tyre test goodyear eagle f1 asymmetric

gripping stuff

Until now, the ultimate dry weather tyre and the ultimate wet weather tyre were two very different things. With their Eagle F1 Asymmetric, Goodyear claim to offer both. Jonathan Crouch tries it

It's a fact. The differences between good and bad tyres are far more apparent in the wet than in the dry. Which means that if you live in a country as wet as ours, a bad choice of rubber is something you're going to have to suffer with rather a lot. At best, you're going to struggle. At worst, you'll be dangerous.

Every tyre maker understands this of course, which is why they all claim to offer excellent wet weather performance. Or a decent compromise between dry and wet weather handling. Until now however, no tyre maker has been able to deliver both: class-leading dry weather grip and purpose-designed wet weather ability.

The fact that these are two apparently contradictory issues didn't stop Goodyear from trying to solve the problem - and they were pretty well placed to go about it. In Hydragrip, the company has the market's leading wet weather tyre. In the Eagle F1, it also boasts a performance-orientated dry weather tyre that happens to lead its field. To make both ingredients work in one product however, a different approach was needed.

As a result, when the time came to replace their Eagle F1, Goodyear's technicians reckoned it was time to think outside the box. Or, more accurately, inside the tyre. For some time, they'd been looking at asymmetric tread patterns featuring different designs on both sides of the tread face. Nothing new there: many tyres feature such an approach. What if though, they wondered, a tyre could be built with an asymmetric construction. In other words, not only would the tread face be different both sides but the inside sidewall would be of a completely different design to the outside sidewall.

"When the time to change tyres arrives, see it as an opportunity to get a grip...."

The result was the birth of what the company calls 'Active Grip Technology' - and of the Eagle F1 Asymmetric. Essentially, the thinking here is very simple. It's all about giving the car more road contact across the entire width of the tread. As a car travels through a corner, there's a high amount of force exerted through a tyre's footprint, mostly to its outside shoulder. Active Corner Grip Technology uses the asymmetrical design to distribute pressure more evenly across the whole contact patch, with particular emphasis on the inside shoulder. The result is significantly more grip.

That's the theory, but does it actually work? And if it does, would the average driver notice the difference? To find out, I flew to the Canary Islands to try the tyre on track as well as on its twisty, tortuous roads. Modern cars, I'd already decided, were certainly in need of technology like this. Every new design seems to be both faster and heavier but one thing remains constant. Namely the fact that most of the eventual owners of these cars don't give two hoots about the tyres they run. You've only to watch a Formula One Grand Prix, races in which winners and losers are often solely determined by rubber choice, to appreciate the foolishness of this.

To be fair, in the premium tyre sector where the Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric sits, owners are likely to have higher performance cars like the Audi TT I was driving and therefore probably be a little more interested in tread patterns and the like. But on average, they're still more likely to spend thousands on a four-wheel drive or sports suspension option than a few extra hundred on a decent set of rubber that will have far more effect on their day to day driving.

For proof of their tyre's merits, Goodyear took us to Gran Canaria's local karting track and flooded it with water before letting us loose in Audi TTs fitted both with the best competitive tyre available (Bridgestone's Potenza) and the Eagle F1 Asymmetric. The results were pretty astonishing, the Goodyear offering so much extra grip that it was over three seconds quicker around the short lap.

On the adjacent dry handling track where the same comparison opportunity was offered, the differences weren't quite so marked, though the Eagle did exhibit slightly less understeer and (perhaps more importantly) was significantly quieter at speed: the engineers claim that a noise output of 70.2 decibels at 80kmh is way below the racket made by this tyre's competitors.

In other words, there's no better - and certainly no quieter - tyre in the dry, while in the wet, the Eagle F1 Asymmetric decimates its competitors. If Goodyear could put all its potential premium market customers on that kart track, there'd be no problem with predicting success for this tyre. As it is, blind to the technology involved, much of the market will continue to buy on price. So it's important that the Asymmetric costs no more than 5-8% more than the old Eagle F1, itself priced significantly below premium rivals like Michelin's Pilot Sport.

It still isn't cheap of course. And because sizes only start at 17 inches, you won't be able to order one for more ordinary cars than the Audi TT I was using. Still, there are 24 sizes to choose from, between 17 and 20 inches and 50 series down to 25 series. And almost the entire range is designed with extra load versions, in order to specifically suit as wide a variety of today's high performance cars as possible.

If you own one and the time to change tyres arrives, see it as an opportunity to get a grip.