Pursuit of Performance

How Formula 1 Technology Innovations are Racing Us into the Future

formula 1 car

Motorsports often serve as a testing ground for new automotive advances. The technology that powers winning race cars sometimes makes its way into the cars, trucks, and SUVs that you can buy at your local dealership. The innovations that don’t make the cut get dropped — and fast. Nowhere is this maxim truer than in Formula 1 racing.

Since its inception in 1950, Formula 1 has repeatedly lead the auto industry in innovation by putting technology that makes cars faster, more efficient, and more capable in race cars years before it’s available in mass production. As a result, Formula 1 cars often give us a sneak peek at the future of the automobile.

Your Car’s Racier Than You Might Think

formula cars during a race

Take, for instance, traction and electronic stability control, both of which were recently federally mandated as required equipment in new vehicles.

Traction control manages an engine’s power output to make sure the tires retain their grip on the road, and stability control helps make sure the vehicle’s limits aren’t exceeded; both were developed and tested in Formula 1. Other technologies that we take for granted every day, including Anti-Lock Braking (ABS) and all-wheel drive, were originally developed for use in Formula 1 racing.

Recent Formula 1 Innovations

Even today, Formula 1 is still paving the way for the future. For starters, take a look under the hood. While Formula 1 cars used to be powered by large 4.5-liter engines, modern Formula 1 race cars have seen their engines downsized and streamlined in the same way that family sedan engines have been. Now, 1.6-liter turbocharged V-6 engines power Formula 1 cars.

Furthermore, modern Formula 1 cars have made use of hybrid-like Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS). KERS use a small flywheel often connected to a capacitor that recovers momentum otherwise wasted during braking, stores it, and then makes it available to the driver on-demand for short bursts. When the system is employed, it typically adds nearly 80 horsepower to the car.

KERS are already making their way into the latest generation of super-cars, including the Ferrari LaFerrari, McLaren P1, and Porsche 918 Spyder.

Home consumer goods are also finding a place in Formula 1 racing. For example, the Caterham F1 team has partnered with Dell and Intel to develop a special computer that enables the team to make the most of their research.

In response to new Formula 1 regulations that restrict wind tunnel testing, Dell and Intel built a computer capable of testing thousands of different designs in a digital wind tunnel to see which ones work best. The designs that fare well in computer testing then get produced and tested in a real wind tunnel and end up out on the track.

Some modern Formula 1 technologies are even being used outside the racetrack. For example, McLaren’s Formula 1 team developed sensors to track its race car’s engine, transmission, and other mechanically vital systems. Now doctors are using those same sensors to monitor the performance of new drugs during clinical trials.

Not only is modern Formula 1 technology driving us into the future of the automobile, but it’s also pioneering the groundbreaking technology that’s reshaping our everyday lives.


Images courtesy of Jake Archibald and Steven Phillips

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