Graham Hill Explains The Latest Tyre Developments

Friday, 13. June 2014

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If you are a Formula 1 team boss you will be spending small fortunes to squeeze a little extra out of your cars in order to win races. The component parts they spend most time developing their cars around are the tyres whilst, at the same time, the tyre manufacturer providing all the tyres to the teams, is looking at ways to improve grip and thereby handling whilst reducing drag.

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Tyres are a very critical part of an F1 car and with the new limits on the amount of fuel you can start a race with the tyre manufacturer has also to consider fuel consumption. But what does all this mean to the likes of you and me?

If you are anything like me, when you need a couple of tyres, you search the Internet for the cheapest premium brand with little regard to the characteristics of the tyre and whether the tyres will provide optimum performance, grip and fuel consumption without the noise of tyres on road drowning out the soft sounds of Luther on the stereo system.

So do we know and understand enough about the tyres we have fitted on our car? I would suggest not because at some point our lives may actually rely upon our choice of tyre. So let me enlighten you with a few of the basics and some of the latest developments, some of which we should thank F1 designers for.

Our first consideration is price which can vary considerably, not only between tyres but at different times of the year. This is because the price of the three most important component parts fluctuate massively in the open market, independent of each other, these being rubber, steel and oil.

In order to make tyres more efficient, long lasting and safer more and more money has to be invested each year which adds to the cost of the tyres. Legal demands such as the fitting of Tyre Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS) to all cars manufactured after November 2012 adds to the cost.

The current systems rely upon a transmitter fitted to the valve and powered by a small battery but the latest developments will result in a microchip being embedded within the tyre without the need for a battery. But this type of development costs a fortune which has to be recovered out of the price that tyres are sold at.

Not only will the microchip satisfy the legal requirements it will also monitor tyre temperature and performance that will allow the car settings to be optimised. In future the chip will also interact with weather conditions to influence the car’s behaviour. As the chip tells the car about the tyre’s temperature and pressure this information could then be used to adjust braking, steering and ESP responses.

Dunlop are looking at how the chip technology could be used to manage the tyre throughout its life, telling the driver about tread wear and condition. Even better news is that the tyre manufacturers believe that the new chip technology will be cheaper to fit that the current tyre pressure monitor systems required by law.

The main problem is that of retro fit, whilst the manufacturers agree that the new technology can be easily integrated into new cars it is proving to be a challenge to fit into existing cars – but it is being worked on. As mentioned earlier the component parts of the tyre come at a highly fluctuating cost so the manufacturers are looking at ways alternatives can be used.

Currently they are working on alternatives to oil, something that has been ongoing for many years but the latest advances in replacement commodoties have been made in the development of alternative and more sustainable rubber. The new rubbers are being extracted from maize, soya and even dandelion plants.

The rubber is extracted from the dandelion roots and believe it or not, according to Continental brand manager, Peter Robb, ‘It offers the most potential for the biggest impact on tyre manufacture for years.’ One of the biggest advantages is that the plants can be grown close to the manufacturing plant reducing delivery time and costs.

They reckon that they will have tyres using this new rubber by 2020. The new type of natural rubber will also have the benefit of being harder and longer wearing and some claim that CO2 emissions could be cut by 10g/km. Also the harder compound will reduce road noise. Another area of development at the moment is airless tyres being held up by a series of vanes.

This development is being pioneered by Bridgestone but it is suggested that this is years away from fruition as the development so far has produced tyres with a maximum load capacity of 410kg and a top speed of 37mph. Way to go methinks! Another challenge faced by manufacturer is the desire of drivers to have large, more aesthetically pleasing wheels fitted to their cars.

Apparently this is particular to the UK. The rest of Europe is not so concerned so the manufacturers are trying to come up with a solution that still makes the car look attractive but makes the tyres more environmentally friendly with lower rolling resistance, lower road noise, better fuel consumption and using less materials.

Electric vehicles may lead the way with the new BMW i3 having 155/70 R19 fitted. Quieter tyres are also on the way as the demand from drivers increase and legislation tightens. Continental developed the Contisilent tyre originally for the Audi RS6 fitted with very wide and low profile tyres.

Dunlop Tyres

Dunlop Tyres (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They managed to substantially reduce the noise by fitting a foam strip to the inner surface of the tyre circumference. This acted like a damper reducing vibrations that transmit through the suspension and body into the cabin. The manufacturers will be paying more attention to this technology as legislation becomes stricter. So there you have it a roundup of the latest tyre technology. Airless tyres and dandelion rubber. By Graham Hill

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