Guest blog: Mark Gillan’s thoughts on Pirelli’s experiment with low profile F1 tyres
Posted By: James Allen  |  14 Jul 2014   |  1:07 pm GMT  |  77 comments

JA on F1 technical adviser Mark Gillan, formerly head of track operations at Williams and Toyota F1 teams has penned some thoughts on the test Pirelli carried out last week at Silverstone using low profile F1 tyres on 18 inch rims.

The exercise was for show only and to get people thinking about a change, which has been discussed between the teams, FIA and tyre companies for several years. Having sat in on many of the meetings and as an expert in aerodynamics and vehicle dynamics, here are Prof Gillan’s notes:

To my mind it’s a good time for F1 to go in this direction, it’s the right moment. The key to it is to agree now for two years ahead to give the teams plenty of time to revise the design of their cars and to add in the active suspension element that would be needed to make it work, for reasons I’ll explain further on.

The desire to move to larger diameter wheels in F1 has been discussed on an almost annual basis with the FIA for well over a decade. Tyre suppliers, despite what would effectively lead to reduced advertising space, are understandably keen to move away from the increasingly less relevant small wheel to larger wheels and associated lower profile tyres. With the large forces and moments that go through a F1 complete wheel assembly the tyre suppliers are clearly keen to ensure that the tyre’s profile is adequate to ensure that it is structurally sound i.e. we are unlikely to see very low profile tyres in the near future.

Up until recently every time this change has been mooted it has received only a cursory discussion and then rejected on the basis of the impact it would have on the design of a F1 car, primarily on the suspension and aerodynamics. It was always discussed as something for the short-term. As a significant amount of the ride height motion of a F1 car is supplied by the tyre (effectively a large spring) the move to much shallower profiles would require large changes in the suspension layout.

However if the sport is also moving potentially in the future to active suspension systems then a combination of a new active ride height control and more relevant tyre geometry would make sense. With reduced movement in the tyre the Teams will have more control of the car’s ride height through the suspension system.

The first thing many readers will think is: But won’t this add an extra cost for the teams when they are supposed to be cutting costs?

The answer is no. In fact all F1 teams have an active suspension system available already. The reason is that for the last few years whenever they have done their straight line aero testing (which used to be allowed four times per year, until it was phased out at the end of 2013; it’s what Maria de Vilotta was doing with Marussia when she had her accident) they always used active suspension to control the pitch and roll, so they always got more accurate data from the aero numbers. So the costs are not significant at all. Active suspension has been banned since 1994 for racing in F1, but it’s been developed very well by teams via the straight line aero testing ever since.

In FIA nomenclature the ‘wheel’ is defined in article 1.5 of the F1 Technical Regulations as ‘the flange and rim’ and the ‘complete wheel’ in 1.6 as the ‘wheel and inflated tyre’.

The Lotus ran last week at Silverstone an 18” wheel in order to collect vital data ahead of any possible future switch. It was a well done exercise; the car and its wheels looked right and Lotus did well to run the car

In the close up of the front complete wheel one can clearly see that Lotus retained the standard brake drum and internals which are dwarfed by the wheel.

As literally thousands of wind tunnel and computational fluid dynamic or CFD hours have gone into the intricate design of these drum and brake duct systems the loss in aerodynamic efficiency will be very large indeed with this update. Clearly if this change to the complete wheel was implemented from 2016/17, as is being mooted, then the Teams would have a big job to claw back the lost performance. Of course with the aerodynamic development process the current brake disc and caliper arrangement could be retained or one could alter it to allow it to fill the wheel but limit its performance to that of the current system.

Teams spend thousands of wind tunnel hours perfecting the aerodynamics for the four corners of the car around the wheels and tyres, so there would have to be a trade off in the rules whereby things were tightly controlled in that area, but the trade off would be the massive performance gain that would come with active suspension.

As for the impact this would have on lap times, that can all be controlled by the tyre supplier with the compounds selected, so the cars could remain roughly as fast as they were with passive suspension and fat tyres.

Finally, with a very different tyre construction (one would assume), a larger wheel and less air in the tyre to control the Teams would also have to revisit how to best optimise the tyre for qualifying and race conditions in order to ensure that it was at its optimal temperature at all times.

Their transient thermal tyre models which are used in the driver in the loop simulators will need revising to ensure that the Team’s virtual development tools remain as relevant as possible.

