Downforce, downforce, downforce: the three most important things in an F1 car. You can build a 1000bhp car that weighs 500kgs, but if you can’t stick it to the track like a limpet (albeit a very fast limpet) you won’t be winning any F1 races. But the technology is controlled in many other ways.
A modern F1 car is bound by many regulations. There’s a minimum amount the car has to weigh - 642kg. That includes the driver, but in fact the cars end up having to have weight added, as they come out of the design labs weighing less than that. For comparison, a Bugatti Veyron weighs nearly three times as much.
Downforce is created by the bodywork of the car: the spoilers and wings, as well as the flat underside. But it doesn’t become effective at lower speeds; counter-intuitively, drivers have to go faster to stick the car to the track. Again, the design of these elements is controlled by regulations that limit performance.
Tyres have also been regulated to slow the cars. Throughout the last decade, tread patterns were enforced which reduced cornering speed. These were finally abandoned in 2009. Carbon and carbon fibre are used in both the chassis and the brakes to save weight.
There’s a major change in F1 technology coming up next season with the introduction of 1.6 litre turbo V6 engines, replacing the current 2.4 V8’s. Engines have been restricted to 18,000rpm in recent years.
With all this concentration on reducing performance, it’s easy to forget that the history of the sport was all about increasing it. The creation of downforce wasn’t even an issue until Lotus began using aerofoils in the 1960’s. In the early 60’s, front-engined cars were still entering the championships.
Formula 1 began after World War 2 and was dominated in the 1950’s by Juan Manuel Fangio. The bravery of drivers like Fangio and Stirling Moss inspired generations. While the skinny-tyred yet hugely powerful vehicles were a necessary step on the road to modern F1 cars, disasters were inevitable. Driver Pierre Levegh and eighty-three spectators died in the horrific 1955 Le Mans crash.
The modern sport is safer of course, partly due to the restrictions we’ve looked at. New circuits will add excitement to the 2014 season. Fans of sports betting may want to back Sebastian Vettel again next year as he seeks a fifth consecutive title.
Shock wins are still possible; Pastor Maldonado defied the odds to win at Catalunya in 2012. Felipe Massa will join the Williams team for 2014 having left Ferrari, and fans will also be on the lookout for performances by 18 year old Russian Sergey Sirotkin – the youngest F1 driver ever.
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(All images courtesy of Wikipedia)