Written by Liam Whyte
In the modern era, Formula 1 cars have the most advanced engines of any automobile on the planet and are significantly more complex and sophisticated than standard road cars. At the pinnacle of motorsport, Formula 1 is the most technically developed racing series in the world, having a legacy of pushing the boundaries of science within the motorsport industry through extensive R&D projects. The big manufacturing teams Ferrari, Mercedes, Renault, and Honda all pick their brains each season, in an attempt to gain the slightest competitive edge over one another.
In 2017, due to regulation changes, a new generation of the F1 car was born due to designers being allowed to have more freedom to explore alternative designs and concepts. The led to significant increases in the downforce generated by the cars at high speeds, this enabled drivers to have more grip around difficult tracks at extreme speeds. For context, the downforce generate by an F1 car is so large that the car can theoretically drive upside down and counteract the effect of gravity.. However, that trend was reversed in 2020 when F1 imposed new technical regulations on the cars which were radically different and significantly more restrictive than they had been in previous seasons. Surface geometries were simplified leading to different aerodynamic qualities and reduced downforces. However, some of this was recouped through development work on other large elements of the vehicle. The weight of the car also had to be heavier, slowing them yet further.
The tyres which are manufactured by Pirelli, present another aspect of the R&D efforts made to ensure Formula 1 remains at the pinnacle of motorsport technology. They play an important role in the tactics of the sport and are therefore are developed to allow the cars to compete at their maximum at all times during the race weekend. Pirelli has developed 11 compounds of rubber and each compound has its own unique characteristics and surface finishes which allow the cars to perform well at different tracks and in different weather conditions by providing the optimal grip for the car throughout the races.
As well as the tyres, the aerodynamics massively contribute to the performance of the cars, as downforce is incredibly important at the speed at which the cars travel at. Fine-tuning a racing car’s aero package for each circuit is commonplace in motorsports, but with the margins being so fine in Formula 1 the teams go to extra lengths to gain an advantage.
Although F1 teams have the aim of making their car the quickest there is also a campaign to make the car safe for the driver. The cars go through strict dynamic, static, and load tests to ensure safety. Interestingly before the race, drivers must demonstrate they can exit the car within five seconds in case of a crash or fire. The extensive R&D projects undertaken in the development stages of these cars has produced some incredible pieces of technology over the years, and more often than not these filter their way down to the designs of standard road cars.