[Before continuing, be sure to take a look at Part I, Part II, and Part III]
In previous installments, we have looked at the rational behind starting a Formula 1 team, developing an organization and the process of designing a race car. In this, our final installment, we will look at what it is that the USF1 team will be creating. A Formula 1 race car.
The FIA Formula 1 World Championship is all about the car. Although the drivers get most of the media attention and compete amongst themselves for the drivers championship, Formula 1 teams are, first and foremost, constructors and compete for the constructors championship. This has always been the case. The mission of a Formula 1 team is to design and build the world’s fastest race car, in accordance with a formula set out by the FIA. They then compete in a series of races to discover who did the best job. This is Formula 1; it is what separates it from all other forms of road racing.
To compare a Formula 1 car to an automobile is not fair, it would be like comparing a jet-fighter to a small Cessna. Actually, the Formula 1 car and the jet-fighter share similar characteristics, each is a fuel tank with an engine attached, each relies heavily on advanced aerodynamics and both are near impossible to operate. Yes, like a jet-fighter, which relies on computers to keep is flying, the Formula 1 car is as close to un-drivable as you can get on four wheels. Most mortals would struggle to drive one out of the pit stall.
Once you get on the circuit, the tires won’t grip much because they are still too cold (even though they use tire-warmers to pre-set some temperature in them). The brakes won’t work because they are cold and if you don’t drive the car fast enough, the down-force will not provide adequate traction to control the car and you will never get the brakes and tires up to temperature. You cannot take a casual drive in a Formula 1 car, it just will not work. You have to be daring enough to work the tires and brakes; you have to commit to high speeds in the corners so the car will stick to the asphalt. There is a fine line between making the corner and just sliding off the road. Lewis Hamilton commented last year that, if you try to correct a slide once it happens, the car will just fly off the track. Formula 1 drivers correct before it happens.
A Formula 1 car weighs 600 kilos (1320 lbs); they accelerate from 0-100 kph (62 mph) and brake to a dead stop in less than 5-seconds. Braking to a full stop from 200 kph (124 mph) takes under 3-seconds. Top speed is well over 300 kph (186 mph) depending on gearing. They produce lateral acceleration of up to 5-g in the corners (a very good road car will corner at .9-g, a race prepared Porsche can corner at 1.6g). Just lift your foot off the throttle at 300 kph (186 mph) and you get almost 3-g of braking force. That is before you hit the brake pedal!
When a Formula 1 car is traveling at 130 kph (80 mph) they produce their own weight in down-force, at 200 kph (124 mph) they can produce up to 2500 kilos of down-force. These delicate little machines weigh more than an SUV at speed! The suspension has to work at 100 kph (62 mph) when the car will weigh less than a ton, and equally well at 300 kph (186 mph) when the car will weigh several tons, effectively supporting more weight on the wheels than a fully-loaded pick-up truck!
Formula 1 cars are powered by naturally aspirated, 2.4 litre V8 engines that weigh just 95 kilos (209 lbs), produce in excess of 750 bhp and rev to 18,000 rpm. Their electronically-controlled, sequential gearboxes have seven forward gears and shift seamlessly, losing no forward drive during gear changes. Formula 1 cars do not have ABS brakes, traction control or stability management systems, the driver is in complete control of the vehicle, or not, as the case may be. The difference is very slim.
To put the performance of a Formula 1 car in perspective, let us compare lap times at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, where both Formula 1 and Grand Am Daytona Prototypes have both raced. The pole time for Daytona Prototypes last year was 1:33, an average speed of 104 mph. The Formula 1 pole time was 1:17 or 135 mph. That is 30% faster, the Formula 1 car would put the Daytona Prototype a lap down every 3-laps! And Daytona Prototypes aren’t slow to begin with.
Formula 1 cars must be safe as well. The car is designed to protect the driver, the front nose section is a crush zone, as is the rear gearbox assembly. The side pods that cover the radiators are as well. The suspension is strong only for its intended purpose; it is designed to break away so as not to damage the tub or the driver in case of a shunt.
The cockpit of a Formula 1 car is a narrow opening just large enough for the driver. The pedals are adjustable and the seat is custom-molded to each driver. They are effectively sitting on the floor of the tub, resting their back on the fuel-cell. The steering wheel costs more than the average car and houses the computers that control and monitor the vehicle’s functions. The driver can adjust the engine computer settings, the gearbox settings and monitor the car’s vital signs on the steering wheel display. The display will show the driver race information as well, what position they are in, lap times and local and full-course cautions are all displayed on the steering wheel. Drivers can adjust the anti-roll bar setting and the brake bias from the cockpit. Michael Schumaker was a master at this, re-tuning the car for the next corner as he was exiting the last one.
Ken Anderson, Peter Windsor and the design team of USF1 will endeavour to design and build a car that is worthy of competing in Formula 1, they might come close in their first attempt. This is far from the easiest sport to compete in. Every year they will expect to advance, they will learn from their mistakes and evolve their design one step at a time. In time, if they do this well, they will find themselves in the enviable position to challenge for the greatest prize in motor sport. The FIA Formula 1 World Championship.
To learn more about the task of a Formula 1 team, I highly recommend reading Steve Machett’s excellent book “The Chariot Makers”. It is both an entertaining and informative read, regardless of your technical knowledge of the sport.