With F1 on a break last weekend, there’s no motorsport action to review as such this Monday. But during last week’s Silverstone test, following the British Grand Prix, there was a significant development to emerge that could have a real bearing on the future of Formula One.
F1 could move to 18-inch wheels and tyres from as early as 2016, marking a big change over the current 13-inch wheels and tyres the cars use now.
The new big wheels were tested on Lotus’ E22 F1 car at the mid-week Silverstone practice session, with driver Charles Pic performing the development duties on the new tyre.
First of all, if you’ve watched Formula One for any length of time, seeing big 18-inch wheels on a single-seater will seem alien. But they work.
The Lotus was just nine seconds down on the 1 minute 35.544-second lap time set by Daniil Kvyat in his Toro Rosso. By F1 standards, that’s a lot, but the test wasn’t to assess outright pace and performance – it was an exercise in gathering data to see if the project is viable.
Tyre supplier to F1 Pirelli thinks it most definitely is. The move to the new bigger wheels has been proposed to make Formula One more relevant to the road. With car buyers wanting bigger wheels and therefore lower-profile rubber, it makes sense for Formula One to follow.
This will help the Italian tyre manufacturer further the level of technology it puts into its road tyres in the future. So what you could see on the race track tomorrow, you might be able to buy in a couple of years.
Of course, there are plenty of stars that have to align for this to happen, with rules and regulations needing to be re-written for it to work, but it could benefit us road drivers if the change is made.
It will require some fairly hefty re-engineering of the current Formula One cars, however.
Although the larger 18-inch tyre is no heavier than the 13-inch item, the bigger wheels – despite the incredible lightweight engineering in the sport – is around 4kg heavier than the current wheel.
Along with a few issues over clearance and wheel positioning etc. it means the suspension systems of the cars will need to be rethought, with new spring and dampers to cope with the change in weight and how the wheel and tyre move and perform on track.
Then there’s the effect bigger wheels will have on aerodynamics, and the possibility to fit larger brakes behind the bigger wheels.
Of course, with the brightest minds in the world of racing littering the pit lane, this won’t be too much of a challenge. But even with enough warning meaning it shouldn’t be too difficult to implement, it will be expensive.
And just like clever paddleshift gearboxes and now, moveable aerodynamic aids to improve performance and efficiency, road car drivers will benefit from greater levels of grip and therefore improved safety.