Formula One Technology in Road Cars

ferrari f1

With a new season of Formula One on the horizon, what better time than now to look back over the sport’s innovations and technological advancements that have, over the years, helped not only teams win to Championships, but also regular road users to drive safer cars. From carbon-fibre chassis to improved traction control, F1 has been at the forefront of car technology for many years.

Everything at your Fingertips

Formula One 2014 - test session in Bahrain

In , you may have noticed that the steering wheel has become increasingly complicated in recent years, with a greater range of dials and buttons now at the drivers’ fingertips. From adjusting car settings such as break balances to releasing integrated KERS and DRS systems, the driver is having to do more and more while traveling at breakneck speeds.

While it is necessary in F1 to have such a cramped setup, it is also rather convenient and has translated well to the road car. In particular, Ferrari road models have a variety of settings on the wheel from operating the wipers to turning on the headlights, which makes for a safer and more convenient driving experience.

Semi-Automatic Driving

Ferrari 640 in 1989

These days, paddle-operated gearboxes are ubiquitous in road cars as a more intuitive option for learner and experienced drivers. The ease with which this type of gear control system can be learned and operated makes driving a safer experience for many, not to mention more efficient.

Once again, F1 was the pioneer in this technology back in the late 80s. The first F1 car to adopt this semi-automatic system was the Ferrari 640 in 1989. Today, all F1 cars use paddle-shifting technology for a quick and efficient change of gear.

Pointing the Car in the Right Direction

A large proportion of the technological advancements in road car tyres are thanks to the extensive testing carried out in F1 over the years. Car tyres are vital to pointing your car in the right direction. Rather than being a simple ring of rubber, a lot of clever science goes into the manufacture of these vital car components. Considerations such as tread patterns and compounds determine levels of grip, how the tyre will perform in wet weather and how long one will last before a replacement is needed.

In F1, gaining an extra advantage in speed, grip or tyre wear has pushed teams to understand the minute details of their car tyres, from optimum temperatures to the most protective driving styles. As road cars don’t have the enhanced safety features of F1 cars, this knowledge is especially important for keeping cars on the road, which is why many F1 teams and tyre manufacturers have used their findings to create safer road cars.

Maintaining Grip

Traction control is a feature in most cars these days, allowing drivers to maintain grip with the road in an automatic way. A traction system works by detecting when your car is losing grip and making power adjustments where necessary. It is a system that was first introduced back in the seventies by General Motors, but was developed extensively in F1 during the 80s.

To gain those valuable tenths in F1, teams introduced and improved electronic traction systems so drivers could go into corners at sharper angles and at faster speeds. Even in wet conditions, traction sensing technology allowed for daring passes through tight corners. Look on your dashboard for that flashing traction light and you’ll be looking at years of advancements in technology thanks to F1.

Efficient Energy Saving

Since the overhaul of the F1 rules in 2008 that saw some teams flourish while others floundered, the KERS system has been a regular feature of the F1 season, allowing drivers to gain an extra boost at opportune moments. KERS stands for “kinetic energy recovery system” and works by storing the energy involved in braking, ready to be released at the push of a button.

F1 introduced KERS to the world in 2008, but it’s already filtering down to commercial cars such as the Porsche 918. While it may not be the safest option for many, it is certainly an efficient system to have and will certainly save people money on fuel costs in the future.

Carbon-fibre Possibilities

Last but not least is the now widely-used material known as carbon-fibre. First introduced to F1 on the chassis of the McLaren MP4/1 in 1981, this light and tough material is now a popular choice in many industries including aerospace and wind energy. For cars, carbon-fibre offers greater safety in the event of a crash, but the material is still rather expensive.

Still, there are brands that are starting to come around to the idea of carbon-fibre; well-known manufacturers such as BMW are increasing investment in the manufacturing possibilities of this material. Supercars have long featured carbon-fibre chassis, and this material is predicted to be used more extensively in conventional cars in the future.

A Pioneering Sport

Formula One may be seen by some as a lot of noise, but the legacy of this pioneering sport extends way beyond the white outlines of the track. The number of lives saved and crashes prevented by such advancements as the traction control system or the improvement of tyre grip in wet weather are uncountable. For more information on the . The question remains: what new technology will F1 introduce us to and improve in the future?

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