Traditionally, Formula One is the biggest sports extravaganza on the planet Earth, will all the glitz, glamour, money, and spectators involved in it! But more than everything, Formula 1 is all about its cars, cars so beautiful and powerful, that they are considered the benchmark of performance. But, fundamentally speaking, a Formula One car is no different from a Honda car parked in your garage.
They both use an internal combustion engine, have transmission to deliver power to the wheels, suspension system and brakes. But this is where the similarity ends, as this is not a car for casual driving. The base engine can be a same four-stroke mill, but it is tweaked to a level that a normal car can't even match the sheer amount of performance, these cars generate. A Formula 1 car is designed to attain a top speed upto 350kmph and doing a 0-100 kmph in less than 2 seconds.
These machines are crazy, fast, and a technological marvel. So what all does it take to build such a car? Here are the elements of a Formula 1 car, which make it different from other cars:
Formula1 car engine is one of the most sophisticated technology, found in any automobile today. The small yet powerful 1.6 litre engine is capable of producing power in excess of 800 bhp, the amount enough to take the car from 0 to 100kmph in less than 2 seconds. But the engines were not like this forever, infact, before 2006, Formula One cars were powered by massive three-liter, V10 engines. The growing concern for the environment and the rising fuel costs, forced the management to relook upon the configuration and, they started using a 2.4-liter V8 engines. And finally, the Management decided to furthermore downsize the engine, to a current 1.6 litre V6 mill. The power outputs fell with the rule change, but still a Formula One engine¬ can produce nearly 800 hp.
To put that into perspective, consider your average Suzuki Swift 1.2 litre engine producing just 80 hp. Yes, the life cycle of a normal car is atleast 100,000 miles or so, as against a Formula One engine, which only lasts for some 800 kms. Why? Because generating all of that power requires that the engine run at very high revolution rates -- nearly 19,000 revolutions per minute. The fuel is also different, with more than 50 different fuel blends, tuned for different tracks or conditions, in a typical season.
As much as the engine is important, a Formula One race car is defined by its aerodynamics, equally. If the engine is powerful enough to generate 800 hp, it is upto the aerodynamics to keep the car on the ground and reduce air resistance. Formula One cars are designed as low as possible and wide enough, to decrease the air resistance. The important parts playing a role in an F1 car includes the front and rear wings, a diffuser, and end plates, to increase downforce and reduce drag.
Wings, which first appeared in the 1960s, are the most important part of the F1 body, which acts on the same principles of the airplane wings, only in reverse. While the Airplane wings are made to create a lift, at high speed, the wings in a Formula One car are meant to produce downforce, which holds the car onto the track, especially during cornering. The aerodynamics are concerned with only one thing, and that is getting air to move where you want it to move. The downforce produced by combining all the aerodynamics engineering, is whopping 2500kg, four times the weight of the car itself.
While Aerodynamics and Engine are something unique to F1 cars, nothing can match the Steering wheel of a Formula One, which bears little resemblance to the steering wheel of a road car. It is the command centre of the car and have gazillions of buttons, toggles and switches, to operate the car. And what's more, the steering can be easily removed after the race ends. The steering can control almost all the functions starting from gear changes, brake balance, fuel mixture, radio, and much more.
The steering is only half the size of a normal car's steering wheel and can be removed easily, for the increased safety of the driver, in case of an accident. The rules state that the driver must be able to get out of his car within five seconds, removing nothing except the steering wheel.
How does a car with such a brilliant piece of engineering, with the high power engines and technology of the space age, translate it into performance? Through the tyres, as tires are the ultimate and only part touching the ground and translate the power into performance. But such sheer amount of speeds and hard cornering means, the tires will have to take the pounding, and if they are not the best, car won't deliver the performance, for what it's meant. The tyres used today are the derivatives of the Slick tires (called so because of no tread and maximum surface area), which were first introduced in the 1960s.
On today's Formula One cars, the front tires must be between 12 and 15 inches wide and the rear tires between 14 and 15 inches wide. In rainy conditions, cars can have "intermediate" and "wet" tires, which have full tread patterns designed to channel water away from the road surface. Formula One tires perform best at high temperature and so they are warmed before the race starts. A typical tyre is designed to last for, at most, 200km and hence, tyres are changed during the race.
What's different in a normal car brake and an F1 car brake? Well, to start with, a normal brake has to stop a car at a maximum speed of 150kmph, while the Formula1 brake must stop a vehicle travelling at speeds greater than 350kmph. The amount of force required to stop such high speeds causes the brakes to glow red-hot when they are used. This severely causes the performance of the brakes, due to wear and tear of the brake. Hence, carbon fiber discs and pads are used, to sustain temperatures as high as 750°c, even though they are lightweight.
To put the facts in perspective, the amount of forces produced when braking at a speed of 200kmph is equal to having an accident when you hit a wall at a speed to 60kmph. That much amount of stress is sustained by a driver at every corner, throughout the race.
The Chassis is the building block of any car, that hold all the components together, and a Formula 1 car is no different. Infact, being the chassis of a formula 1 car demands strength like none other. Built as a monocoque (Monocoque is a French word meaning "single shell) construction, the entire body is built as a single unit, out of lightweight, high strength carbon fibre, layered over aluminium mesh, to give it stress taking ability like a tank.
The monocoque incorporates the cockpit, a strong, padded cell that accommodates a single driver. For the safety purposes, the cockpit is one of the strongest parts in the car and have to adhere strict technical regulations. Also, the space is very less in the car, to avoid any movement of the driver during cornering, resulting in a cockpit, which can be customized according to the needs of the driver's physical built.