Formula 1’s new 18-inch tyres will be a step backwards for car performance but could make the competition closer, Mercedes technical director James Allison says.2021 F1 season. However the postponement of new technical rules due to the pandemic means the change will not happen until 2022.
That means the current 13-inch wheels will remain for another year. Allison says these are a superior technical solution to the format which will replace them.
“All things being equal the bigger rims, low-profile rubber is always going to be a worse tyre than the sort of tyres that we have on our racing car today,” he said in a video published by Mercedes.
“That sort of balloon-type tyre that you see on our cars today and have seen on racing cars for decades is a really good solution for going quickly. It allows the tyre to transmit the forces to the road really effectively, it’s light, it acts as a good suspending element so it gives the driver good ride quality, allows the forces to be taken at quite low inflation pressures, which means you get more grip, et cetera.
“So from a lap time point of view the way we currently do it is definitely the right way. And the new tyres are going to be heavier, lower grip and worse for ride – all other things being equal. So they’re going to slow the cars down by somewhere between a second and two seconds, something like that.
“Of course Pirelli are putting a lot of effort into to mitigate those losses and to bring an improved technology on the low-profile tyres. That means that they will still be good racing tyres. But all things being equal that sort of tyre is not a good thing.”
Allison said he isn’t convinced by some of the arguments for introducing the new tyres. “I guess if you are a 13-year-old boy or a fan of ‘Fast and Furious’ films you’d like the look of the tyre,” he said. “So aesthetically they appeal to some people.”
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While 13-inch wheels have largely fallen out of use on road cars, Allison believes following the car industry trend for larger wheels makes sense.
“For road cars, where performance is not at such a premium and economics are much more important, that is a better overall way to make a tyre from the point of view of the whole package that is presented to the consumer. And so aligning our world better with the road car world means it’s probably more relevant, what we are doing, to the road cars. That’s important.
“It’s also important because it means that time manufacturers are inherently more interested in being part of Formula 1, which is an important part of our sport, making sure that we have strong and committed time partners.”
The sport’s governing body and commercial rights holder also believe the new tyres will increase competition between teams, said Allison.
“Everyone who designs cars knows that the aerodynamics of the tyres is really important. The way in which the car interacts with the tyre as it changes its shape as it’s squashed and distorted by driving around the track, that makes a lot of difference to the aerodynamics.
“So understanding how to design a car to work well with that moving target of a tyre that’s always changing shape is tricky. And it’s one of the many things that distinguishes the front of the grid from the back of the grid: How good a handle you have on that particular geometrical problem.
“If you have a lower-profile tyre because there’s less tyre and that tyre is more rigid in its sidewall, it moves less. And so it presents less of a dilemma to the car designer.
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“So if you were in the FIA and FOM and wanting the grid to compress up, there’d be more of a catfight from front to back, having tyres that don’t interfere so much with the aero is a good thing from our point of view. And they hope that that will compress the grid.”
However Allison says Mercedes hope to take advantage of the introduction of new tyres to increase their advantage over their rivals.
“If you’re in a team, you could look at this challenge that is being put in front of us of a completely new geometrical shape, a completely new set of design constraints, and you’d think ‘alright, tear up everything we know and the prizes are going to go to the team adapts best and quickest to the new challenge of the new tyres’.
“So for us, this new tyre is an opportunity. Yes, it’s going to make the car go slower. Yes, it doesn’t appeal to me visually. But it’s a big opportunity to see whether we can use it to actually, far from compressing the grid, to stretch our heels.
“So with a bit of luck we will work well and better than our competitors. But I guess time will tell whether that plays out or not.”
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