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Georgina Kent

F1 & motor-racing tech you're using in your car

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Did you know lots of what makes your car move and stop is all thanks to motor-racing?

Car technology derived from F1

Here’s a little-known fact for folk who aren’t into racing: quite a lot of the mechanics and technology in everyday cars actually come from Formula 1 and other types of motor-racing.

In recent years there’s actually been an interesting shift from technology filtering down from motor racing to production cars.

And developments with normal cars have also begun to influence racing: for instance, all Formula 1 cars are now hybrids; and there are even electric racing cars (hello Formula E!). 

A lot of these developments didn’t begin in motor racing.

But sports like Formula 1 have been able to adopt expensive and unfinished advances, improve and test them in their racing cars, then trickle them down to our everyday cars.

Disc brakes

A close up of car disc brakes

Back in the early 1950s, Jaguar saw promise in a mechanical development that hadn't quite worked previously. 

Development began on disc brakes back in the 1890s. However, in the first half of the 20th century they were deemed unreliable, and development was also hindered by the limited choice of metals.

Then in 1953 disc brakes appeared on a Jaguar C-Type racing car, which helped to secure Jaguar a win in the Le Mans race that same year.

Now we see these brakes in almost all cars rolling off production lines, thanks to advances in motor sports.

Multi-link suspension

Multi-link suspension diagram

Image credit: solarteameindhoven.nl

Back in 1969, Mercedes-Benz first used this technology in its C111.

It was a very advanced and experimental car, which boasted gull-wing doors (think of the DeLorean from Back to the Future), a Wankel rotary engine (recently this engine was used in the Mazda RX-8) and multi-link suspension. 

This type of suspension was first seen in F1 around the 70s, finally evolving into a double-wishbone multi-link suspension setup using carbon fibre.

After its success, some regular cars now use this in their front suspension, while most now use multi-link as rear suspension.

The great thing about multi-link suspension is that car makers are able to make journeys both comfortable and safe.

Each wheel is able to move without affecting anything else, but without compromising on safety. This means the car handles well and sticks to the road, but also isn’t too bumpy.

Carbon fibre

A carbon fibre frame from a BMW

The BMW i3 carbon fibre life module

The history of carbon fibre being adopted into cars is pretty complex, but in 1982 the McLaren F1 team created a carbon fibre car against all odds.

One of its first appearances was being raced by John Watson in 1981 at Monza, Italy. 

A lot of people were sceptical and referred to carbon fibre as ‘black plastic’ – fearing that it would disintegrate upon impact.

In that race, Watson had a nasty crash while doing approximately 150mph, and walked away from it unscathed thanks to the carbon-fibre pod he was sat in.

Since that season, the rest of the F1 race teams adopted carbon fibre into their cars. It was both safer and substantially lighter, making cars more fuel efficient and faster.

We’re only now starting to see this filter down to everyday cars due to production limitations and increasing demand.

In mind-range to higher-end cars, you can opt for carbon-fibre features like gear sticks and steering wheels. Super-cars like Ferrari's also include lots of carbon fibre into the frame to reduce weight. 

However, in 2010 BMW joined forces with the carbon fibre manufacturer SGL Carbon. They created the first production cars with carbon-fibre cabins, which they’ve gone on to call the ‘life module’. 

These feature in BMW’s i-series cars, its electric range. Both the i-3 (£32k+ hatchback) and i-8 (£104k+ high-performance sports car) feature this adopted technology.

And it’s all thanks to Thomas Edison first discovering carbon fibre back in 1879 for use in light bulbs.

Fuel injection

Fuel injectors from a car engine

Fuel injection started its journey back in 1902 after being invented by Leon Levavasseur, who also invented the V8 engine.

Over the years, several different people worked on it. And then in 1952, Bosch got their hands on it. The 1954 Mercedes-Benz included Bosch’s development in its W196 Formula 1 engine.

Fuel injection has a number of benefits: it makes accelerating smoother; cars are easier to start in the cold; engines aren’t likely to cut out when you’re sat at traffic lights; and it improves fuel efficiency.

After its success, Mercedes-Benz included the latest fuel injector in its 1955 300SL, intended for everyday use. As time went on, more and more improvements were made and more manufacturers adopted it.

When you buy a car now, it almost certainly has a fuel-injection system in it, unless it’s more-or-less an antique.

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