Fundamentally, Formula One cars are no different than the Chevy parked out in your garage. They use internal combustion engines and have transmissions, suspensions, wheels and brakes. But that’s where the similarity ends. Formula One cars aren’t designed for casual driving or cruising down the interstate. Everything about them is tweaked and tooled for one thing and one thing only — speed. Formula One cars can easily attain speeds of 200 mph — but during a race, the speeds are generally lower. During the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix, the winner’s average speed was 101.769 mph, and in the 2006 Italian Grand Prix, it was 152.749 mph.
A Formula One car is an open-wheel, open-cockpit, single-seat racing car for the purpose of being used in Formula One competitions. It is equipped with two wings (front and rear) plus an engine, which is located behind the driver.
Every F1 car is composed of two main components − the chassis and the engine.
Chassis − Formula One cars these days are made from carbon fiber and ultra-lightweight components. The weight must be not less than 702 kg or 1548 lbs, including the driver and tires, but excluding the fuel.
The dimensions of a Formula One car must be maximum 180 cm (width) × 95cm (height); there is no specified number for maximum length, but all cars tend to be of almost the same length.
The heart of a Formula One car is the chassis — the part of the automobile onto which everything is bolted and attached. Like most modern cars and aircraft, Formula One race cars feature Monocoque construction. Monocoque is a French word meaning “single shell,” which refers to the process of making the entire body out of a single piece of material. Once upon a time, that material was aluminum, but today it’s a strong composite, like spun carbon fibers set in resin or carbon fiber layered over aluminum mesh. The result is a lightweight car that can withstand the enormous downward-acting forces that are produced as the vehicle moves through the air.
The Monocoque incorporates the cockpit, a strong, padded cell that accommodates a single driver. Unlike the cockpits of road-ready cars, which can show great variance, the cockpits of Formula One cars must adhere to very rigorous technical regulations. They must, for example, meet minimum size requirements and must have a flat floor. The seat, however, is made to fit a driver’s precise measurements so his movement is limited as the car moves around the track.
Engine − According to regulation changes in 2014, all F1 cars must deploy 1.6 liter turbocharged V6 engines.
Before 2006, Formula One cars were powered by massive three-liter, V10 engines. Then the rules changed, specifying the use of 2.4-liter V8 engines. Even though power outputs fell with the rule change, Formula One engines can still produce nearly 900 horsepower. To put that into perspective, consider that a Volkswagen Jetta’s 2.5-liter engine produces just 150 horsepower. Of course, the Jetta’s engine is probably good for at least 100,000 miles or so. A Formula One engine needs to be rebuilt after about 500 miles. Why? Because generating all of that power requires that the engine run at very high revolution rates — nearly 19,000 revolutions per minute. Running an engine at such high rpms produces an enormous amount of heat and puts a great deal of stress on the moving parts.
Formula One Transmissions and Aerodynamics
Semi-automatic sequential carbon titanium gearboxes are used by F1 cars presently, with 8 forward gears and 1 reverse gear, with rear-wheel drive.
It’s the job of the transmission to transfer all of the engine’s power to the rear wheels of the Formula One car. The transmission bolts directly to the back of the engine and includes all of the parts you would expect to find in a road car — gearbox, differential and driveshaft. The gearbox must have a minimum of four forward gears and a maximum of seven gears. Six-speed gearboxes were popular for several years, but most Formula One cars now run seven-speed units. A reverse gear must also be fitted. The gearbox is connected to a differential, a set of gears allowing the rear wheels to revolve at different speeds during cornering. And the differential is connected to the driveshaft, which transfers power to the wheels.
Shifting gears in a Formula One car is not the same as shifting gears in a road car with a manual transmission. Instead of using a traditional “H” gate selector, drivers select gears using paddles located just behind the steering wheel. Downshifting is done on one side of the steering wheel, upshifting on the other. Although fully automatic transmission systems, including systems with sophisticated launch control, are possible on Formula One cars, they are now illegal. This helps reduce the overall cost of the power train and enables drivers to use gear-shifting skills to gain advantage in a race.
A Formula One race car is defined as much by its aerodynamics as it is by its powerful engine. That’s because any vehicle traveling at high speed must be able to do two things well: reduce air resistance and increase downforce. Formula One cars are low and wide to decrease air resistance. Wings, a diffuser, end plates and barge boards increase downforce. Let’s look at each of these in greater detail.
- Wings, which first appeared in the 1960s, operate on the same principles as airplane wings, only in reverse. Airplane wings create lift, but the wings on a Formula One car produce downforce, which holds the car onto the track, especially during cornering. The angle of both front and rear wings can be fine-tuned and adjusted to get the ideal balance between air resistance and downforce.
- Lotus engineers discovered in the 1970s that a Formula One car itself could be turned into a giant wing. Using a unique undercarriage design, they were able to extract air from beneath the car, creating an area of low pressure that sucked the entire vehicle downward. These so-called “ground-effect” forces were soon outlawed and strict regulations put in place to govern undercarriage design. The bottom of today’s cars must be flat from the nose cone to the rear axle line. Beyond that line, engineers have free reign. Most incorporate a diffuser, an upward-sweeping device located just beneath the engine and gearbox that creates a suction effect as it funnels air up and passes it to the rear of the car.
