Mercedes’ Managing Director Andy Cowell was recently quoted as saying that the transfer between the company’s F1 car and road car was “already happening” and that “the transfers are not only specific technologies… but also the fundamental alignment of the mission we have.”
So, with Mercedes openly admitting that they are attempting to transfer F1 technologies to their road cars, and with the F1 season in full flow, we started thinking about ways that F1 results have already begun to shape the ways our production cars are made. Here are our favourites:
One of the main tasks of F1 engineers is to provide the driver with all of the control of a manual transmission with the speed of an automatic. Although a manual gearbox would generally be considered to be better for racing as it gives the driver more control the flow of power to the wheels, it is also highly prone to human error and is quite slow, which is why they use automatics… or versions of them anyway.
To use automatics in F1 and get the response required, race teams introduced Direct-Shift Gearboxes (DSGs), with both allowing the driver to shift gears quickly and correctly. A DSG acts like two transmissions, with one dialling odd gears and the other dialling in even gears. This means that the next gear is always “on deck” (ready for the driver to use) and, as a result, the shift is much faster. Because DSGs also do not use a clutch, they are less prone to driver error.
DSGs are now commonly found on some Audi and Volkswagen models, providing the driver with all the fun of a manual car without any of the hassle of the clutch pedal. A neat innovation and a product that stems from racing.
On the vast majority of cars, the ignition is on the right hand side of the steering wheel. However, if you’ve ever been lucky enough to own a Porsche, you’ll know that they are the exception to the rule, with the ignition on the left.
Why you ask? It’s a nod to Porche’s racing heritage. In racing, even a millisecond matters, and in times gone by, a left handed ignition would mean that a driver would be able to turn the ignition and begin to shift into first gear immediately, allowing them a quicker start than their right hand ignition rivals.
Nowadays, this technology has evolved considerably and a push button ignition allows you to start even faster. Understandably, each manufacturer has their own variation on this. For example, BMW still have their drivers insert a key into a slot, whereas manufacturers such as Infiniti have a key that allows the door to open while it remains in someone’s pocket or handbag. This way as soon as the car recognises the key is in the vehicle, the ignition button can be pressed and the car starts- the same technology started in race cars. However, it’s now more for convenience than speed.
Power is essential for posting lightning fast lap times, but so is weight reduction. Of course, it’s far easier for a racing team to lighten a track car than it is for a manufacturer to lighten a road car as there’s no consideration for passengers or interiors.
Of course, a lightweight material alone is not enough and strength is also a key consideration both in terms of stress during racing and safety. As a result, strong, high-tech materials were developed and tested specifically for the purpose.
One of the most high-tech of these materials is carbon fibre, and it is slowly making its way into productions cars. Sadly, the technology behind the material is so advanced that it remains incredibly expensive and, as a result, it is mainly used decoratively on high end production cars, but nevertheless, as time goes on, it is likely that this cost will decrease and its usage will become more widespread. Hopefully this is the case as it could have huge implications on fuel economy, making production cars far more economical.
One material which has made the switch is aluminium. Lightweight, strong and versatile, aluminium is the perfect material for production cars considering its price; especially as it improves fuel economy without affecting performance and reliability. Originally, race car manufacturers used aluminium to create engine blocks, and this design has transferred into production cars. Likewise, because of the success and availability of the component, it is now also being used on selected body panels.
Commentary and fan debate may normally be about results and speed, but F1 and NASCAR race cars boast some of the world’s most advanced pieces of safety equipment. Wherever there is extreme speed, there has to be extreme safety and hazard awareness. Now, in the 21st century, much of this cutting edge technology is no longer associated with racing, purely because it’s also available in almost every road car.
One of the most important pieces of safety in your car is one that you can’t even see. No matter what the form of racing, no matter whether it is F1 or NASCAR, the entirety of the car is built around a structure that protects the driver. In F1 this is the carbon fibre body, and in NASCAR- where the structure is completely closed- it is the roll cage. It may seem like your car doesn’t have a roll cage, but these safety cages are hidden within the trim, the carpet and other interior features so that they do not impact on the car’s aesthetics. This is a luxury that NASCAR race cars cannot afford.
It isn’t only the roll cage that comes from the world of racing though and even something as simple as a car’s rear-view mirror has racing origins. Back in the 1900s, racing teams realised that they could use mirrors to see other teams approaching them, so the driver could see and speed up. The technology may be simple, but it’s effective and it survives to this day.
So, there we have it, from something as simple as a rear-view mirror to cutting edge technologies such as a DSG gearbox or a carbon fibre body, F1 and other racing results are impacting on the production cars we buy each and every day. Of course, from the aesthetics of the car to the suspension, there are other ways that F1 impacts on design, so if we’ve missed out your favourite innovation to come from racing, let us know in the comments.