The Formula 1 season kicked off in Australia earlier this year with even more drama than usual. Nico Rosberg forced world champion Lewis Hamilton into second place, and two-time champ Fernando Alonso crashed spectacularly at the Melbourne track, proving that the only thing you can expect in F1 is the unexpected.
Continuing the season around Europe this summer, the circuit returns to Asia in September for races in Singapore, Malaysia and Japan—finishing up in Abu Dhabi on Nov 27—offering plenty of opportunities to catch the action live in 2016. But you don’t have to join the crowds to get the Formula 1 experience—in fact, you might just have to take a look in your garage…
It might have a reputation as the world’s most exclusive, extravagant and expensive sport, but F1 is beginning to define a clean, sustainable and smart future for our own cars.
Fuel efficiency has always been a watchword in motor racing, as the more laps a driver can eke out of a tank of fuel means fewer pit stops and a better chance of staying ahead of their rivals. The current generation of F1 cars has already embraced a type of hybrid system called the kinetic energy recovery system (known as kers for short). The sport’s governing body, the FIA, upped the efficiency ante in 2014, forcing teams to dump the 2.4-liter V8 engines they had been using in favor of tiny 1.6-liter turbocharged fuel systems. Incredible as it might seem, the fastest cars in the world have smaller engines than anything you can buy in most BMWs.
‘Rather than throw in the towel, the F1 engine makers embraced the challenge,’ says Sense Future Lab’s CEO Julian Mara, one of the manufacturers currently looking to steer F1’s technological advances in our direction. ‘To compensate for the loss of horsepower from the engine, the kers system was developed to offer a performance effect 10 times greater than before. To help harvest vital extra electrical energy, a real innovation was devised: exhaust gases from the engine spinning the turbocharger, boosting engine power and generating electricity for the hybrid battery at the same time.’
The astonishing result was that F1 cars were just as quick as ever, but used 33 percent less fuel. The car industry, mindful of tough global emissions targets and eager to give more power with fewer trips to the gas station, is already benefiting from this advance. The next-generation Audi Q7 is likely to be running this ‘e-turbo’ technology and other brands are quick to follow.
F1’s constant drive for efficiency has even tempted the philanthropically minded Honda back into the sport, meaning we’re likely to see even more advances in our own cars over the next few years. And if you really want to know what’s coming around that next corner, just keep your eyes on the track…
Five other F1 technologies quietly revolutionizing the way we drive
An F1 car could drive upside-down on the roof of a tunnel, so the theory goes, thanks to bodywork that lowers air pressure under the car, sucking it to the road. Most sports cars these days adopt the same principle. Car manufacturers worldwide are currently working on variations on chassis shape that optimize traction, with F1 as the template and a stated goal of eliminating an estimated 1.2 million traffic accidents per year through simple design changes alone.
Initially developed by Lotus in the 1980s, and perfected by the Williams team in the 1990s, active suspension predicts bumps and counters body roll through corners to improve stability and aerodynamics. It was banned in F1 after 1993, but could soon make a return as its principles govern air suspension systems on road cars today.
The Drag Reduction System (DRS) in F1 allows an element of the rear wing to flip up to make the cars faster on straights, then pop back down to aid downforce around corners. McLaren and Ferrari are two carmakers so far to have introduced this to their road cars.
F1 cars are built as much as possible from this incredibly strong, but ultralightweight, material. It’s expensive but increasingly we’re seeing it used in road cars, including BMW’s affordable i3 electric car, in an effort to increase fuel economy.
There is no mechanical connection between the accelerator pedal of an F1 car and the engine; instead, signals are fed between the two electronically. This is already being used in road cars, and many steering systems will likely use fly-by-wire tech, too, which removes the bulky steering column.
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