Formula 1 technology – from race to road

Formula 1 prides itself on being the “pinnacle of motorsport”, but just how much of all that fancy, and seriously impressive, technology filters down to your average road car?   Well, the short answer is: a lot.

ENGINES

The sport’s current V6 turbo engines are all about efficiency. Today’s F1 cars use incredibly complex power units that utilise special energy recovery systems to generate power from the movement of their turbos and the heat that accompanies it.

The cars are required to complete a whole Grand Prix on just 100kg of fuel – much less than was previously allowed – and yet F1 engines are now considered just as powerful as they were 12 years ago, when most of the lap records on tracks that have endured through those years were set.

“I think that it is often over looked just how efficient Formula 1 cars are,” former McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh said recently, “How efficient they are at producing power, how efficient they are in creating grip and it’s that drive for efficiency that is so relevant to all sorts of walks of life and challenges outside of motor racing.”

That drive for efficiency can be seen in many road cars on sale today – Renault’s Clio car fitted with an ENERGY dCi 90 S&S ECO engine can do 88.3 combined miles per gallon.

ENERGY RECOVERY

Back in 2009, one of the most talked about F1 technology developments was the Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems or KERS.

That year, the regulations allowed teams to develop KERS systems that harvested the huge amounts of energy generated when the drivers hit the brakes (more on that later) to charge batteries that provided a power boost for 33-seconds each lap.

The new energy recovery systems in the current power units are even more powerful than the old KERS units but KERS technology can still be seen on the road in cars such as the Volvo S60 T5.

CARBON FIBRE

One of F1’s most famous technological developments was the expanded use of carbon fibre. McLaren’s MP4/1 from 1981 was the first F1 car to use a carbon fibre chassis and the material – which is both lighter and stronger than steel – is now commonplace for most chassis parts in the championship.

Carbon fibre is also widely used in road cars, particularly sports cars. The McLaren F1 road car was the first production vehicle to use a carbon fibre monocoque, as does the Renault RS 01 (ok, that’s a racing car, but doesn’t it look great?).

The knowledge of carbon fibre that F1’s engineers have gained over the years is now taking the material into other industries. A company called Hypetex (formed by ex-F1 engineers) has even developed coloured carbon fibre, which ends the long-running phrase “you can have carbon fibre in any colour as long as it’s black.” The material can be made into any shape or structure, such as Hypetex’s Halo chair.

BRAKES

Most road cars use disc brakes, and F1 cars use carbon disc brakes. At heavy braking circuits you can see plumes of black carbon dust pouring off the cars as they heat up and glow red hot to stop the cars at high speed.

But carbon brakes need to be warmed up to very high temperatures to fully operate. Drivers who haven’t heated up their brakes sufficiently at the start of an F1 race often lock up as a result.

APPLIED TECH

But you won’t just find F1 technology on road cars – it’s everywhere. Earlier this season the Williams team revealed that it had formed a partnership with the University Hospital of Wales to offer its expertise in delivering lightening fast pitstops to help improve neonatal care.

“We are increasingly finding that Formula 1 know-how and technology can have benefit to other industries and this is a great example,” said Williams’ deputy team principal Claire Williams.

COURTESY OF JACK & JONES - Alex Kalinauckas