The lowdown on F1 cars
Every day we are getting closer and closer to the start of the F1 season and every day a small amount of pee escapes my urethra due to excitement. To date, I have covered the race weekend, explained the tyres and taught you a few interesting things about the engine. Now I’m moving on to one of the most important aspects of Formula 1: the cars.
The aerodynamics of an F1 car has two jobs: producing downforce and limiting drag. Downforce pushes the car’s tyres onto the road and helps it travel faster through the corners, while reducing drag and increasing straight-line speed. Every single surface of an F1 car can affect its aerodynamics. This is why F1 teams constantly monitor data to see where they can tweak something because even just a 10% improvement in downforce is worth about a second on a lap.
The amount of aerodynamic downforce produced by the front and rear wings and the car underbody is huge. Once the car is traveling at just 160 kilometres per hour, it can generate enough downforce to equal its own weight. That means in theory, it could hold itself to the ceiling of a tunnel and drive upside down. On a street course like Monaco, the downforce provides so much suction that it can lift manhole covers. Before the race, all the manhole covers on the streets have to be welded down to prevent this from happening.
F1 cars are rebuilt in between the races. They are taken completely apart and engineers do about 200 different measures and checks on them. This is impressive because an F1 car is made up of 16000 components. If it were assembled 99.9% correctly, it could still start the race with 16 things wrong.
For an example, the gearbox from the 2008 BMW Sauber F1 car takes around 40 working hours to assemble using 1,500 different components and engineers have to select settings from over 50 different gear ratios to suit each individual circuit. They can change gears 50 times faster than you can blink and the driver will shift ratios between 2,800 and 4,000 times per race.
Safety is probably one of the most impressive aspects in Formula 1 these days where all cars first have to pass mandatory crash tests. Between 1952 and 1982 a driver was dying almost every year. In 1994, arguably the greatest racer ever to get into an F1 car, Ayrton Senna, tragically died in an accident during a race at Imola in Italy while driving for Williams and that’s where things started changing.
That Grand Prix was riddled with incidents. Rubens Barrichello crashed on the Friday practice and ended up in hospital. Roland Ratzenberger crashed during qualifying on the Saturday and then finally Senna during the race on Sunday. After that, safety became top priority.
For example, during his high-speed crash at the Canadian Grand Prix in 2007, Robert Kubica was subjected to more than 28 times the acceleration of gravity. This meant that his body effectively weighed two tons instead of 73 kg. But thanks to the safety restrictions in F1 he only suffered minor bruises.
Unfortunately a freak accident happened at the Japanese GP in 2014, Marussia driver and Ferrari young driver Jules Bianchi went off the track on a rainy race day and drove into a tractor crane that was busy clearing the car of Adrian Sutil (who went off a lap before). Jules was in a coma and sustained brain damage. In July 2015 the news broke that he had passed away.
After the incident, the virtual safety car was introduced where all the cars on track are limited to a lower safer speed when conditions are bad or an accident is being cleared. Check out the Robert Kubica accident footage below:
This is an example of how a F1 steering wheel looks like with all the bells and whistles. There isn’t enough room to explain every single button so I’ll just let the picture do the talking.
What is more impressive is that the drivers play around with all these buttons while doing 300+ kilometres per hour and are under loads of pressure. For example, their heartrate will reach 200 beats-per-minute at times and will average 150 for long periods. They lose over 3 litres of fluid during a race and their blood pressure will rise by 50%.
The toll that a typical race takes on their body is reckoned to be the equivalent of running a marathon, burning 1,200 calories. The cockpit temperature can exceed 50 degrees Celsius and you need to concentrate continually for 300 km. A split-second loss of concentration means that you might exceed the car’s capabilities by 1%, which is the difference between a blistering lap time and a spin.
Finally, DRS (Drag Reduction System) is something that first became a part of the sport in 2011 to produce more overtakes in a race. DRS is basically a slit that opens on the rear wing that reduces drag and allows the car to reach a higher top speed. You can’t use it all the time though, only at DRS detection points and you have to switch it off at DRS deactivation points.
Well, there you have it, the lowdown on cars that race in F1 Grand Prix races. Watch this space for regular updates in the Sport category on Running Wolf’s Rant.