Why F1 is likely to move to 18-inch Pirelli tyres
Popularity and winning people's hearts are two different things. For instance, Formula 1 is a popular motorsport. But how many people know the sport inside out? Only a handful. Unlike a sport like football, the technical complexity involved here only attracts those who're capable of investing time, energy and emotion into it rather than just treating it as a mere form of entertainment. So far, the community of motorsport addicts remains a small minority in the world of adrenaline-fuelled thrills.
So now, Formula 1 is trying to win more hearts by bringing itself closer to automobile industry standards, so that a person owing a 1.6-litre engine car can also relate to it. And the need for making the sport relatable and easy to identify with brings the focus on to the tyres.
Pirelli has come up with a prototype 18-inch tyre for Formula 1, said to be inducted in 2017, if approved by the teams and the authorities. They have already tested these prototypes in the in-season Silverstone tests. Pirelli believes that using an industry standard 18-inch rim instead of the currently used 13-inch will not only help increase the popularity of the sport but also smooth out the process of carrying the technology over from a racing car to a regular road car.
Pirelli has fitted the Lotus F1 car with an 18-inch wheel rim and a low profile tyre, thus making it a more relevant comparison to a road car. This poses a list of challenges though, for example it would require a vastly different suspension set-up, harder side walls will require greater rigidity from the tyre structure, the car will be more jittery going over the kerbs and more sensitive over the camber. On the plus side, a low profile tyre will sharpen the handling of the car. However, the Lotus which ran for the test had minimum modifications carried out on it as this was just a demonstrative shakedown.
Charles Pic raked up 14 laps on these tyres in his Lotus and managed a best time of 1m 44.728s, which was nine seconds down on the best time of the day, set by Jules Bianchi, in his Ferrari with regular tyres.
We can't draw any conclusions as of now, as this is only the first test for this prototype tyre and much of the study for its development is yet to be carried out. Pirelli however says that the objectives of this test have been achieved, and if supported by F1's stakeholders, the tyre can be brought out by as soon as 2016.
It will be interesting to see how the F1 fraternity reacts and the decision they come to, with regard to this new development and its relevance to the sport. As for the fans, anything which spices up racing is most welcome. Add to this, the developments on these tyres as a result of racing will ultimately be tailored down to improve our road cars - an initiative that Formula 1 has been taking in other areas of automotive technology, right from the start.