Formula One, trend of design


All the Formula One teams are in agreement on two things where wheels are concerned and they are that wheels are of light alloy and have a single nut centre fixing. These wheel nut fittings were discussed in this series in Motor Sport in November 1979. By far the most popular wheel in use is the magnesium Dymag wheel and these British made wheels are used by Ligier, Williams, McLaren, Tyrrell, Ensign, ATS, Fittipaldi, Arrows and Shadow. Apart from Williams they all use the standard four-spoke design, but last year Williams found a tendency for the four-spoke wheel to crack at the base of the spoke, at least when it was used on the FW/07. This year Williams use a stronger three-spoke design and have had no more trouble; they only use Dymag front wheels. As Goodyear supply 13 inch tyres to all these teams, their rim diameter is settled for them, though they can specify their own amount of offset from the centre-line of the rim to the mounting flange, and their own ideas on brake caliper clearance. With the exception of the Williams team all those mentioned use Dymag wheels front and rear and recently this British firm have been making 15 inch diameter wheels for use with the latest "tall" Goodyear tyres.

Williams use Italian Speedline wheels on the rear as they are cheaper than Dymag and when you consider that a team needs sixty or seventy wheels in stock to race two cars and a T-car, price can be important. The Speedline wheel is very different from the Dymag in that it is made in three pieces rather than a single casting. There is an aluminium centre to which the two separate halves of the rim are attached by a ring of small nuts and bolts. An added advantage of the Speedline is that a damaged rim can be replaced, rather than throwing the whole wheel away, and also variations on rim widths can be tried without having to pay out for a new set of wheels, for different rims can be bolted on to existing hub centres. As with Dymag a designer merely has to give Speedline the offset required, the position of the attachment flange and the desired caliper clearance and you leave the rest to them. Ferrari and Lotus use Speedline wheels for both front and rear and they supply 13 inch diameter and 15 inch diameter. It is worth remembering that wheels cost a team anything from £200 to £350 each so that Goodyear producing a new tyre will cost a team anything up to £1,000 to try them out on two cars if the diameter is changed.

Brabham design their own wheels, a throwback to the Alfa Romeo connection, and they have a contract with the Italian firm Momo, who make steering wheels, to have their name on the special Brabharn wheels. The castings are done in England by Kent Alloys and they are machined by the Brabham team. In Italy the name Campagnolo has long been known in the world of wheels, their gold-hued cast magnesium-alloy wheels used to be used on all types of competition Ferraris. Today they only supply Alfa Romeo in the Formula One world, though the Milanese team also have a supply of Speedline wheels aswell.

The French firm of Gotti made the alloy wheels for the Renault team and they also supply to Osella. These are similar in construction to the Speedline wheels in that the rim is in two parts which bolt to a hub centre.

When you think that each car in a team needs one set of wheels to stand on, possibly two more sets in reserve for different types of tyre, another set for wet weather tyres, and possibly two sets, plus at least a spare front and a spare rear, making a minimum of 22 wheels per car. If you have a two-car team, with two spare cars, such as Lotus have, this means 88 wheels. Apart from the initial outlay, which can be anything from £17,500 to £30,000 there is the matter of carrying them around and storing them. The tyre firms take all the tyres back after a race, apart from a set per car, and the wheels are usually stored in long aluminium tubes, each containing a set of four, and these tubes are then stored in the transporters. Any sizeable team will delegate one mechanic to look after wheels and tyres and they all have their own trolley or carrying devices to move the wheels and tyres about the paddock and pits, for sometimes the Goodyear or Michelin tyre depots are situated a long way from the pits. A familiar sight in the paddock is a vast pile of wheels and tyres apparently travelling along on their own, but behind them, and dwarfed by them is a hard-working mechanic who seldom stops travelling from depot to pit during practice. Some of them are real artists at balancing and moving a pile of wheels and tyres, and it is quite fascinating to watch, especially as they steer them in and out of milling spectators in places like Osterreichring Zolder—DSJ.