Everything You Need To Know About F1 In 2022: Wheel Of Change

Next week, F1 is back! To celebrate, we’re rounding up everything you need to know ahead of the 2022 season.

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A render of the 2022 Mclaren F1 car with the caption "this is wheely important"
Illustration: McLaren

We’re now just eight days from the start of the 2022 Formula 1 season, and so much is about to change! So, to keep you abreast of all the developments across the sport, we’ve got a series of deep-dives into F1 headed your way.

In the first installment, we looked at all the aerodynamic changes that have made it onto the 2022 cars, including the return of ground effects. As we count down the days to the first race of the season, we’ll also cover all the team and driver changes this year.

But this week, as we approach the second pre-season test in Bahrain, we’re talking wheels and tires.

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That might not sound like a lot to cover, but the tires, rims and aero packaging around an F1 car’s four points of contact with the track have had a dramatic overhaul.

A photo of the 2022 Ferrari F1 car testing in Barcelona.
Fly on, little wing.
Photo: Mark Thompson / Staff (Getty Images)
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New Front Winglets

Tomorrow (March 10th), the 2022 Formula 1 cars will take to the track at the Bahrain International Circuit for the final three days of testing before the new season begins.

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During the test, teams will continue grappling with the sweeping new regulations that have been brought in to try and create closer racing. The main focus of these rules has been about cleaning up the wake of a car, so that following cars can chase more closely.

This has brought about simplified aerodynamics and new wings and fins that aim to clean up airflow.

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When it comes to the F1 cars’ wheels, that has meant adding winglets above each of the front two to clear up the wake they create while spinning. These small fins are mandatory for every car on the 2022 grid.

Lewis Hamilton drives his 2022 F1 car in the wet.
Well he’s driving, through the clouds.
Photo: Mark Thompson (Getty Images)
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In the past, as an F1 car has driven round a circuit, the spin of its wheels has disrupted the air around them. This turbulent air is then manipulated by the car’s aerodynamics and thrown to its rear wing and diffuser. There, this messy air is thrown into the path of an oncoming car and impacting its performance.

It’s because of aerodynamic tweaks such as these that F1 claimed its 2021 cars saw a drop in performance of 46 percent when chasing down another car.

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One way this has been addressed in 2022 is with the addition of these front wheel winglets. Each team has been given a set of dimensions the winglets must fall between. This is to ensure they direct the air in a certain way across all ten teams.

In order to try to clear up the wake of a 2022 F1 car, these winglets will direct airflow away from the rear wing. This, the teams hope, will do two things. First, it will reduce the turbulence cars create while racing, and secondly it will make the following cars “more aerodynamically resilient in close racing.”

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A Red Bull F1 mechanic cleans down a set of wheels.
One rainy wash.
Photo: Mark Thompson / Staff (Getty Images)

Bigger Rims, Bigger Problems

While the area around the wheels has seen the addition of little wings, the wheels themselves have changed to include big rims.

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After 13-inch rims were introduced into the sport way back in the 1980s, F1 is finally ditching them in favor of new 18-inch rims. And, like the rest of this year’s updated regulations, this is a project that has been in the pipeline for many years.

As with many of the changes you’ll see on the 2022 machines, the switch to 18-inch rims is all about reducing the car’s wake and creating closer racing.

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A photo comparing the 2021 and 2022 Alpha Tauri F1 cars
If 13 was 18.
Illustration: Alpha Tauri

According to F1, the way last year’s chunky tires would wobble and deform over the course of a race had an unpredictable impact on the air around the cars. This meant that it could be churned up in a way that would hamper the performance of a car behind.

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By switching to an 18-inch rim with a lower profile tire, sidewall deflection will reduce. This, in turn, will cut the impact the tire has on the airflow over the car and any closely-following rivals.

What’s more, the move to 18-inch rims will also see every team turn to the same wheel supplier. This is all part of F1’s cost-cutting measures, which have included the creation of a number of standardized parts that must be used by every team on the grid.

