; in this case, the 13-inch family. The major practical reason for having large brakes is for cooling and there are few times you ever hear of f1 cars having an issue with over-heating brakes, 2014 Canadian Grand Prix being one of them. Again, bigger wheels and rims result in longer gear ratios, a drawback on performance-oriented cars such as F1 cars.

Nevertheless, the recent changes in Formula 1 regulations have shown us that the voice of Bernie Ecclestone is louder than that of fans and logic.

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