You might not drive quite as fast as Formula 1 stars Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton, but if you have a modern car, the chances are it shares some of the technology used in the multi-million-pound F1 cars in which they speed around the world’s racing circuits. The privileged world of F1 racing is where a lot of the technology used in today’s road cars was conceived and developed. From regenerative braking systems to on-board computers, F1 developments initially designed to improve performance on the racetrack are being used on UK highways every day. Here, we reveal some of the best examples of how the cars we drive today resemble the super-fast F1 beasts driven by Lewis, Jenson and their pals. Just don’t get carried away and think you can drive like them as a result!
On-board computers have been used to change a F1 car’s suspension settings at every corner for over a decade. And, over that period, the technology has gradually been introduced in a wide range of passenger vehicles. Most of the performance cars on the market today have adjustable suspension as a result, meaning that drivers can choose between settings such as ‘comfort’ or ‘sport’ according to road conditions and type of journey (i.e. who’s in the passenger seat!). Some of the most advanced models even adjust their suspension automatically, reflecting the driving style of the person behind the wheel, and to improve emergency braking performance.
F1 is a breeding ground for innovative new tyres. And while those used on the track are very different to those on the average everyday car found on UK roads, the lessons learnt by F1 teams filter down the research and development chain like everything else. In fact, the shape and style of construction used on tyres today – known as the carcass design – is a direct result of F1 research and testing. That’s part of the reason your eyes are at risk of popping out of your head when you hear how much they cost.
When supercar specialist Ferrari developed the semi-automatic gearbox in 1989, the potential benefits for passenger cars were quickly spotted. Today, even relatively low-spec models such as the Citroen C2 come with the technology as standard, and high performance vehicles often have gearboxes that can change gears in as little as 8 milliseconds.
F1 drivers are banned from refuelling during races. One of the keys to success is therefore to carry exactly as much fuel as will be needed to complete the race, without overloading the car and unnecessarily increasing its weight. And as friction ups fuel consumption, it is therefore important to minimise friction in the engine, the gearbox, the oil and hydraulic pumps, the transmission and the bearings. Fuel and oils giant Total has taken this knowledge and used it to develop forecourt products that reduce the level of friction in your car’s engine too. Motorists concerned about the rising price of petrol will be glad to learn that fuel consumption is not one of the ways we can expect everyday cars to start acting like F1 vehicles. A typical F1 supercar consumes an incredible 80 litres of fuel for every 100km (62 miles). That’s about 10 times as much as the average passenger car.
F1 drivers use a Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) to collect energy wasted during braking and store it – in a mechanical flywheel or battery pack – for later use. The advantage of the system is that it can boost acceleration without using any extra fuel, making it more efficient and better for the environment. And similar systems have already started making an appearance in the latest passenger cars. The new Mazda 6, for example, uses a capacitor-based system called i-ELOOP to achieve the same effect as KERS. And industry insiders expect Jaguar’s next XJ to be fitted with similar technology. So if you’re not a fan of F1 and tend to dismiss it as a frivolous pursuit of international playboys, remember that it’s probably made a huge difference to your very own street machine.