The car is an ever evolving piece of machinery and nothing has helped its advances more than Formula One. You may think “what has a vehicle designed for dangerous high speed competitions got in common with the everyday road car?” Well a fair bit actually.
Formula One has been one of the unknown catalysts of modern car technology and more of its advances are starting to translate into new cars. Last week Volvo unveiled the S60 prototype with Flywheel KERS technology which is basically a way for a car to retain energy (using the Flywheel) when it slows down, so it can turn it back into motion to make the car go faster. It is a brave move from Volvo as other manufacturers like Mercedes have been quick to claim KERS has no relevance to road car applications whatsoever.
The relevance F1 has had to the advancement of the road car is however undeniable.
There are some surprises to what innovations have passed through. The rear view mirror for example was however not developed in formula one. The first known example of its use was in 1911 at the Indianapolis 500 race, the need to see behind you in increasing conditions of speed and danger was enough for F1 cars to adopt this and it eventually trickled through to be a necessity in passenger cars. Safety is one of the main concerns of F1 and The FIA (formula one’s governing body) liaises with the European Union in connection with improving road safety, and all F1 cars carry the “Make Roads Safe” logo. Adopting this notion, more new cars now contain systems such as traction control which although is not as complex as the one’s in formula one, has been a regular feature in high performance vehicles. Brakes are also not too dissimilar; disc brakes started appearing on racing cars as far back as the 1950’s as they were more powerful and easier to maintain than the drum brake design. The brakes were designed to provide efficient stops in dangerous circumstances, though passenger cars use cast iron disc brakes whereas F1 cars use lighter and more durable materials.
The latest F1 technology to filter through to new cars comes in the form of improvements to the running and efficiency. KERS is a great example of how road cars are becoming more green, the way it stores energy to use later for acceleration is done at no expense to your fuel and as we’ve already touched on, manufacturers like Volvo are starting to implement this whilst the new Mazda 6 contains similar technology called I-ELOOP and Jaguar are considering something similar for the next XJ. The smaller and lighter engines that F1 vehicles have had to adopt after refuelling during races was banned has also resulted in higher fuel efficiency, and these engines have been quick to embrace passenger cars. The active suspension developed on the Williams championship winning 1992 car, has also made the transition into new cars, the system can automatically detect your driving pattern and adjust the height of your vehicle in order to improve the aerodynamics and efficiency. Lastly, you cannot forget the importance of having quality tyres. Though F1 tyres and road car tyres do not look related in eyesight; the design, shape and construction techniques have evolved from Formula One. The tyre company Goodyear were leading pioneers of tyre innovation in F1 from 1959-1998 and have transferred their knowledge to the road vehicle market much to the advantage on road motorists, giving them high-performance handling, shorter breaking distance in wet & dry conditions with greater fuel efficiency.
There are many other parts of a road car that’s foundations lie within F1 and you could spend many hours arguing the influence of motor racing on the passenger car. It will be interesting to see if Volvo continues with the development of KERS and the S60 goes into production, if so, expect this feature to be widely available in new cars over the next two years.