In conclusion, I think this is a real positive for the sport and it’s the right thing to do now. Provided that the teams are given clear rules for the 2016 or 2017 seasons, then they can work on it in the background and be ready to go when the rules come in.

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“Clearly if this change to the complete wheel was implemented from 2016/17, as is being mooted, then the Teams would have a big job to claw back the lost performance.” – Great!


Sad that we look up to F1 as a pure sport that honors engineering discipline yet so many ‘experts’ seem spout nonsense about high profile tyres being old fashioned or anachronistic.

Let me spell it out – If high profile tyres have more grip, better ride, better heat management, better acceleration and braking quality, longer life and don’t need active suspension to make them work then you can safely assume that they are a superior concept.

Unfortunately – as I like 18s as well , it makes all of us impressionable imbeciles pandering to a bollocks fashion trend.

Tyre techs and racing drivers will confirm that any tyre less than 45 or 40 is BS.

Maybe F1 should give us 355/50/18s all round that would work on a road car and have an engineering reality involved.


Just make it legal tomorrow, 18″ wheel looks good 13″ Frankly an anachronism. From Spa make them run both 13″ and 18″ during the race, that would make the battle for 3rd in the drivers championship and 2nd in Constructors mildly interesting as Mercedes scamper away into the history books as champions.


For those complaining that this is a step in the ‘PImp my ride’ direction, those silly hydraulic bouncing gangster-mobiles run 13″ wheels just like the current F1 cars do.

Just saying.


Seems the obvious way forward as it is a good deal closer to road car wheel sizes.


Unfortunately, F1 is following the car industry towards “vanity wheels” that have ruined the ride quality of modern cars.


Regulations aside, which solution is ultimately fastest – small wheel fat tyre, or big wheel thin tyre? It occurs to me that if F1 cars are currently the fastest machinery, then would they be slower if they change direction with the wheels? And if F1 has the fastest solution, then why don’t manufacturers follow that direction and make it relevant for other sporting categories and supercars?


under that argument, road cars should be 50mm from the floor, and full of wings! what f1 uses, it’s not always the most relevant, or the fastest solution. And it’s not always the fastest solution the best one, like in the early 90’s when you have the qualy tyres or qualy engines. They didn’t last more than 2 laps, they were fastest, but not the best solution (in terms of efficiency, i say).


The car needs a boom box. We’ll be able to hear it now…


Nice articles James and I agree this is the direction and timing F1 needs to take after the issues if tyres last few years. One thing I’m not clear about :-

“However if the sport is also moving potentially in the future to active suspension systems”.. This comment detracts from the fact that the FIA are redressing FRICS. Are you suggestig they may be moving away from FRICS to a fully active suspension– it doesnt sound right??


The looks is fine. Perhaps they balance out these modern, ultra long and cars and take away attention from bad proportions.

What I would like to hear is how these big rims would effect aerodynamics. For me , they look like big, rotating propellers with many spokes. Also the edges of the tire look sharper than on today’s tires. I’m afraid these tires are more draggy than current ones. How road relevant is increasing drag? As I look at the article, the answer must be “all the negative effects can be compensated(!) with active suspension!”.

There is an expensive warning from seasons like 1992-1993, how much it can reduce the importance of driver skills. If a 18 inch tire is still round like current wheels are(therefore it is able to roll!), there is no problem to get cars round the circuit. No active suspension is needed, Sumerians had no suspension at all on their wheel.


I think the clutch on an F1 car is much too small a diameter too, it should be increased from clenched fist size to large Pizza size. Sure the performance is not as good, and unnecessary technical hurdles will have to be overcome, but it will be more relevant for clutch salesman… 🙂

Mr A (Melbourne)

Thank you for the interesting article, Mark.

I have to say this, I have always been an advocate of larger diameter wheels and suitable aspect ratio tyres for Formula One.

I well remember the comment about the BMC Mini – “If the good lord wanted them to go that fast, He would have given them bigger wheels”. Attributed to Russell Brockbank, I think.


James would this change have any real benefits long term for car manufacturing, if not whats the point.


Well the manufacturers aren’t making many cars with 13″ wheels and balloon tyres


There’s a big difference between 13 inches and 18 inches.


They look good to me and active suspension could be a way to help level he field.

What if, like gearboxes, teams had to offer their system for sale to other teams, or even produce anstandard system as wih the ecu?


