Formula E

Formula E interview with Hankook manager Manfred Sandbichler: "We needed an all-rounder"

Timo Pape

Timo Pape

The first Formula E season with the new iON Race tyre from Hankook is drawing to a close. In Rome, had the opportunity to review the past months in an exclusive interview with Manfred Sandbichler. The Director of Hankook Motorsport Europe talks about the very special tread of the Formula E tyre, about energy-sapping test days and a likely adjustment of the compound for season 11.

Manfred, when you received the requirement profile from the FIA, you already knew: The Formula E project will be a very special one. Why?

We were asked to develop a tyre that must work in all conditions. It was to be a profiled tyre, which completely changes the grip behavior. Then there was the huge task of making the tyre drivable in the rain. The benchmark for wet grip was set so that even in the last ten minutes of the race there would still be enough grip so that the cars wouldn't float in a downpour (like in New York in 2022). So we needed an all-rounder.

Were there any other design challenges?

An electric powertrain is something completely different from an internal combustion engine. We first had to build a design that could handle the high power of the Gen3 vehicle. But we also had to find the right balance for a single-seater.

What approach did you take to tackle this task?

We came up with the idea of using a "dual compound". This means: we have two different rubber compounds on the tread. On the inside we have a much softer compound than on the outside. The softer inner side, which takes up a little less than a third of the tyre's width, helps us in low temperatures and in the rain. The harder one, on the other hand, brings us consistency in hotter temperatures. It was the first time we did something like that in motorsports.

How do you find out the right degree of hardness?

A lot of pre-development is done on the computer. Then you first test indoors. For this we have various test machines, which can also simulate, for example, the fall or wear. So we had an initial rough direction, but now we needed the real tests on a real track. Here, the evaluation by the driver plays a major role. He has to rate how the front and rear axles interact, and how the tyre behaves during steering, acceleration, braking, etc.

Who took on this task for you?

For the first phase, we had hired our own test drivers. Then, however, we needed someone who has experience in electric motorsport but is not currently driving in Formula E. With Benoit Treluyer, we got one of the best. He has helped us a lot and at the same time brings the authority to approve the tyres for the FIA. In addition, the other drivers respect his judgment because, as a three-time Le Mans winner, he has a name in the industry. When the tyre was ready from our point of view, it went to the teams to get their feedback as well.

How can you imagine such a test day?

The test driver sits for about eight hours in the car - that's a big mental challenge for him. We have many different tyre variants with us. So he drives one new set after another and has to filter out the subtle differences. In between, we always go back to a base tyre that serves as a reference. The last five percent get really difficult; it's all about nuances. At this point, the reference tyre helps the driver again and again for orientation.

The track surfaces in Formula E are naturally very different. What role did this factor play in the development?

We needed a compound that could cope with all the different surfaces. There are tracks where you slide more, for example, but also those like Berlin. We were surprised how high the abrasion was there. The concrete slabs actually look smooth, but they are quite rough - like fine sandpaper. So we gained a lot of experience this year, which is also important for further development.

Good keyword. How will the Hankook tyre change in the future?

Next year, nothing will change: We will start with the same tyre into the tenth season. For Gen3.5, a change is planned. What happens after that (Gen4), we will see. If a softer compound is desired, i.e. more performance, then we'll make it softer. If Formula E wants to go more towards sustainability, we'll make it harder. Everything is possible, but this strategic decision must first be made at another level. Wherever the journey goes, we will go with it.

This sounds like a long-term commitment to Formula E.

What we can basically say: We always make long-term commitments. That applies to everything we do, whether it's in football or motorsport. A tyre manufacturer never works towards a single year. That doesn't make sense. You always have to take a long-term view for tyre development.

You seem to feel comfortable in Formula E. Although there were also critical voices at the beginning when you looked at the direct lap comparison with the Gen2 car.

In Mexico, we competed for the first time in Formula E - without any experience of how the racing works. At that time, there were some conversations: new car, new tyre, many things were different than expected. The drivers in particular always want more performance, that's in their nature. But we said back then that they first should get used to the symbiosis between car and tyre. Today, we hear relatively little from them.

What is your interim conclusion ahead of the season finale in London?

For us, it is important that we have not had a single puncture to date and that we have coped perfectly with all track conditions as well as external circumstances. From the first moment until now we were always exactly where we wanted to be with the tyre. The cooperation with the teams has become much closer due to the fact that we work together regularly in day-to-day business. The same goes for the FIA. We are all in the same boat. We are very satisfied with our involvement in Formula E.

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