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How our cars benefit from F1 technology

Formula 1 is the breeding ground for many new technologies. We look at how this expertise can be found in the cars we drive every day.

Developments in F1 are being put to use in many modern road cars.

"The involvement of F1 in research into engines, electronics and regenerative braking systems will drive such developments forward," explains Ross Brawn, Mercedes AMG F1 team principal.

"This will speed up the introduction of environmental technologies which will filter back to mass-production passenger cars.

"The great thing about competitive motorsport is that it accelerates development."

Active suspension

Made famous by Nigel Mansell’s 1992 championship-winning Williams, on-board computers changed the car’s suspension settings for every corner.

Eventually, the vehicle would even lean in to the corner slightly.

Now most performance cars have adjustable suspension, with settings such as comfort or sport for the driver to select.

Some even make that adjustment automatically, detecting your driving style and changing accordingly.

Others, such as the Infiniti M, use active suspension as a safety feature, stiffening the suspension and sharpening responses under emergency braking.

Tyres

At first glance there is little similarity between the tyres on your road car and those used in Formula 1.

However F1 is used as a testing ground for tyre design.

And thanks to Formula 1, Goodyear has made huge strides in tyre manufacturing and production techniques.

The carcass design, the actual shape and style of construction of current tyres also came directly from F1 work.

Gearboxes

Williams began work on sequential gearboxes in 1968, but it was Ferrari’s development of the semi-automatic gearbox in 1989 that moved the technology forward.

The benefits for road cars were quickly spotted.

From the mid 90’s supercars started to be fitted with "flappy paddles" behind the steering wheel to change gear.

Now even humble cars such as the Citroen C2 have the technology, with the best gearboxes changing gears in just 8 milliseconds.

Fuel

"The ban on refuelling during F1 races means that we don’t want to carry any more fuel than absolutely necessary to keep the weight of the car to a minimum," says Lotus F1 team principal Eric Boullier.

That means Lotus’s fuel and oils supplier, Total, works to minimise friction wherever it occurs, not only in the engine but also in the gear box, oil and hydraulic pumps, transmissions and bearings, as less friction means lower fuel use.

What Total learns from Formula 1 is transferred directly to its forecourt products, helping to reduce the level of friction in your car’s engine.

The same friction-lowering additives developed for Formula 1 fuel are used in Total’s fuel for road cars.

Green technology

This is an area that will see Formula 1 make quite a difference over the next few years.

Introduced to the sport in 2009, KERS (or Kinetic Energy Recovery System) works much like a Toyota Prius, collecting energy wasted during braking and storing it in a mechanical flywheel or a battery pack.

It’s then ready for use later, to boost acceleration without using any extra fuel.

It won’t just be supercars getting this technology though. The new Mazda 6 uses a capacitor based system called i-ELOOP to achieve the same effect, while Jaguar is believed to be working on similar technology for its next XJ.

"Formula 1 has a long history of providing technological development that has much wider implications than simply making fast racing cars," says Eric Bouiller.

"In recent years the sport has taken a conscious decision to structure its regulations to ensure that the technology it delivers is of immediate and direct relevance to the future improvement of road-car efficiency."

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Phil Huff

Phil Huff

Phil Huff is a motoring journalist who has worked with various publications, including Car Dealer Magazine and the Green Car Website. After an early career in motor sport, he now writes with greater success than he raced.

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