Technological advances in Formula One are as important as who’s behind the wheel. Learn about the most important advancements that have changed the championship over the years.
Since its inception, Formula 1, where the world’s best drivers show off their driving skills, has been the pinnacle of motorsports and the unofficial base of research and development in the world of cars. Formula 1 cars have become real laboratories, where new technologies of the racing world are invented and perfected. And 2021 F1 Calendar will not be an exception. Many of these innovations are short-lived because Formula One rules are constantly being updated to maintain a balance between efficiency and reliance on driver skill and reliability and spectacle. Nevertheless, racing technology is just as important a part of Formula 1 as black-and-white-checkered flags and champagne splashes, and now we find out which inventions have changed the famous championship the most.
The engine in front of the rear axle of the car
At the dawn of motorsports, the attitude about where the engine should be located has remained the same since the invention of the chariot: all horsepower was in the front center. That made sense, but racers soon discovered that it led to understeer at high speeds. In 1957, the Cooper team changed the existing paradigm by placing the engine behind the driver but in front of the rear axle for more even weight distribution. The new architecture seemed suspect and even radical at the time, but after Jack Brabham won two consecutive championships in 1959 and 1960, all manufacturers switched to the new layout by the 1961 season.
If you send enough road data to the car’s suspension and then tie it to a system that adjusts the shock absorber response accordingly, you get the important contact system. Williams first used active suspension systems in Formula 1, building on a concept introduced earlier by Lotus. But they were banned in the mid-90s because of the dangerous increase in speed in the corners.
The FIA is considering the use of active suspension systems in the near future. But that doesn’t stop the technology from being used on any of dozens of sports cars, SUVs and luxury sedans. This development for race cars has caught on nicely on the street.
When an F1 car slides on the brakes at 320 km/h, a serious amount of kinetic energy is released. But what if it were possible to capture that momentum and store it for later use? That’s exactly what the kinetic energy conservation system called KERS did. It was introduced in 2009 and initially allowed teams to store up to 60kW of energy from the rear axle.
This potential was expended by either the electrical system or a rotating mechanical flywheel. The power was then dumped through the transmission. Thus, for a certain number of seconds per lap, a hybrid race car was effectively created.
In racing, KERS has been replaced (or strengthened) by several new systems. They convert heat or kinetic energy into electricity for use by the powerful actuators, which generate twice as much power as the original KERS. Mazda experimented with the i-Eloop flywheel recapture system on the Mazda 6 sedan.
Many innovations in motorsport make racing faster, but also more dangerous. So it’s an extra challenge for designers to develop systems that keep racers safe, like fire suppression or a safety cage. The newest of these technologies is the Halo cockpit protection system, introduced in 2018, which protects riders from flying debris thanks to an eye-level deformation zone. Teams are now installing this system on their cars, which has become a requirement of the rules but also has a complex indirect effect on aerodynamics and load distribution. Although the system Halo was not to everyone’s liking, it has already proved its necessity and saved a life when Roman Grosjean was in a terrible accident at the end of the season 2020…