from the circuit to the street - how F1 technology affects your road car

10/11/2016 14:09:00

We take a look at some of the key technologies that have made the leap from the F1 circuit to your everyday road car.

Formula One is rightly held up as the pinnacle of automotive engineering. Getting a car around the twisting ribbons of Monaco or Silverstone in under two minutes doesn't just take extreme skill and bravery from the driver, it's dependent on thousands of man-hours of development back at the factory.

Yet sometimes, it can seem that the complex intricacies of F1 are a world away from the cars you or I can go into a dealership and buy today. Sure, the latest million-dollar supercar from Ferrari might borrow a lot from the marque's famous F1 team, but what about a typical three-door hatchback or family saloon? Not so much, you might think.

In fact, this couldn't be further from the truth. In reality, F1 engineering has a long history of being adopted by road car manufacturers, and you might be surprised at just how many components of your car started life under the bonnet of a thoroughbred racer.

engines
One of the most obvious areas where racing and road technology are working together is in today's era of hybrid engines. When the current designs were brought in a couple of years ago, they were met with howls of protest from some purists, who complained the V6 engines were too quiet and too complicated. F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone was famously among those who weren't fans of the move.


But the rationale behind this was to make F1 more relevant to the engines going into today's road cars, where the emphasis is all about making them smaller and more efficient. Factory teams such as Mercedes have reacted to this by moving some of their road engineers into their F1 team - and they'll take what they learn back to the road division. 

ride and handling

Back in 1992, Nigel Mansell's Williams swept away all before it, and one of the main reasons for this was its innovative active suspension system that helped balance the car through the corners and allow it to maintain higher speeds. The complex electronics behind it were so effective it was almost immediately banned for making the car too dominant. But while it may have gone from the track, many road cars these days use similar technology to help improve the car's ride and handling characteristics. The goal here may not be to get through a chicane as fast as possible, but to make the journey easier and more comfortable for passengers. 

safety

Perhaps one of the biggest impacts F1 design and technology has had on road cars has been when it comes to safety features. Since the first big push toward improving safety was made a priority in the 1970s, F1 has worked tirelessly on technologies ranging from better seat belts to roll cages and crumple zones to protect the driver in the cockpit.

Many of the lessons learned from this have been transferred directly to road cars. It might not be immediately obvious when you get behind the wheel, but the integrated technologies built into your car's chassis probably began life on a racetrack somewhere to help protect the driver in the event of a high-speed accident.

These are just a few of the many examples where F1 technology feeds down to the road. You could also add developments such as sequential gearboxes, traction control, aerodynamics and many more to this list. Even things we take for granted today, such as disc brakes, were refined on the track.

So who knows which of the complex developments seen in the 2016 breed of F1 cars will be offered as standard equipment on the road cars of tomorrow?