It is said that the modern F1 car has as much in common with a jet fighter as a road car. The aerodynamics and shape, the tiny cockpit, the handling and the raw speed of a McLaren or Mercedes F1 seem a high-powered world away from a jaunty drive to the supermarket or ramble in the country in your car from Jennings Motor Group.
But at one point, probably not so long ago, the technology that you use each day was commonplace on the racetrack, and probably born there. It then began to migrate across to the production cars – and it continues to be that way.
Mercedes and Renault have gone on record to say that the 2014 engines were starting to translate to road car technology. Speaking on the official Formula 1 website, Mercedes’ Andy Cowell said:
“The regulations were specifically written to take some of the ideas that are already in the road car world, such as downsizing, downspeeding and turbocharging but adding some new, interesting technologies in there such as the electric turbocharger as a specific example. Those sort of projects are already being worked on.”
For example, anyone with a car with a direct shift gearbox (DSG) – a gearbox hybrid that gives a driver the power to change gears quickly while maintaining control of the speed – will perhaps not be surprised that the technology emerged from the racetrack. This complex system, launched in the Volkswagen Golf in 2003 and shortly followed by the Audi TT, essentially allows gear changes at high-speed, without the need to use a clutch.
Volkswagen introduced DSG to its road cars but Porsche used the technology first in its racing cars in the 80s, and the German giant is also responsible for even starting the car more quickly than your average key. If you’re lucky to have a car with push button starter technology then you’ll probably not be surprised that it harks back to Porsche’s racing heritage when rapid acceleration was needed from a standing start.
Other than having the best car speakers on the market, elements of our ‘normal’ tyre technology emerged initially on the track, after thousands of races, corners and crashes across the world showed what worked and what needed modification, to eventually reach production cars. But despite some innovations the similarity soon ends when one considers that an F1 tyre is designed to last only 120km compared to several thousand km expected of a standard road tyre, which must cope with harsher weather and road debris.
There is no way more dramatic – and unfortunate – to test safety measures than seeing the impact of a car being hurled into a wall or other vehicle at very high speed. Therefore the logical journey of taking the roll cage from a NASCAR vehicle and using similar principles in a road vehicle was inevitable. Of course you cannot see the roll cage of a standard road car as it’s hidden by foam, carpet and trim on the inside, and the exterior styling on the outside. But it is there.
Strong, light materials such as carbon-fibre are a vital component of the F1 shell, but this combination is expensive. Nonetheless luxury marques such as BMW are introducing the material into their cars; the 2013 i3 and i8 has a carbon fibre body structure and BMW has even gone as far as claiming that alloy wheels could be out dated in just a year or two, according to this Auto Express piece.
Few sports can boast that they legitimately change the world around us and make it safer. F1 is the exception.
Photograph by Chi Hang Ong