Growing Pains: Why F1 doesn’t need bigger wheels

Pirelli, put some demonstration 18 inch tires on the Lotus E22 chassis at last week’s test in Silverstone to much fan fare. The claim by Pirelli and former F1 suppliers like Michelin is that it’s pointless for them to invest a fortune in tires they can’t discern any reliable data for their road tire programs. They feel that F1’s 13 inch tires do not translate to anything on the road as the last decade has seen a massive increase in wheel and tire sizes across the board in the auto industry.

Big wheels are in, but big wheels are also heavy. They give a harsher ride, less responsive handling and longer braking distances, all things that are the antithesis of what Formula One is all about. I have a friend who has some 14 inch Enkei RPF1’s on his car. They do look a little small, even on his first gen Miata, but they are directly inspired by the wheels Enkei supplies McLaren with for F1, and in 14 inch guise they weight just 8.6 pounds!

In an era of Formula One in which efficiency and sustainability have come to the fore, the weight benefit of small wheel sizes should be applauded, even if they do stick to tradition. Larger wheels and tires will hurt fuel consumption, threatening the 100 kg flow fuel rate as well as put additional strain on the newly reconfigured gearboxes. If F1 and Pirelli really want it to happen, they will throw enough money at the problem to make it work. But the question remains, do they really need to make that drastic of a change? Pirelli has made the statement that such a change couldn’t come before 2017 as such an increase in wheel and tire size will necessitate massive aerodynamic changes to the cars.

In a time when F1 is struggling to come to grips with the changes it has just introduced, can it afford one more crucial change? If they feel a change must be made I would advocate a smaller one, a compromise if you will. IndyCar currently runs 15 inch wheels, in F1’s tried and true tradition of one upping everyone else, 16 inch wheels would strike a good balance between a more road relevant tire construction without being so cartoonishly low profile as the Pirelli’s on the Lotus last week. Pirelli is certain to continue pushing the issue over the next several years, it will be fascinating to see how it plays out and how the teams will rise to the challenge.

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About

Associate Editor of Motorsports Tribune and jack of all trades, Adam is our resident Formula 1 expert. He has covered F1, IndyCar, WEC, IMSA, NASCAR, PWC and more. His work has been featured on multiple outlets including AutoWeek and Motorsport.com. A MT Co-founder, Adam has been with us since the beginning when he and Joey created Tribute Racing back in 2012. When not at the track or writing about cars, Adam can be found enjoying the Oregon back roads in his GTI.

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