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The technology behind Formula 1 cars (Part 1)

Aerodynamics:

Aerodynamics forms the basics of modern Formula 1 cars. Today, teams spend millions of dollars in the Aerodynamics department. The main role of aerodynamics is to provide downforce and allow the car to take a corner as fast as possible with minimal drag.

The Aerodynamics of an F1 car are similar to an airplane. The difference is that they function in reverse manner. An aircraft’s wings provide lift while the wings of F1 car create downforce. A modern Formula 1 car can create 3.5 g lateral cornering force, which in theory, should make the car capable of being driven upside down.

Every single body part of an F1 car is aerodynamically optimised to smoothen the air flow and prevent disruptions. Disruptions in air flow lead to turbulence which creates drag that slows the car down. The front wings are a major part of aerodynamic systems present on a F1 car. The diffuser is another important part of the aerodynamic system as it equalises pressure of the faster-flowing air that has passed under the car. This creates a low-pressure ‘balloon’ dragging at the back. This is the reason why teams are always improving their diffuser systems.

The Aerodynamics character of an F1 car has to be changed from track to track. For example, in Monaco, the cars run with maximum wings which create large amount of downforce with large amount of drag. But as Monaco does not have long fast straights, the drag does not slow the car down. On the other hand, in Monza, teams run with minimal wings so as to reduce drag. If you closely examine rear and front wings used in Monaco and Monza, you will see that the wing used in Monza is smaller as compared to the wing used in Monaco.

Engine and Gearbox:

Modern Formula 1 cars use 2.4 litre v8 engines which are limited to revving upto 18,000 rpm and consume 450 litres of air per second. Race fuel consumption is typically around the 75 litre per 100 km.

The engine is one of the most stressed component of an F1 car. The teams are limited to use of only 8 engines per driver in a season.

The Gearboxes of Modern F1 cars are sequential and are semi-automatic with drivers shifting gears using paddle shifters mounted at the back of the steering wheel. There are seven gears in an F1 car. The teams modify gear ratios from circuit to circuit to get maximum perfomance out of their cars. Like engines, gearboxes are also one of the most stressed components and need to be checked after every race.

The engines are meant to last two races and if a team uses a 9th engine in a season, they will have to take grid penalties. Similarly, gear boxes are meant to last for at least four races. Any team failing to do so has to take five place grid penalty for the race.

The V8 engines will be in service only upto 2013 as V6 Engines will be used from the 2014 championship season. The V6 engines are more eco-friendly than V8 so the FIA has decided to use v6 engines from 2014.

Fuel:

The fuel used in modern F1 cars is more or less similar to fuel used in regular cars. The teams have to submit fuel samples after each race to FIA. If a team fails to comply with the rules of FIA regarding fuel composition, the driver and the team will be disqualified. There are very strict restrictions on fuel composition and the additives that can be used to boost power.

But as Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsport, oil companies continuously try different blends to maximise power output. Recently, Shell, which supplies fuel to Ferrari, developed a new blend which gave 2% boost in power.

A driver can change how much fuel is to be used by the engine during the race by changing the fuel mixtures. Rich mixtures provide more fuel to engine thus providing more power, but increased engine wear and fuel consumption. A lean mixture gives engine less fuel, thus decreasing the power output and fuel consumption.

Earlier, during pitstops, cars could be refilled. But under current regulations, the cars have to be filled to their maximum capacity as refueling is not allowed due to safety reasons.

Tyres:

The tyres are one of the most important components of an F1 car and the teams try various suspension setups to minimize tyre wear and increase perfomance. Prior to Pirelli, Bridgestone were the sole suppliers (from 2007). But after the entry of Pirelli in 2011, tyres have become even more important due to their high degradation and variability. The 2012 Pirelli tyres produce maximum grip only in a very narrow range of temperature.

The grip is mainly produced by the change in chemical composistion inside the tyres and if the tyres overheat or do not reach their optimum working temperatures, they provide less grip which makes it difficult for drivers to get a faster lap time.

At the moment, there are six types of tyres provided by pirelli. To know more about various types of tyres read my article on“The range of Pirelli Tyres used in F1″

An F1 car tyre is made with heavy steel-belted radial plies and has a life of 16,000 kilometres or more. A Formula One tyre is designed to last for 200 kilometres. The tyres are made up of very soft rubber compounds which provide maximum grip but wear out quickly. If you observe a typical track, you will see that just off the racing lines, tyre debris or marbles gather.

Formula 1 tyres are usually filled with nitrogen-rich air. The presence of nitrogen-rich air minimizes the variation in tyre pressures.

The teams also alter tyre pressures according to the environmental conditions. During a dry race, teams use lower tyre pressures while in a wet or changing conditions, teams use higher tyre pressures.

More about F1 technology in part 2. (Coming soon)

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