F1 Is Marching Closer To 18-Inch Wheels

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Photo: Pirelli

Formula 1 presents itself as the pinnacle of car technology, which is why it’s funny that the cars run on 13-inch wheels. These are, of course, impossibly advanced 13s, better than any wheel you, I, or any other mortal would ever fit on a car. But they are 13s nonetheless. But, F1 is still taking steps to toward sizing up to 18s.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Lewis Hamilton and Valterri Bottas tested the 2019 Mercedes W10 with 18-inchers. Here is some of that test:

The switch to 18s is locked in for 2021, after a Covid-related delay from the original plan of introducing the setup in 2020. Teams have already designed their 2021 cars around these 18s, so there’s no going back, as Autosport reported last year.


There are concerns that these tires will be significantly slower than the ones F1 has been using for years, as RaceFans reports:

[Hamilton] has previously expressed concerns that F1’s switch to 18-inch rubber could prove a step backwards. “When we go to the bigger rim, I’ve heard we lose grip when we go to that tyre,” he said last year.

“I think what we actually really need in Formula 1 is slightly less downforce and more mechanical grip and a lot of that comes from the tires so that we can follow closer. But it doesn’t seem that we’re going in that direction.”


There are also hopes, though, that the whole 2021 package will make cars more racey, with cars less hindered by the wake of cars ahead of them. I am certainly no fan of how little overtaking there is in F1's modern era, but I am also not entirely convinced that previous eras were much betterin that respect. The wildest season that F1 ever had, 1982, was really only exciting because half the cars were too slow to compete and the other half exploded most of the time. Gilles Villeneuve was killed and a guy who reportedly bounced out of a race to go visit a nearby red light district won the championship.

This is all to say that there are bigger things at play that make F1 interesting than the size of the tires.