F1 Racing: Understanding the Science and Engineering Behind It

Category Engineering

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Formula One (or F1) racing is a worldwide sensation watched by millions of people from all over the world for its speed and agility. In this article, we try to understand the science and engineering behind the F1 cars, including aerodynamics, engine power and other innovative engineering techniques. Teams use wind tunnel tests to minimize drag and generate downforce, advanced electronics and fuel injection to optimize engine power, and computer simulations to optimize car geometry. Additionally, teams constantly strive to increase the power and reduce the weight of the car with innovative technologies and designs.

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Every year, twenty drivers and ten teams race to be crowned the world champion. That is Formula One racing summarized in one line.

Formula One, or F1, is a worldwide sensation. Millions of people from all over the world watch this sport for many reasons. One of the most fascinating things about the sport is the speed and agility of the F1 cars. The race cars can achieve speeds of 220 mph (350 kph)! .

Since 2021 F1 cars use 18-inch wheels and dry, slick tires for improved cornering performance and better grip.

While it is fun to watch the drivers compete with each other for the winning position, the science, engineering, and innovation behind the car's builds are equally fascinating (if not more so!).

Here, we try to understand the various engineering factors that contribute to the speed of F1 cars, including aerodynamics, engine power, and other innovative engineering techniques. Each F1 team strives to optimize their cars’ performance in these areas to gain a competitive edge over their rivals.

Each F1 race car prduces approximately 1.5 tons of downforce.

So let's get stuck in! .

Oracle Red Bull Racing via GIPHY .

--- Aerodynamics of an F1 car --- .

Airflow plays a crucial role in the design of F1 cars, given the high speeds they reach. Therefore, the aerodynamics of an F1 car is just as important as the engine (which we will discuss in the next section).

There are three main things that aerodynamics helps with — reducing drag, generating downforce, and minimizing lift. This is done by controlling the design of the aerodynamic features, such as the front and rear wings, bargeboards, and diffusers.

F1 engines generate up to 750 horsepower. They use fuel that is made of gasoline mixed with 10% Ethanol.

Drag is a type of air resistance that reduces the speed of the car as it moves. It acts opposite to the relative motion of the vehicle with respect to the air. Think of birds; they have streamlined bodies that reduce drag and allow them to fly more efficiently. It is the same with F1 cars.

The car's body is streamlined by smoothing out the body contours, minimizing sharp edges, and reducing the car's frontal area, all of which help reduce turbulence and drag.

Each F1 team employs an average of 180 people.

The aerodynamic features also help to minimize the lift, which is the upward force acting on the car as it moves. It measures the difference in pressure above and below the vehicle as it moves through the surrounding air. The amount of lift depends mainly on the shape and orientation of the car's body.

The front and rear wings work in tandem with the diffusers underneath the car to create a low-pressure area, generating downforce. The downforce counteracts the lift to increase the grip and stability of the vehicle, allowing the driver to turn corners at higher speeds without losing control.

In the past few years, teams have started to experiment with kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS).

The teams use wind tunnels to test various body shapes and designs for minimizing drag while maximizing downforce (although the speed used in wind tunnel testing is limited to a maximum of 180 km/h, which does not allow them to test all aspects of the car’s performance fully and there are limits on how much time can be spent in the wind tunnel, based on where the team placed in the last season).

These wind tunnel tests help teams optimize the car's aerodynamic features to improve performance on the track before each racing season.

The top speed record for an F1 car is held by the Williams FW15C car, at 233.8 mph (376.3 km/h).

--- Engine power and design --- .

The engines used in F1 are very sophisticated pieces of equipment and obviously play a huge part in the speed and performance of the car.

F1 rules set the engine specifications. Since 2014, the F1 engines must be four-sprocket deactivation 1.6 liter turbocharged engines with energy recovery systems (ERS). ERS combines kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS) and heat energy recovery systems (HERS) to help the engine recover energy that would normally be wasted.

The engines are constructed of lightweight parts and advanced materials, such as aluminum, titanium, and carbon fiber to minimize weight and optimize power.

They use very advanced electronics and fuel injection mechanisms to keep the engines running optimally and to adjust the engine's power output, depending on the racing conditions, providing the best performance at all times.

And speaking of performance, that brings us to the final factor...

--- Innovative Engineering Techniques --- .

Innovation plays a huge role in the engineering of an F1 car.

Engineers often use advanced computer simulations to design and optimize the car's suspension and geometry, for example. This helps them predict the ideal car setup that will result in the best performance for the current race track.

They constantly strive to develop lighter and more powerful materials to further reduce the weight of the car and increase the power output.

In the past, teams have experimented with various strategies such as expendable light-weight wings, active suspensions, and adjustable ride heights, which adjust the ride height of the car (and therefore its aerodynamic performance) depending on the speed of the car.

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