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For 2022, each team competing in the championship will run with a standardized set of 18-inch rims, which have been supplied by BBS Motorsport. Because there is now just one wheel supplier, BBS has been able to work closely with Pirelli to develop the new low-profile tires that will be used this season.

Sebastian Vettel tests his 2022 F1 car in Spain.
May this be love?
Photo: Rudy Carezzevoli (Getty Images)
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Keeping A Low Profile

And speaking of those tires, why not take a moment to appreciate the extensive work that’s gone into developing new compounds for 2022.

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It’s a big year for Pirelli, which has now been the sole tire supplier in F1 for 11 years. While it has provided consistency for teams across the field, Pirelli’s time in F1 hasn’t been without its controversies.

But going into the new season, the Italian firm has claimed that the new tire compounds are a “huge achievement.”

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While most changes to the 2022 season are about cleaning up the wake of a car, the new tire compounds are about addressing some of the issues teams and drivers have had with Pirelli compounds in the past.

In previous years, drivers complained extensively about Pirelli’s tire compounds. They warned that they would overheat too quickly, were unpredictable at times, and often had a very narrow operating window in which drivers could push their cars to the limit.

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This meant that drivers previously had to hold off to protect their tires and ensure they would last until the end of the race.

Lewis Hamilton crosses the line at Silverstone with a puncture.
You got me blowing, blowing my tires.
Photo: Ben Stansall (Getty Images)
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In the worst cases, the Pirelli rubber didn’t behave as expected over the course of a grand prix. This, at times, led to high-profile punctures that impacted the final result of the race. Not good.

But don’t worry, Pirelli says it’s fixed all these issues with the low-profile rubber we’ll see this year.

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After 28 days of testing out the new tires on 2021 mule cars, the new tires promise “less overheating, less degradation.” Pirelli boss, Mario Isola, also claims they will allow drivers to “fight on track,” which sounds promising.

What’s more, the 2022 tires are reportedly closer to the Pirellis you might find on your road car. So for anyone claiming that sports like F1 are a waste of time and resources, just tell them it’s helping make your tires slightly better.

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A photo of the 2022 Ferrari testing in Barcelona.
Wheel covers: no reason to get excited.
Photo: Rudy Carezzevoli (Getty Images)

Did You Know That Was A Cover?

The final change you’ll see on this year’s F1 wheels is the return of wheel covers.

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You might remember some teams running wheel covers in the past. For me, the mention of them always conjures up images of the 2009 Brawn GP car with its fluorescent shrouds. Well now, the covers are mandatory for all teams and must cover all four wheels.

As you might have guessed, this is once again to help clean up the wake of a car and limit how teams can manipulate the airflow over their machines.

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When engineers were developing the 2022 regulations, they feared that directing airflow through the wheels and under the car could be an “enormously potent” means of increasing downforce. It could also hinder pursuing cars as it, once again, might churn up the wake of a car.

To combat this, the wheel covers act as a physical seal that prevents engineers from directing turbulent air out through the wheels.

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A Brawn GP car driving round the Shanghai International Circuit.
Passing castles made of sand.
Photo: Peter Parks (Getty Images)

The second twist in the wheel cover tale is that some of these fancy shrouds could one day incorporate LEDs. These light up covers were trialed by McLaren in 2021 but have not yet been seen in action on the 2022 cars.

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While not guaranteed to make an appearance this year, Motorsport.com reports that the light up wheel covers could be used “for team marketing purposes or to provide information such as car position.”

Sounds flashy.

So, that’s all the technical regulation changes you can expect to see in 2022. With testing set to get underway again tomorrow, which team do you think might have mastered the new rulebook? And, do you think all these changes will add up to a better show in 2022?

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Keep your eyes peeled for our third and final preview of the 2022 F1 season, which will cover all the team and driver changes you’ll see this year.