Formula 1 is a very expensive sport. Very expensive. Ferrari is reported to have a budget of $420m, though others spend less.
Making better, more efficient cars that they can sell more of, helps manufacturers recoup some of the costs, but now there are other incentives too, like the Department of Transport’s recent £38m of funding awards to support emissions reduction projects.
There’s prestige for the manufacturers of course, but the next-level developments to squeeze out those last increments of speed and efficiency also filter down into applications for cars that will never do more than 70mph on the motorway. Let’s take a moment to think about just a few of the innovations that have made the journey from the racetrack to the roads.
The likes of Nissan and Jaguar-Land Rover (JLR), among others, are getting £1.7m to deploy F1-developed ‘light weighting’ technology in commercial vehicles, to help make them more energy efficient. This could potentially reduce the weight of steel components in cars like Nissan’s electric Leaf by more than half, helping to increase its travel distance on a single charge by 25 per cent. Incidentally, Nissan also plans to power its regional office in France with energy generated from its electric vehicles, and JLR has promised to invest £36m over the next three years in energy efficiency, renewable sources of energy and process improvements.
Technologies including turbocharging, fuel injection, and Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (Kers) have all been derived from F1 innovations, and can be found in hybrids like the Toyota Prius. Kers offers a smaller, lighter alternative to petrol-electric hybrid systems and can also include an F1-style boost function if needed.
Thermal Energy Recovery System (Ters), which harnesses the energy produced when braking, can cut fuel consumption by 30 per cent. It’s still a bit early to see them in the supermarket car park due to cost but engineers are considering it.
Direct Shift Gearboxes (DSG) are usually found on sportier cars from Audi and Volkswagen. They take the human error out of changing gears to make the process faster and more efficient than either automatic transmission or gear stick, as well as removing the need for a clutch pedal.
Racing tyres are highly specialised to get the last ounce of traction out of different road surfaces. Road tyres might be a little more generic, but the idea of having sportier tyres with fewer, shallower grooves or even just tyres with a tread to syphon away water comes from the lessons learned in F1.
Disc brakes made the move from racing to road cars in the 1950s as they were more powerful and easier to maintain than drum brakes, as well as being easier to cool when braking at high speeds. These days, F1 cars use ceramic discs rather than steel but while this tech pops up occasionally in luxury sports cars, it’s still too expensive for the average runabout.
Racing teams use wind tunnels to help streamline their designs, both for speed and for efficiency. The spoilers and air dams they developed to keep their cars stable at high speeds have found their way onto every boy racer’s Xmas list!
Today’s F1 cars are made almost entirely of carbon fibre. Extremely strong and light, it’s beginning to appear in road cars. Mostly it’s just used for accessories at the moment, because it’s still very expensive, but the more it’s used, the lighter – and therefore more fuel efficient – our cars will be. In the meantime, aluminium is proving to be a popular alternative for many parts.
Your rear view mirror. It seems like a no-brainer, but it first appeared in race cars in the 1900s so drivers could see their competition. Where would we be without this basic safety measure?