Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Big Wheels Turning: Lotus F1 Team Tests Pirelli Tires with 18-Inch Rims

Photo Credit: Pirelli Photo Service

Formula 1 has long been a sport where technological evolutions have shaped the on-track product. In 1950, the champion-winning vehicle was an Alfa Romeo roadster powered by a supercharged straight-eight engine paired with a four-speed transmission. In 2014, the Formula 1 field is full of carbon fiber-laden machines powered through turbocharged V-6 engines with advanced, electrified powertrains. One thing that bridges 64 years of history is that the vehicles from both eras ride on Pirelli tires. Though advances in tire construction has made today's rubber radically different than the ones found on earlier grand prix cars. This past Wednesday at a multi-team test at the Silverstone Circuit, Pirelli has contributed a concept that could be used to define future Formula 1 cars.

With the Lotus F1 Team's E22 race car serving as the test bed, Pirelli has revealed a wheel/tire combination that could be spinning on the world's most premier open wheel vehicles. Featuring an18-inch wheel within P Zero racing slicks, the so-called Pirelli new concept tire rounded the Silverstone race track for 14 laps. The wheel diameter of the Pirelli's new concept tire is five inches larger than the series' current 13-inch rim. The Pirelli P Zero tire developed for the 18-inch wheel is slightly larger and possesses a stiffer structural sidewall.

Photo Credit: Pirelli Photo Service

Wednesday's tire test of the new concept Pirelli tire placed no emphasis on studying lap times. Without a lap time comparison to the current specification wheel/tire, it is worth noting there is one less than desirable attribute with the new concept tire that could affect speed negatively. Due to the larger wheel, the Pirelli new concept tire weighed four kilograms more than the current Formula 1 tire. The increase in unsprung weight on may prove unpopular in the quest for faster lap times.

The main reason for this exploration into tires centered with larger wheels appears more for style than it is for functionality. Pirelli's new concept tire is also considered as obtaining closer parity with the tires they develop for passenger cars. As a matter of fact, there are fewer production cars on the market running 13-inch wheels. The new wheel/tire was the highlight of a test where Formula 1 organizations such as the Lotus F1 Team, Ferrari and Red Bull Racing performed runs with tire compounds being assessed for the 2015 season.

Any potential adaptation to a new wheel, such as the one demonstrated new concept tire, seems unlikely for 2015 but could possibly become part of Formula 1 as early as the 2016 season.

Below is a comparison of wheel sizes used by various leading forms of auto racing:

2014 Wheel Sizes in Major Auto Racing

Series Wheel Diameter (Inches)
Formula 1 (Current Spec) 13
IndyCar Series 15
WEC LMP1 (Porsche 919 Hybrid) 18
Formula D (Ford Mustang RTR) 18


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