Active would not be necessary. Merely add the amount of travel the large sidewall wheel provides to the suspension. The alone should provide and advantage since the travel the tire provides right now is undamped. The travel now would be able to be completely regulated by a damper instead of having half and half like they do now. But active suspension wouldn’t be necessary at all.

The other plus would be larger disc area on the brakes which would decrease the vent size and hopefully lead to less brake problems if not eliminate them completely. The smaller vents on the discs should give some aero gains as well. They should switch and the sooner the better. Should make for safer cars at the very least.


Good article Mark- Thanks!

Which brings up a thought: Using the FIA logic of potentially banning FRIC, or not providing clarification on its legality, why are tires with wide “floppy” side walls still allowed? They interfere in one form or another with the aerodynamics of the car and thus contravene the rules.

Or is it simply a matter of “’cause we say so” from the FIA and “Standing Start Show Man Charlie”?

By the way, I’m all for introducing more relevant sized tires and getting away from Whacky Races style ones.


Isn’t it contradictory and highly hypocritical to introduce a rule change that would make active suspension mandatory *after* banning FRIC on the grounds that the latter is predominantly meant to provide an aero benefit and is thus a “moveable aero device”?

Don’t forget that active suspension’s main benefit is to ensure a constant ride height as it’s able to compensate for the car’s natural inclination to ride higher on its springs as the fuel load becomes lighter, and this creates the benefit of having a more optimized and stable aero platform. Some teams, like Benetton, further exploited the aero gains by making their active suspension able to drop the car’s ride height at the push of a button, which reduced drag and increased top speed. As the driver approached his braking point, he could release the button, thus raising the ride height, which increased air flow under the car and produced greater downforce to optimize braking.

If FRIC has to be banned as a moveable aero device, then logically it follows that active suspension must also be illegal.


I think the 18’s look excellent!

The noses aside these cars are really beautiful.

Thing is the cars do not sit on their suspension they’re suspended between it so the ride may not be so hard to sort.

The fact endurance cars – some capable of achieving close to F1 speeds run on these low profile tyres suggest the ride is not an issue anyway.

Why so many of you are so against change?


>Provided that the teams are given clear rules for the 2016 or 2017 …

Yeah, well good luck with that.


Well JAonF1 reads my mind once again. I actually logged in now to ask for more info on the new tyres. This article answers all my questions.

Thank you Mark and James 🙂


Active suspension would provide more opportunity to stabilize the car. Teams would have more room to absorb the shock of a rough riding surface in the suspension rather than in the tire. A squishy tire requires a rigid suspension. Opposite thinking will be required and the range of possibilities in developing this technology would expand.

Another point that has not been brought up is the tire temperature. We always talk about how the brakes generate the heat to bring the tire into working range. With the larger wheel, will we see brake drums instead? My thinking is that this is a necessary step towards the removal of tire blankets and would require a complete change in the tire compounds.

This conversation has many positives and very few negatives. Clearly we are seeing some better long term thinking. Keep the news coming!


Yes well looking at this another way the FIA seem to have an ulterior motive for the banning of FRIC in making way for the direction they want the sport to go in. It’s always been technology lead and I don’t suppose that will change so why not . – I say let get on with it, but as the power unit advantage differential begins to equalise, another potential advantage looms on the horizon for the team able to do the best job. Hmm!


Great article; very thought provoking!

I missed the part about why the need for active suspension; it seemed very glossed over.

If possible, clarification, listing pros and cons of active suspension would be very nice.

I am wary of technical driver assists above anything that there is now; active suspension puts to much of the variables into the machinery, not leaving enough room for driver input as THE differentiator in the competition.

But this is just detail on the implementation of this change.

There is little doubt that Formula One should make this change from anachronisms to current automobile industry relevant technology/configuration, including the move to the larger rim wheels and away from the out-dated balloon tires on 13 inch rims, that there is now.

The change should be implemented as soon as possible, with the start of testing the 2016 season cars as the latest date for introduction.

But no active suspension unless it is shown to be a requirement; and then if a requirement, I’m not so sure of the need to change the tires.


The need for active suspension is due to the loss of the tyre wall.

“However if the sport is also moving potentially in the future to active suspension systems then a combination of a new active ride height control and more relevant tyre geometry would make sense. With reduced movement in the tyre the Teams will have more control of the car’s ride height through the suspension system.”


