A simple guide to the complex F1 car

There are thousands of components that go into the making of a Formula 1 car, a marvel of technology. Let us look at some of the different aspects of an F1 car.

The roar of the Engine is the music to the ears of F1 fans. It is the only power source of a Formula 1 car and is a structural part of the chassis. The 2400cc engines, weighing 95kg, consume around 60 litres of petrol for 100km of racing. Although F1 racing engines have lost some of the attractiveness they used to have when the regulations allowed more freedom, every single design currently in use is still a highly advanced piece of engineering that has required lots of time and thought.

The fuel for the F1 car is surprisingly close to the composition of ordinary, commercially available petrol. During a season, a Formula 1 team uses over 200,000 litres of fuel for testing and racing, and these can be of anything up to 50 slightly different blends, tuned for the demands of different circuits – or even different weather conditions.  Each fuel blend is submitted to the sport’s governing body, FIA, for approval of its composition and physical properties. A ‘fingerprint’ of the approved fuel is then taken, which will be compared to the actual fuel being used at the event by the FIA’s mobile testing laboratory.

The Gearbox helps transferred over 700hp power generated by the engine in the right way to the wheels. In Formula 1 cars, the gearbox is part of the chassis, because the suspension wishbones are connected to the gearbox. There is no clutch and no gear stick, instead the driver flicks levers behind the steering wheel to change gears and the gearbox makes the change. F1 gearboxes are desigsned for seamless shifts so that the car maintains constant acceleration even when the driver changes gear. Gear cogs (or ratios, as they are called) are used only for one race and replaced regularly during the weekend to prevent failure, as they are subjected to very high degrees of stress. The gear cogs are an important part of the set-up process of the car for each track.

Yet, with there being no engine development for a few year now, teams are focused on getting the Aerodynamics of the car right to gain that extra millisecond over the competition. Some teams employ more than 100 people to design aero bits to improve the efficiency of the car as it cuts through air, aiming to reduce its drag while at the same time adding downforce so that the car does not take off – for the record, some smaller aircraft are designed to take off at slower speeds than F1 cars manage.

Suspension harnesses the power of the engine, the downforce created by the wings and aerodynamic pack and the grip of the tyres. The can adjusted according to driver preference and tyre performance. Set-up depends on the aerodynamic requirements of the track, weather conditions and driver preference for understeer or oversteer.

The Steering Wheel (costing close to 25,000 euros) is a complex electronic device that allows the driver to control at least a dozen car settings. Sauber driver Nico Rosberg jokes that it looks more like a spaceship control pad. It has gear shift paddles and the clutch in the rear while the front has differential switches that control the balance of the car, especially during cornering, with different settings for entry into a corner, mid-corners and exit as well as for high speed sections. There is a switch that controls the pressure that can be exerted on the gas pedal. Another controls how rich the fuel-air mixture can be; there is one for clutch settings as well.  Then, of course, there is the KERS button in some cars that allows the drivers to draw energy, collected from the rear axle and stored during braking and reuse that stored kinetic energy. The weight of each steering wheel is just over 1.25kg and could take close to 100 hours to produce from start to finish. During the racing season, each driver is given a minimum of five steering wheels.

The Tyres are expected to provide maximum grip but minimum wear so that an F1 car’s performance is optimised.  Over the course of a season, teams can use more than 350 tyres for each driver. On a race weekend, a driver can use up to 72 tyres in 18 sets of wheels.  Over each race weekend in 2011, each driver has access to 11 sets of dry-weather tyres (six of the harder ‘prime’ specification and five of the softer ‘option’ specification), four sets of intermediate tyres and three sets of wet tyres.  In accordance with the regulations laid down by FIA, Pirelli took over as the sport’s sole tyre supplier. These tyres are designed to last 200km.

Teams are tracking the performance of an F1 car every minute. Most F1 cars include a whole array of Information Technology to give engineers a full picture of what happens on track, and more importantly, why. Toyota revealed that every move of its car is recorded by around 250 sensors in various parts of the car, the team receiving information on approximately 1,300 different parameters, from basics like tyre pressures and engine temperature to more complex information on how the gearbox and engine behave. Vital information reaches the computers via a wireless antenna on car, enabling specialist engineers monitor every aspect of the car and if any parameter changes, the race engineer can adapt his strategy in an instant. Such details decide races. Telemetry data gives the engineers the chance to follow what is happening on the car in real-time in order to take immediate action, whether that is with systems changes, operated by the driver on the steering wheel while the car is running, or to prepare new set-up solutions in the garage before the car is back in the pits. Telemetry data gives them a more detailed picture of the car’s status than a driver can tell them through the radio. It is not just the engineers at the trackside that seek information, team factories around the world are clued in via a satellite link.

(I read up a lot of articles on the Internet to research this piece written for Prabhat Khabar)