With tens of thousands of kilometres completed a season across 22 drivers representing 11 world class teams, Hankooks tyres are subject to the most intense, pressure cooker environment of top-tier sporting competition.
The accelerated development process driven by this competition inevitably feeds back into the work the South Korean manufacturer carries out to provide customers with bespoke EV tyres, designed to cope with the unique challenges thrown their way by an ever-increasing global fleet of electric cars - set to hit almost one fifth of new sales by 2030.
The Hankook iON Race tyre was developed specifically for the unique challenges offered up by Formula E. The series has a stringent sustainability criteria the manufacturer had and has to meet from the tender process to its ongoing tyre supply and on top of that, Formula E requires its tyres to work across all conditions - from wet to dry, hot to cool and on all manner of road surfaces - with strict limits on sets available to teams and drivers over any race weekend.
The calendar is largely comprised of street circuits, with all the undulations, uneven surfaces, kerbs, bumps and drain covers any EV would encounter on the road. Here, though, everything is turned up to 10, with the GEN3 hitting these everyday obstacles at speeds of up to 200mph, with 22 cars each within a handful of seconds of one-another. The demands on the driver, the car and the tyre couldn't be higher and in 12 rounds so far, the iON race has yet to come unstuck. Not a single puncture yet, either.
“Our tyre has mastered these challenges with great aplomb so far," says Hankook Motorsport Director Manfred Sandbichler. "When developing the tyre, we worked closely with those responsible in the FIA and Formula E. They wanted a tyre that works in both dry and wet conditions which should also meet sustainability demands, meaning it had to be particularly hard-wearing and made from recyclable materials.
"The teams have just two sets for a single-header, including all the Free Practice and qualifying sessions, and three sets at their disposal for a double-header. So far, there has not been a single puncture. And that despite the different track surfaces and external conditions. Whether asphalt or concrete, rough or smooth, in extreme heat like in Cape Town or cooler temperatures and rain like the races in Berlin – our tyre has overcome every challenge and reliably provided the drivers with the grip they require. We are very proud!”
The 'Magic Triangle'
The upshot for road-going customers of the extreme, edge-case demands Formula E places on tyres is that the engineers working on its consumer iON range are able to feed off what they've learned on-track.
The work Hankook has carried out to ensure a quick, durable and sustainable tyre in Formula E translates to lower rolling resistance for increased range, strong traction and braking performance in all conditions and a long-lasting tyre that can cope with the demands of today's EVs with buckets of torque. Its products are also better than they've ever been for the environment, too, with Formula E driving Hankook to increase the sustanable component of its rubber to 28% and after each race weekend, the manufacturer completely recycles every set of tyres.
"There were many similarities with the development of the EV tyre," says Su-jin Jang from Hankook's Research Institute Formula E Tyre Development Project Team. "There was a difference from the standard race tyre though. Generally, the ability to meet speed is as important as durability when it comes to a race tyre."
The traditional 'Magic Triangle' where grip and performance face off against wear and rolling resistance is a core focus for any tyre manufacturer. Hankook's ability to combine its own in-house EVolution Technology - it's own hefty R&D programme for EV rubber - with what it learns through its involvement in Formula E, will help in giving the company an edge in the market.
"The conditions presented are very specific and demanding in Formula E. Therefore, it was an important task to overcome the trade-off between tyre performance and develop a tyre that is as balanced as possible to achieve the so-called “magic triangle” without leaning on either side. Simply, the development was very similar to the development of the EV tyre development."
“The Hankook iON Race is a very efficient tyre," adds ABT CUPRA driver Nico Mueller. "You can immediately feel that the roll resistance is very low, which is really important in Formula E, in order to save energy during the race. Furthermore, the tyre works very well in any condition, which I find extremely impressive.
"In Formula E, there is just one tyre for all situations. Whether the track is dry, wet, damp, or dirty, the Hankook iON Race always performs impressively. We do almost all the sessions on a weekend with the same set of tyres, and the wear is still very low. That is particularly good for the environment. I find the all-around capabilities of the tyre really pleasing.”