The year 2020 could see utter carnage on the race track. The challenge set by the FIA and FOM for the single tyre supply in Formula 1 for 2020 carries with it the potential of ruining F1 as we know it.
As of last weekend, the tender for tyre supply in Formula 1 closed resulting in the last two tyre companies standing – the incumbent Italian Pirelli and new comer Hankook from Korea. This was after the French manufacturer Michelin pulled out.
Michelin was only interested in tyres that work with larger diameter rims than the 13 inch type synonymous with Formula 1 cars. The FIA mandating that the smaller wheels must continue for 2020, despite 2021 moving over to 18 inch wheels.
The FIA now has 14 days to check whether the candidates are technically and logistically capable of equipping Formula One.
Pirelli obviously have a lead in that regard, whereas Hankook would be an entirely new proposition to the F1 tyre supply chain. The only current series the Korean manufacturer operates in being DTM and F3.
That said, it is rumoured that the Korean tyre supplier is actually the preferred choice.
Should Hankook pass an FIA examination, the next phase involves the commercials and that is the remit of FOM, also known as Liberty Media.
“We will check the applicants financial offer” says FOM’s Ross Brawn. The teams will be interested in the deal as the advertising money spent by the winner for the boards and hoardings go straight into a shared pot.
Selection is expected to take several weeks and Pirelli are worried as Hankook are expected to promise a gargantuan spend in order to secure the coveted status as sole tyre supplier to Formula 1.
But despite the attractiveness of the financials that Hankook bring, F1 and the FIA are rightly worried about the implications of bringing a new comer into Formula and the risks of what might go wrong.
Not only would Hankook have to develop new rubber with zero research or prior knowledge of Formula 1 tyres, but they would also have to do twice the development that Pirelli would need to do in 2019 / 2020.
Pirelli already know how to produce tyres that have a degree of controlled degradation contributing significantly to ‘the show’ – that is, race strategy and the requirement of cars pitting due to tyre wear (although some might argue Pirelli have failed at this over the last 2 years!). Historically this degradation has enabled most of the passing on the track and in the pits.
Pirelli would only have to do relatively minor tweaks to their compounds for 2020, whilst dedicating all their research and development toward the new 2021 thinner wall tyre for the new 18 inch wheels.
Hankook would need to develop twice in a single year. Both the 13 inch wheel tyre and the 18 inch, simultaneously.
Further, the Koreans would have zero testing time on a current (or near current) F1 car due to the existing contract restrictions with Pirelli. No teams would be allowed to loan a car.
Hankook would literally have to put the new rubber on their own 2019 car with a test driver not in Formula 1 to have a chance to develop their rubber.
This new car would then need to run with a completely different suspension (and aero) concept to the current modern formula. 2020 into 2021 will potentially see huge changes in the look of the F1 car.
In fact, many argue that the change from 13 inch to 18 inch is by far the largest change in Formula 1 in a generation.
The cars rely hugely on the movement in the high sided tyres of the current 13 inch wheels as their primary ‘suspension’, taking up the shocks of riding kerbs and high speed cornering.
The removal of that tall tyre and it’s inherent ‘flex’ would mean the teams would need to spend colossal sums on new suspension concepts – hello Daniel Ricciardo and Renault?!*
Aero is also hugely affected by a cars suspension, and a new suspension concept brought about by the wheel rule changes will significantly alter the aero concept of the 2021 cars.
It’s going to be a tough ask for Hankook.
*Renault, aka Enstone – have traditionally excelled at suspension concepts over the past few decades.