Pirelli will test a new 18-inch wheel in this week’s in-season F1 test at Silverstone, to gauge reaction of an upgrade in wheel size for motorsport’s pinnacle.
Today’s cars run 13-inch wheels, which are an inch smaller than even the most basic Fiat Panda. The Italian firm has been promoting the use of larger wheels since it first entered F1 in 2010 and this test is a big opportunity for it to present its case.
Pirelli argues that larger wheel and tyre sizes “reflect modern market trends, with the adoption of a larger size invariably leading to even great technology transfer between Formula One tyres and road car tyres”. Which makes perfect sense: most major technical innovations in F1 use this argument to secure funds from manufacturers and investors.
Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembrey said: “The 13-inch tyre is no longer relevant to the everyday road use, because even an 18-inch tyre is used by standard vehicles these days. In order to underline F1’s role as a test bed for future mobility solutions, we believe that it benefits everyone to have a close link between road car tyres and competition tyres.”
Hembrey also pointed out it was Pirelli that introduce the low profile tyre from racetrack to road in the 1970s…
Pirelli keeping a low profile
The firm is treading carefully though, stressing that its proposal will be progressed only if the F1 community agrees. “Pirelli will only progress this initiative if there were a genuine desire from the teams, promoter and other stakeholders”.
Indeed, Pirelli even points out that the inherent smaller sidewall would lead to “drastically reduced” space for its logos – but is willing to press ahead despite this, if F1 wants it to. For the greater good and all that.
It doesn’t deny there would be challenges for F1 engineers. Theoretically, the tyres would be a boon, because the stiffer sidewalls would give engineers (and drivers) more rigidity. However, F1 designers account for this in the current car’s suspension and damping, meaning this seemingly simple change would actually require ground-up engineering. Therefore, even if agreement and progress were rapid, don’t expect to see it in place for the 2015 season.
Tantalisingly, Pirelli said it could theoretically go beyond 18-inch wheels. “The possibilities are almost limitless. These include even larger sizes in future.” Given how many new car buyers happily tick alloy wheel upgrade boxes, this is certainly something that will go down well with motorists. But the F1 community? We’ll have to wait and see.