- Much of aerodynamics is concerned with getting air to move where you want it to move. Endplates are small, flanged areas at the edges of the front wings that help “grab” the air and direct it along the side of the car. The barge boards, located just behind the front wheels, pick up the air from there, accelerating it to create even more downforce.
The result of all this aerodynamics engineering is a combined downforce of about 2,500 kilograms (5,512 pounds). That’s more than four times the weight of the car itself.
he suspension of a Formula One car has all of the same components as the suspension of a road car. Those components include springs, dampers, arms and anti-sway bars. These cars feature multi-link suspensions, which use a multi-rod mechanism equivalent to a double-wishbone system. a double-wishbone design uses two wishbone-shaped control arms to guide each wheel’s up-and-down motion. Each arm has three mounting positions — two at the frame and one at the wheel hub — and each joint is hinged to guide the wheel’s motion. In all cars, the primary benefit of a double-wishbone suspension is control.
The geometry of the arms and the elasticity of the joints give engineers ultimate control over the angle of the wheel and other vehicle dynamics, such as lift, squat and dive. Unlike road cars, however, the shock absorbers and coil springs of a Formula One race car don’t mount directly to the control arms. Instead, they are oriented along the length of the car and are controlled remotely through a series of pushrods and bell cranks. In such an arrangement, the pushrods and bell cranks translate the up-and-down motions of the wheel to the back-and-forth movement of the spring-and-damper apparatus.
The steering wheel of an F1 car is equipped to perform many functions like changing gears, changing brake pressure, calling the radio, fuel adjustment, and so on.
The steering wheel of a Formula One car bears little resemblance to the steering wheel of a road car. As the car’s command center, it houses a dizzying array of buttons, toggles and switches. During the race, the driver can control almost every aspect of the car’s performance — gear changes, fuel mixture, brake balance and more — with just the touch of a finger. And, amazingly, all of this control comes on a steering wheel that is about half the diameter of a normal car’s steering wheel.
The rules state that the driver must be able to get out of his car within five seconds, removing nothing except the steering wheel. To allow for this, the steering wheel is joined to the steering column via a snap-on connector.
The fuel used by Formula One cars is a tightly controlled mixture of ordinary petrol, and can only contain commercial gasoline compounds rather than alcohol compounds. The fuel is not the typical unleaded gasoline you pump at the neighborhood Exxon, but it’s similar. Small quantities of non-hydrocarbon compounds are allowed, but most power-boosting additives have been banned completely. All in all, Formula One teams use about 50 different fuel blends, tuned for different tracks or conditions, in a typical season. Each blend must be submitted to the FIA, the sport’s governing body, for approval of its composition and physical properties.
Formula One cars have been using smooth thread, slick tires since 2009. The tire dimensions of an F1 car are −
- Front Tire − 245mm (width)
- Rear Tires − 355mm and 380mm (width)
The tires of a Formula One race car may be the most important part on the entire vehicle. This seems like an overstatement until you realize that the tires are the only things touching the track surface. That means all of the other major systems — engine, suspension and braking — do their work by way of the tires. If the tires don’t perform well, the car won’t perform well, regardless of the technical superiority demonstrated in other systems.
Like every part of a Formula One car, tires are highly regulated. Slick tires — those with no tread pattern and a high contact area — were introduced in the 1960s and used until 1998. Then the FIA change the rules to reduce cornering speeds and make the sport more competitive. On today’s Formula One cars, the front tires must be between 12 and 15 inches wide and the rear tires between 14 and 15 inches wide. Four continuous, longitudinal grooves must run around the circumference. The grooves must be at least 2.5 millimeters (0.098 inches) deep and 50 mm (1.97 inches) apart. In rainy conditions, cars can have “intermediate” and “wet” tires, which have full tread patterns designed to channel water away from the road surface.
Formula One tires are made from very soft rubber compounds which, as they heat up, adhere to the road and provide enormous gripping power. In fact, racing tires perform best at high temperatures, so they have to be warmed up before they are race-ready. The tradeoff is decreased durability. A Formula One tire is designed to last for, at most, about 125 miles.
Traction control can extend the life of tires by limiting wheel spin, especially under loads imposed by cornering. Traction control systems use electronic sensors to compare the speed of the wheel to the speed of the road the wheel is driving over. If the wheel is traveling faster than the road surface — an indication that the wheels are dangerously close to spinning — then the engine is automatically throttled back. Traction control has been allowed and banned at various times throughout modern Formula One history.
Formula One cars use disc brakes with a rotor and caliper at each tire. You would recognize all of the parts of the disc brakes found on Formula One cars. The big difference, of course, is that the brakes used in Formula One must stop a vehicle traveling at speeds greater than 200 mph. This causes the brakes to glow red-hot when they are used. To help reduce wear and tear and increase braking performance, carbon fiber discs and pads are now used. These brake systems are extremely effective at temperatures up to 750° C (1,382° F), even though they are lightweight. Holes around the edge of the brake disc allow heat to escape rapidly. The cars also have air intakes fitted to the outside of the wheel hub to cool down the brakes. The air intakes are changed for the different braking requirements of each track.
Speed and Performance
All F1 cars can accelerate from 0 to 100 mph (160 kmph) and decelerate back to 0 in under 5 seconds. F1 cars have reached top speeds of about 300 kmph or 185 mph on an average.
However, some cars, without fully complying with F1 standards have attained speed of 400 km/h or more. These numbers are mostly same for all F1 cars but slight variations may be there due to the gears and aerodynamics configuration.