By Adam Tate, Associate Editor
Formula 1 announced today that the sport plans to introduce 18 inch wheels and a new tire specification for 2021. The plan for 18 inch wheels has been brought up several times in recent seasons, Pirelli even produced a demonstration set, as opposed to the current 13 inch wheels F1 has used for over 20 years. Front tires will decrease in width from 305 down to 270 mm. While the rear tires will maintain their current width of 405 mm, they will increase in diameter from 670 mm to at least 710, possibly 720 mm, which will give the cars somewhat of a staggered look as the rear tires will be noticeably meatier and wider than the fronts, which could increase the spectacle of on power oversteer.
The plan is just the latest part of Ross Brawn’s vision for the future of Formula One which will come in the form of sweeping changes for the 2021 regulations. Also included in the changes will be a ban on the use of tire warmers from 2021 on. The implementation of which will likely be met with groaning disapproval from the teams, but their counterparts in the IndyCar series, which runs more sensible 15 inch wheels, have gone without tire blankets for some time and to no ill effect.
The series is looking to continue its process of utilizing a single tire supplier after Pirelli’s current contract expires at the end of next season. Liberty wants the next contract to run from 2020 through 2023. Many are already speculating that this will create an undue hardship on potential tire suppliers as they will have to create a 13 inch tire for 2020 and immediately change that to a 18 inch tire for 2021 through 2023, this undoubtedly gives Pirelli a distinct advantage and it is the impression that Liberty would like Pirelli to stay on.
The series is outlining strict performance and degradation characteristics on what they want from the next generation tires as well. For the hard compound they want two seconds of degradation achieved by 22% race distance. For the medium compound, two seconds of degradation by 18% race distance at a pace 1.2 seconds a lap quicker than the hards. For the softs they want two seconds of degradation by 10% race distance at a pace 2.2 seconds per lap quicker than the hard tires.
The thinking and hope behind asking for such specific targets is to introduce more strategic variety into the races, something the fans and teams are clamoring for after a recent run of predictable one stop races this season. The FIA outlined three possible strategy scenarios in the brief. A medium-hard combo for a one stop race. A soft, medium, medium combination for a two stop race. And finally a soft, soft, soft, medium combo for a three stopper.
They are not giving the world’s tire manufacturers much time to make a decision either, bids must be in by an August 31st deadline. By September 14th a top choice will be made on technical and safety grounds before Liberty Media presents their pick to the FIA World Motorsport Council for final approval.
I have written in the past why I think the idea for 18 inch wheels and tires is a silly idea for a sport focused on pure performance, but the hunt for some semblance of road relevance has temped Liberty to pull the trigger. It will be a fascinating transition for the sport and a brave new frontier come preseason testing in 2020.