Saturday, May 14

F1’s Switch To Standard Wheels Means Teams Can Finally Run Them Forever Ever

A photo of F1s new 18-inch wheels

Where is that guy going with that tire?
Photo: Andrej Isakovic (Getty Images)

Formula 1, like any race series worth its salt, gets through a lot of tires over the course of a season. There are ten teams on the grid, each with two cars that both have four wheels, so that’s at least 80 tires for a start. And for decades, each of these tires has been fitted to a 13-inch rim. But this year, the sport switched to standard 18-inch wheels used by every team in the paddock.

And this switch got me thinking, just how many wheels are there in an F1 paddock each race weekend?

Well, let’s start by counting the tires. We’ve already got at least 80 tires that require at least 80 rims. Then, there are the spare wheels brought to each race for cars to run different tyre compounds, and that’s a further 13 full sets for each car.

That’s because Pirelli will ship two hard, three medium and eight soft tire sets for each car over a regular grand prix weekend. In the three races where there is a Sprint event, like this weekend in Imola, “the quantity is reduced to 12 sets divided as follows: two hard, four medium, six soft,” according to a Pirelli spokesperson.

They added that “almost all teams have a sufficient number of rims to be able to have all 13 sets fitted right away.”

And that means that in a given race weekend, there are around 1,040 wheels in the paddock. Plus, some teams might have extras to fit any wet and intermediate tires just in case. That is a lot of wheels.

In the past, these have been chunky, slick tires wrapped around 13-inch rims. Teams turned to suppliers like BBS Motorsport and OZ Racing to build bespoke rims that fit with their aero package, so there has been variety across the grid.

But, in 2022, F1 ditched the 13-inch rims it had been running with since the 1980s in favor of new 18-inch wheels. What’s more, these rims will be standardized across the grid – meaning there are now at least 1,040 identical wheel rims in the paddock over a grand prix weekend.

A mechanic inspects sets of F1 wheels.

Wheel good stuff.
Photo: Buda Mendes (Getty Images)

And, once again, this got me thinking. With 1,040 wheels in use across the 22 races held in 2021, what happened to them all (that’s 22,880 tires)?

Like almost every part on the 2021 F1 cars, the old wheels are now obsolete. They can’t be used with the new cars, they can’t be used with the new tires and they can’t really be fitted to any road going car. So what happens to them all?

To get to the bottom of this, I reached out to BBS Motorsport, the German wheel manufacturer now tasked with creating F1’s standardized wheel rims.

It turns out that the question of what to do with all the old wheels is something teams have faced every year.

Carsten Norden, director of sales and marketing at BBS Motorsport, said: “In the past, nearly all teams developed new wheels from one season to another, which already then turned the previous year’s configuration to become obsolete.

“A carry-over of wheels into the next season surely was the exception to the rule in past years.”

Norden added that the former wheels were “individually developed for and thus exclusive to each single team,” and that meant that they were made-to-order as each team required. This, they said, reduced the number of obsolete wheels left at the end of the season.

So, F1 teams have had a few wheels leftover that needed disposing of every year.

A photo of Lewis Hamilton in his 2008 McLaren F1 car.

McLaren should have enough sets to wheel out the MP4-23 from time to time.
Photo: Manan Vatsyayana (Getty Images)

That left them with a few spares knocking around for whenever they want to wheel out an old car for showcases and events. And the other remnants of the past season were also sold off as memorabilia, or used in displays by team partners.

But what about in the future? How will the move to standard rims affect the market for F1 wheel coffee tables?

Well, I have bad news for you.

Because the wheels are standardized across the teams for at least the next season, 2022 will mark the first time that old F1 wheels can be saved and run again next year.

Yep, after 40 years of 13-inch rims, the 18s now run on F1 cars will be the first to last for more than a season. Isn’t that great?

Understandably, Norden says this is a “new situation” for BBS to be in. The teams will be able to collect up their rims and, once inspected for damage, fit new tires onto them again, and again, and again. This can continue right up until F1 decides to change its wheel rules once again.

So, if you did want to get your hands on an old F1 rim to turn into some tasteful decor, you better start looking around now before supplies of old stock start to dry up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.