Formula 1 enthusiasts, gear up for a possible tire transformation in 2026, as the racing world contemplates a bold move to reduce car weight. With the next generation of regulations just around the corner, F1 could wave goodbye to the familiar 18-inch wheels, paving the way for a new era of racing innovation.
Team principals and F1 aficionados have been vocal about the need to shed excess weight from the cars to enhance performance. The upcoming iteration of F1 turbo hybrid engines will seamlessly integrate with revolutionary active aerodynamics, but the quest to lighten the vehicles remains paramount.
Nikolas Tombazis, the Head of Single Seaters at the FIA, recently unveiled the ambitious target of shedding 50 kilograms from the cars. Achieving this weight reduction will inevitably lead to a reevaluation of the car’s wheel size. Tombazis shared his insights with Motorsport.com, shedding light on the impending changes.
“With the dimensions of the wheels, which will be narrower, plus with the rear wing and the car in general, we aim to reduce the weight of the cars by around 50kg.
“So, it will be possible to see smaller single-seater cars: shorter and narrower. But we are talking about solutions that still need to be discussed.
“With the car on a diet, we will be able to reduce the cornering speeds a bit. Being lighter, they will go faster in a straight line, but will generate less aerodynamic load. So, we will need to increase the hybrid’s energy recovery to ensure adequate lap performance.”
When it comes to tire modifications, the plan is to trim the wheelbase by 20 centimeters, reducing it from 3600mm to 3400mm. Furthermore, the width of the tires will undergo a 10-centimeter reduction, down from 2000mm to 1900mm. While this width is still broader than the 1800mm dimensions seen in the 2016 cars, it’s a significant change in pursuit of weight reduction.
Narrower tires may have performance implications, as they contribute to drag reduction, a crucial aspect given the anticipated power decrease stemming from the 2026 regulations. However, these changes also mean a smaller tire footprint during cornering, resulting in reduced mechanical grip and a potential dip in overall performance. Consequently, the possibility of bidding farewell to the familiar 18-inch wheels, which have been a staple in ground effect cars, is being evaluated. These larger rims have contributed an additional 14 kilograms to the cars’ weight.
While reverting to the 13-inch wheels used until 2021 isn’t an ideal option, the middle ground of 16-inch wheels is gaining serious consideration. Smaller wheels would not only shed weight but also offer a fresh aesthetic to the 2026 cars, expected to be dramatically different from their predecessors.
As the racing world grapples with the weight reduction challenge, Mercedes Technical Director James Allison weighed in, emphasizing the importance of this endeavor. The potential tire revolution in 2026 promises to redefine Formula 1, ushering in a new era of performance, innovation, and visual appeal.
“It isn’t super trivial to get the weight moving in the other direction, but it is particularly tricky to dream up technical rules that are going to make the car much lighter.
“The way to make it lighter, I think, is to lower the weight limit and make it our problem. If cars are over the limit, then it forces us all to make some fairly difficult decisions about what we put in our cars and what we don’t.
“Not everyone agrees with that point of view. But that is I think the most guaranteed way to put downward pressure on the weight of the car.”