Formula 1 Plans to Adopt 18-Inch Wheels in 2021

Narrower front tires, a tire blanket ban, and solicitation of a new tire supplier are in the cards as well.

F1 Testing At Silverstone - Day Two
Mark Thompson—Getty Images

Formula 1 will mandate 18-inch wheels in 2021, according to an FIA document released Thursday.

Wheel diamater will increase from 13 inches to 18 on all four corners of Formula 1 cars in 2021, according to the FIA document, which outlines some of the series' future technical direction. Rear tire width will remain 405 millimeters (16 inches) while front width will be narrowed from 305 mm (12 inches) to 270 mm (10.75 inches).

18-inch wheels were first trialled on Formula 1 cars in 2014, when the Lotus E22 was tested in early July around Silverstone with the experimental wheels fitted. At the time, tire supplier Pirelli touted the wheel's shorter, stiffer sidewall, said to make tire pressure easier to manage, along with its road relevance, due to the modern trend toward short sidewalls in the name of fuel economy and sharp handling. Pirelli did admit that the car's rotating assemblies saw an increase of 4 kilograms (9 pounds) with the larger wheels, though it failed to disclose at the time whether that was per corner, or for all four.

The Drive contacted Pirelli for clarification on whether the reported weight increase was per corner or aggregate, and we will update when we receive a response.

At the reported 2021 width specifications, rotating mass would increase over 2014 levels by as much as 30 percent (irrespective of 2017-2020 widths) before accounting for the weight added by the larger wheels. Applying the same 30 percent increase to the 4-kilogram wheel weight suggests overall increased weight of approximately 5.2 kg (11.5 pounds).

In addition to the tire width and wheel diameter changes, a ban of tire-warming electric blankets will reportedly come into play. Such a ban has been proposed multiple times in the last decade, and shot down on each occasion.

Bidding for the role of exclusive tire supplier will open, with the selected manufacturer supplying all teams from 2020-2023. Pirelli has had a monopoly on Formula 1's tire supply since 2011, after Bridgestone withdrew, though it could face competition from Michelin, which told Reuters in 2015 that it would be uninterested in supplying tires unless wheel sizes were increased to 18 inches.

2021 is expected to be a year in which Formula 1's regulations receive significant overhaul for the long-term health of the sport, with solutions in the works for the sport's overcomplicated aerodynamics, disparate power units, and dizzying costs, which threaten the livelihood of historic teams such as Williams.

Tires are a constant source of complaints from drivers and fans alike, but in the grand scheme of things, the tire problem is of low importance, as it tends to affect teams equally. As long as there isn't another 2013 British Grand Prix to worry about, the tire issues can be left on the back burner.