It’s not a need, though – I can’t think of any reason why it would be needed beyond the teams wanting “more control”. DTM and Le Mans Series for instance don’t currently run in active suspension but do use larger diameter wheels.


> current automobile industry relevant technology/configuration…

Oh, you mean like active suspension, four wheel drive, front & rear steering, movable aero devices, ABS, traction control and so forth that currently exist on road cars but not on F1?


@ Richard

Sorry, but there are already enough “airbags” at the races, ie commentators, pundits, Marko, EJ…. don’t think we need more!


Glad you pointed that out Rich C


How about air bags?


Excellent article!

I think these low profile tyres look really good. Normally when there is a big change like this it takes a bit of time to get use to but this looks great straight out of the bag.

I didn’t realise that all of the teams already have their own active suspension systems that they have been developing. I know that some of the teams use to have it back in the day when micro processors first started to appear on the cars back in the 90s but it was a shame they got banned because it was some really good technology. I still don’t understand the justification of banning the FRIC systems under the guise of movable aerodynamic devices as the whole point of the system was to stop the car moving about as much (pitch and roll during breaking and cornering) but I hear it is a politic move from the smaller teams because of their lack of influence within the sport and the cost control measures not being incorporated as they were promised.


did anyone notice how dejected messi looked while collecting his golden trophy? how about all the argentina players, none of them smile. they looked like spoiled brats and yet not a single journalist or commentator complained about them. i don’t understand why journalist, commentators and fans complain when a certain driver displays the same emotions under similar circumstances. are they motivated by something else they are ashamed to mention?


Noone complained about them being sore losers because they are not Lewis Hamilton.

Poor guy……..


Aside of this being a pos in F1 & 18″ tyres.. Yes I did notice..

Champions no matter what sport dont like coming 2nd even if they are voted best- F1, football anything really..

As for Messi – I will argue anyone that thinks he wasnt easily the best of his team!. Were it not for him- Argentina would not have won the first 3 games would they. Was he best of all -Im not sure I didnt watch every single game. But some of the things he did no one else can do and along with the fact he scored the winning goals that got them Ithere ,I would say he would have to be top 3 at least. He had quite spells by his standards but if other players do this they are invisible!. Its just his standards and peoples expectations are that much higher.. Step back and reset..then you will understand

Rather than be cynics why not be appreciative of his talents.


Like I said Matias you guys expect too much of him. Its the team as a whole that should do better


argue with me, i’m an argentinian he did a lot for the team, but he wasn’t the key player we all expected. As in F1 or any other sport, the greatness comes when you really need it. Fangio was an amazing driver, no one doubt it, but, when his genius was more needed, it appeared, like in Nurburgring ’57, and that’s why he’s a Hero, as for Reutemann, he was the second best driver Argentina ever bring to F1, but when he has to really shine, in Las Vegas 81, he was plain mediocre.




This is a F1 website, not a “Lets see 22 boys kicking around a bag of wind and watch them roll around the floor when someone looks at them the wrong way”


I couldn’t careless if someone looked upset that a match was lost, especially when that someone earns more in a week than most in years………


Clearly you forgot to read aveli’s whole post. And please don’t use capitals, they’re obnoxious.


I think you may have missed the point of the original post.


How much does Hamilton pays to mercedes to let himmm drive that shiny silver arrow? I wonder if i ferrari will take my Santander credit card to drive one of theirs…


I think the journalist would give a driver if he just lost the world championship and wasn’t smiling.


do you think they care about how he feels?


sorry, but they were sad as hell and messi was clearly unconfortable being handed a trophy for best player, he knew he doesn’t deerve it (hell! he wasn’t even the best player of that particular team!) Mascherano was the man of the team, no doubt about it. Anyway, when you win, you’re all joy, and then, if you lose you’re that sad in football, but, in F1, being 2nd, it’s not always the same to be the first of the losers (i mean, If HAM gets 2nd to ROS, then he’s the first of the losers, because he have the car to beat ROS, but if someone like, Alonso, with a car clearly out of mercedes league, get second, then it’s a victory for him. When you’re a powerhouse, like Argentina is in football, being second, it’s quite a failure (not to mention brazil, right?)


have a quick look around and you will find articles about a certain driver behaving like a spoilt brat. here is an example.

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