Slickes, Definitely Slicks

Atlas F1

Slickes, Definitely Slicks

by Kevin Stout, U.S.A.

I read, with interest, the debate between Messrs Tytler and Keeble regarding grooved tires and their impact on the sport of Formula One. What interested me the most was that while on the surface, both gentlemen were arguing about he same issues, in the end it seemed to come down to a question of what makes for safer, better racing.

From a business perspective (and let's not forget that Formula One is a business), we must first decide what it is for which we are solving. In this case, it is for increased safety, lower costs, and "better" racing.

Increased safety in F1 generally equates to slower speeds. It is believed that grooved tires would promote slower speeds - specifically approaching and going through a corner - and therefore would allow for greater safety, as well as closer racing. If F1 is interested in nothing but lowering the speed of the cars, they have succeeded.

Point two - lower costs are not necessarily derived by cutting grooves into the tires. If nothing else, the costs rise because more tires are required to complete a race as grooved tires don't last as long as slicks. If the goal is to reduce costs, create a spec tire that everyone gets from one supplier. Create one for dry racing and one for wet. No intermediates. The governing body would specify one tire spec before the season and stick with it throughout the year. Tires would be provided to each team (randomly) during the race weekend so no one team would get any "special" tires from the manufacturers. With no mid-season developments, costs will be decreased.

Point three - "better" racing. This is quite an issue. All spectators want to see closer racing. I would submit that there was plenty of that during the past year. What was lacking was overtaking. Yet, to quote Mr. Keeble, "too much overtaking may not be such a good thing." I would argue that overtaking is the complementary good that must accompany close racing to keep fans interested. And, it must occur while both cars are on the track - not while one is changing tires or getting refuled. If the goal is for better racing through closer racing with multiple lead changes, again, I believe the rules have failed.

Part of the problem is that all of these requirements must be achieved simultaneously. To meet all the requirements, I would suggest the following:

  • Go back to slicks. One manufacturer, one "spec" tire for dry and one for wet, determined at the beginning of the year, with no changes during the season, and random distribution to teams throughout the year.

  • Reduce the wing size - not by just a little, but by a significant amount. This would create less aerodynamic grip and, in combination with slicks, create more mechanical grip. This will allow for more lines in a turn, with less reliance on speed (more speed = more aerodynamic grip) for cornering. If there is a real concern for speed reduction, reduce engine displacement.

The net results of these changes would be closer racing, with more over-taking, lower development and manufacturing costs for the tire supplier, slower cornering speeds and therefore, more safety. If Bernie is such a good businessman, why hasn't he figured this out already?

Kevin Stout 1999 Atlas Formula One Journal.
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