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Hankook's Formula E journey into the unknown

Meeting the challenge of supplying tyres for Formula E's new Gen3 car was a journey of discovery for Hankook, as the South Korean manufacturer needed to create a compound that could be raced in all conditions during the season.

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The Formula E Championship entered a new era this season as the all-electric series hit the track with the Gen3 car, which promised greater performance in several areas over its predecessor.

But the new machine was not the only new aspect to the championship, as Hankook arrived as the category’s sole tyre supplier. The South Korean manufacturer had big shoes to fill replacing Michelin, which had supplied rubber to Formula E since its inception in 2014.

While the name on the side of the tyre may have been different, the purpose was the same – to be used in all weather conditions and temperatures, as well as on various surfaces. It’s a challenge made even greater due to the previously unknown quantities of the Gen3 machine, and just how much performance it had gained over the previous iteration of car.

“This was the big challenge because we started almost from zero when we started our development work, and there was no car available at all,” says Manfred Sandbichler, Hankook’s European motorsport director. “It meant we had to go through it in a different way to get the first impressions and then, as soon as the first car was ready, we adjusted the tyre to the car.

“We were pretty much satisfied with the first run and from this moment the focus was on fine-tuning to find the right compound, to have the right balance from the rear axle and of course also the right balance between dry and wet. But this was a real challenge to find and therefore compliments to our engineers and technical team to find this in a really short time, because the time period for testing was also very much limited.”

This time period with the Gen3 car was the equivalent of “almost half a year”, according to Sandbichler. Not long to ensure that the tyre was capable of withstanding vastly different conditions.

The two extremes during the season came only a round apart, as the deluge that hit the season finale at the London E-Prix followed just two weeks after the heatwave in Rome. The Hankook tyre came through in both conditions, and perhaps more impressively there were no failures or punctures outside of those caused by accident damage during the season.

“It was very tricky to develop the tyre for all these conditions because you can have only one set of tyre, you cannot have a wet and slick,” says three-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner Benoit Treluyer, Formula E’s test driver who was integral to the Hankook tyre’s development.

Manfred Sandbichler was happy with Hankook's first season supplying tyres in Formula E

Manfred Sandbichler was happy with Hankook's first season supplying tyres in Formula E

Photo by: Motorsport Images

“You need to make a tyre fit to every condition, every temperature, so that was demanding and you have to do compromise. For sure we could have got a better tyre in the wet condition but that would have compromised the dry.

“We can always improve, this is something that everybody knows, but for the first year I think it is a really good result and I’m pretty happy with what we have done.”

But while Hankook was happy with the performance on-track, there had been small issues off it. Not least a factory fire in South Korea, which although had no impact on the supply of tyres to Formula E certainly caused disruption for the company. It ceased its supply of rubber to the Euroformula Open championship as a result.

“People have realised, maybe we can do a better job in exploiting the maximum out of the product” Nico Muller

In Formula E, a number of drivers also voiced their displeasure towards the start of the season, claiming the new rubber to be too hard compared with what they had previously used with Michelin. But as Abt Cupra driver Nico Muller pointed out, "when the voices disappear, it’s a very good sign” after initial criticism subsided.

“People have realised, maybe we can do a better job in exploiting the maximum out of the product,” he says. “And they got to a stage where they probably realised it’s actually working pretty well and we have conditions that will be completely different throughout the season.

“Yes, when you go to Valencia and you have in mind what you have done with an old car before and you look for the last little detail, you might think, ‘It would have been nice to go through Turn 1 with 10km/h more’. But then over the course of the year that loses its relevance and the focus shifts. The mood in respect to the tyre is good. I don’t hear anyone complaining anymore.”

Hankook has already confirmed that the exact same tyre will be used during the 2024 campaign, which is due to get under way with pre-season testing in Valencia during the week starting 23 October. But while no changes will be brought in for that season, focus is already shifting to the following campaign, when an evolution of the current car, ‘Gen3.5’, will hit the track.

An uprated version of the Gen3 car was used in London as Jake Hughes set a new indoor land speed record, and it featured a softer compound of Hankook tyre, which may well be a sign of things to come. As ever, Hankook’s goal will be to find a balance between performance, durability and above all safety as it continues its journey in Formula E.

Formula E drivers will continue to use the same specification of Hankook tyre in the upcoming season

Formula E drivers will continue to use the same specification of Hankook tyre in the upcoming season

Photo by: Motorsport Images

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