What Has F1 Ever Done for Us?
Getty Images/Getty Images
Although it’s not always the case, you will find that many car enthusiasts are also keen fans of one form of motorsport or another.
Even if you’re just a fan of F1, which is probably why you’re reading this article, you probably also drive a road car.
If so, you may have wondered if there are any similarities between the car you drive and those of your racing heroes. The answer is, well, lots!
When refuelling during F1 races was abandoned after the 2009 season, there became an immediate onus on developing high-performance fuels with greater fuel efficiency.
As such, fuel suppliers such as Shell with Ferrari and Total with Lotus have developed fuels with friction-reducing additives that lowers fuel use whilst being kind on the car’s mechanics, including the gear box, oil and hydraulic pumps.
As is apparent on the above Shell video, the difference between Shell’s V-Power race fuel and their V-Power road fuel is minimal with Fernando Alonso lapping to within a second of his time on the race fuel to that of the normal fuel you will find at your nearest petrol station. Impressive stuff.
Active Suspension, ABS and Traction Control
To put a greater onus on driver skill, today’s F1 cars are no longer allowed to use clever electronic gadgetry to make the job of driving easier with launch control banned in 2004 and traction control outlawed in 2008.
But it wasn’t always the case, and there is no better example of that than Nigel Mansell’s electric dream machine that was the 1992 FW14B.
The active suspension system worked by computers changing the suspension settings and ride height for every bump in the road and every corner, meaning Mansell enjoyed the smoothest ride possible for over an hour and a half of intense racing.
ABS also meant that Mansell could stamp on his brakes without the fear of the dreaded lock-up that today’s drivers have to cope with should they misjudge their braking point into a corner.
The last piece of tech that made Mansell almost untouchable in 1992 was traction control, first developed for the F1 cars of the late '80s. With traction control, the car’s computer monitors the amount of power to the wheels and prevents unnecessary wheelspin.
Such technology is now commonplace in today’s modern road cars and something every driver is grateful for when driving in those tricky wintery conditions.
On the face of it, there seems little in common with the tyres fitted to your road car to those on an F1 car, and after the many failures and blow-outs we’ve seen on track this year, you may hope not. But there’s a high probability that the tyres on your car are Goodyear, Michelin or Pirellis and all have been in F1.
F1 is an important test bed for pushing the boundaries of car design. As recently as the Belgian Grand Prix, Michelin entered discussions with the FIA about providing the F1 tyres for the 2014 season by arguing that Pirelli’s current 13-inch wheels have no relevance to road cars, as reported on BBC Sport at the time.
Michelin’s philosophy is that Pirelli’s current fast wearing rubber that has caused so much controversy is counterproductive to the growing requirement and demand for environmental sustainability in automotive manufacturing.
The Semi-Automatic Gearbox
Be it an Aston Martin, Lamborghini or Ferrari, none of today’s fancy sports cars are complete without the option of shift paddles behind the steering wheel to operate the semi-automatic gearbox.
Indeed, they’re now so commonplace that you don’t have to break the bank to have the option with vehicles such as the Honda Accord fitted with shift paddles.
Yet again, the semi-automatic gearbox had its origins in F1 with Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost’s 1989 Ferrari 640, the first to feature “flappy paddles” for shifting up and down.
By 1995, the conventional manual gear shift had left the sport forever, and it’s hard to imagine in-car footage without it.
KERS stands for Kinetic Energy Recovery System, and it is a means of recovering a vehicle’s kinetic energy from the heat generated by the car under braking. The energy is then stored in a battery or used to turn a flywheel for later use under acceleration.
Introduced to F1 for the 2009 season, there are two principal KERS systems that teams can employ, electrical storage by use of a battery or mechanical using a flywheel. The electrical battery system is now the universally used method and utilises a motor generator incorporated in the car’s transmission that converts mechanical energy into electrical energy to be stored in the battery and released when required by the driver.
The mechanical system, pioneered by Williams back in 2011, captures braking energy and then uses it to turn a small flywheel that can spin at up to 80,000 rpm and is connected to the rear wheels when more power is required. The flywheel device developed by Williams was fitted to Porsche's new 911 GT3 R Hybrid road car in 2011 and, more recently, with Volvo’s Second Generation C30 Electric. And last year, Ferrari unveiled a KERS system for a road-car engine at the Beijing Auto Show.
As of 2014, the capacity of the KERS units in F1 will increase from 60 kilowatts (80 bhp) to 120 kilowatts (160 bhp) to balance the sport's move from 2.4 litre V8 engines to 1.6 litre V6 engines.
The Carbon Fibre Chassis
One of the lightest and strongest materials materials known to man, carbon fibre has been used to construct the chassis of F1 cars since McLaren pioneered the use of the material for their 1981 challenger, the MP4/1.
Because of the high cost of the material, carbon fibre chassis have generally been the domain of the high-performance sports car; although, times are changing with hybrid materials now being used for cost efficiency whilst still offering strength and lightness.
A good example is the soon to be launched BMW i3, a handy electric city-car, which will be the first of its kind to be constructed from carbon fibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP).