If the sport and the teams agree to it, one aspect of Formula One could change significantly in the coming years: Its tires. At the recent F1 test at Silverstone, Pirelli, along with Lotus, tested a new 18-inch wheel and low-profile tire combination that could make developments in F1 much more relevant to road-going vehicles.
For a long time now, F1 has used 13-inch wheels with a significant sidewall profile, albeit in varying widths depending on tire regulations at the time. They've become an iconic part of the sport visually, and while the big balloon-style tires clearly aren't short of performance, they're of limited relevance in an era when even subcompact cars can be found with 17-inch wheels—or larger. The concept of low-profile tires in F1 has floated around for a while, but the first test has shown that they can work in practice, and could be a focal point of future races.
Aside from the visual impact of the new tires—something you can decide on yourself, though they do seem to suit the modern era's narrow, pointy vehicles fairly well—Pirelli says the tires offer several benefits for F1 vehicles. Performance, safety and durability could all be improved, but teams will also see developments in other areas. Larger wheels means the potential for bigger brakes, and while this would be regulated by the FIA there's certainly an opportunity for better brake cooling, given the larger diameter wheels.
Current F1 tires also account for a lot of a modern F1 car's suspension compliance, as bumps are absorbed by the tire. Low-profile rubber means losing some of that compliance, so teams would have to run softer springs and dampers—but at the same time, suspension settings will now make a greater difference to the car's performance. The new tires could appear as soon as 2016. Combined with the recent turbocharged engines and tire technology, it could be one of the sport's biggest changes in decades.