With the move from 13 to 18 inches, Formula 1 not only takes a step forward in terms of competitiveness, but also relevance to the tyres that we use every day on the road. Over the years, tyres have got progressively bigger. There aren’t any modern road cars that use wheels as small as 13 inches, with some of the biggest SUVs now accommodating wheels up to 23 inches in diameter. So 18 inches is now a relatively common size for performance vehicles, meaning that Formula 1’s move to these dimensions is more useful in helping Pirelli to develop tyres that will ultimately be used on the road. It’s not just the actual 18-inch tyre technology that’s transferred from track to road, but also the design and production processes utilised to make them. The result is more performance and control, both on the road and the track.
Motorsport is Pirelli’s biggest open-air research and development laboratory, designed to push tyres to extremes of performance on some of the most challenging roads of the world, in all sorts of weather conditions.
Proof of the close links between racing and real-world driving can be found on the sides of the tyres themselves: the names P Zero and Cinturato, as seen in Formula 1, are also the names of Pirelli’s Ultra High Performance tyres for everyday motorists.
Put the 13-inch and 18-inch Formula 1 tyres together, and the old dimensions already seem incredibly dated. Gone are the bulbous sidewalls and traditionally squat silhouette, in favour of a sleek new low profile look. But low profile tyres in themselves are nothing new: in fact, this was an innovation first introduced by Pirelli back in the early 1970s through motorsport for the Lancia Stratos, which took the rally world by storm.
The Lancia’s unique and compact nature required a special tyre that reacted instantly, which is how the low profile tyre came about. Rallying also gave us the Run Flat tyre, as well as anti-deflation mousse, as the Pirelli’s engineers thought up ways to enable cars to keep going even in the event of a puncture: all too common on the rough roads typical of rally stages.
In Formula 1, teams are increasingly reliant on telemetry – including tyre data – and a lot of this knowledge is incorporated into Pirelli’s avant-garde new family of ‘cyber tyres’: intelligent tyres for the road, where the tyre acts like a giant primary sensor to warn drivers of obstacles ahead, working with each car’s electronics systems to mitigate any dangerous situations. All these technologies represent the close parallels between tyres for competition and the road.
Now that Formula 1 tyres have grown to 18 inches, that technology transfer will be rapidly escalated – with the lessons learned on the track finding their way more quickly onto the road. Pirelli already has plenty of experience of racing larger tyre sizes, with 18-inch tyres having been used in Formula 2 since the start of this season, as well as a long and illustrious history in GT racing: which uses competition versions of showroom supercars (with tyre sizes up to 19-inch). In fact, more than 50% of all road-going supercars leave their factories on Pirelli tyres as original equipment. And some brands, including McLaren – one of the rising forces in Formula 1 at the moment – use only Pirelli tyres for their cars. All this reinforces how Pirelli is consistently the preferred choice for the world’s most desirable carmakers. Part of the reason for that is the Italian firm’s constant investment in motorsport, throughout more than 110 years of competition, with the philosophy of never standing still. This is what makes Pirelli a perfect partner for Formula 1, as the sport enters a new era of technology that’s even more closely aligned with the cars and tyres we drive every day.
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