F1 is the perfect breeding ground for automotive technology development and innovation. Teams have the incentive to become faster and more efficient to compete against rivals, causing new technologies to find their way into commercial vehicles that people drive every day. After 60 years of racing, the evolution of F1 technology regulations has opened the door for more innovation in the automotive scene.
Mercedes first introduced fuel injection in its W196 F1 car in 1952 and this technology eventually became the norm in production cars and effectively kicked carburetors off the market. Similarly, semi-automatic gearboxes (paddle-shifting systems) were first employed by Ferrari in F1 cars in 1989. These electronically-controlled systems cut the need for drivers to change gearboxes using a stick, reducing wear on the gearbox and making engine damage due to over-revving or inappropriate gear downshifting less likely. Paddle-shifting technology has permeated the automotive market and semi-automatic cars are now found on and off the racetrack.
The use of carbon fiber in pods and modules was led by the McLaren team in 1982. This material has now trickled down to the streets due to the advantages that resistant, lightweight materials deliver in terms of fuel efficiency and speed. Regarding driving control, the Williams FW15C was equipped with electronic traction control, ABS and an active suspension in 1993. Although these systems have been banned on the track, ABS and traction systems, as well as advanced Multi-Link suspensions have become the norm in production cars.
In 2014, the 2.4-liter V8 engines used in F1 cars were replaced with 1.6-liter V6 turbocharged engines using electric generators that channeled heat from the car’s exhaust and braking systems and funneled it back to the engine. F1 cars became super-efficient hybrids and turbocharging systems are now a common standard in both full-combustion and hybrid vehicles. As manufacturers look for returns on the large investments they make in F1 cars, technologies are expected to eventually permeate the production lines of OEMs. Toto Wolff, head of the Mercedes F1 team, told Forbes in 2015 that part of the cooling technology implemented in F1 cars was being transferred to the company’s S-Class family.
F1 is also the pinnacle for innovation in tire technology. Racing tires are designed to only last a few laps due to the immense pressure they are subject to, while delivering great grip and less rolling friction. In 2013, Michelin became the official tire supplier for the new electric-vehicle-based Formula E championship and it now delivers products such as the Pilot Sport EV and the Pilot Sport EV2. The rubber mix of the tires is distributed to improve grip and reduce rolling resistance, while maintaining a more efficient heat distribution across the tire. Road versions based on these models such as Pilot Sport 4 have already entered the Mexican market.
Car and Driver expects the car of the future will be equipped with Formula E batteries and controllers such as the TAG-320. This “megabrain” is required equipment in F1 cars and can be a turning point in production-car electrical systems as it integrates several controllers into a single system that saves weight and space. Also, the implementation of new materials such as graphene in batteries and semiconductors as well as strong, highly magnetic steel alloys in engines that improve torque may eventually permeate production cars.
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