Formula 1 Race
Posted on: Mon,Oct 24th 2011
A formula 1 race car
A Formula 1 racing car carries some of the most exotic engineering known to humanity. The drivers pilot these fascinating vehicles at speeds up to 360 kilometres per hour, while semi-reclining in a tub made of expensive carbon fibre, with their backsides only a few centimetres off the road.
At full blast, a F-1 fuel pump delivers petrol faster than water flows out of your kitchen tap.
A Formula 1 car uses aerodynamics to generate, at full speed, a downforce of 2-and-a-half times its own weight, so that it'll stick to the road really well. At 160 km per hour, they're generating their own weight in downforce - so they could theoretically drive upside down on the roof of a tunnel.
The downforce means that the car can corner at 5Gs - but when you hit the bend, the driver's head suddenly weighs 25 kilograms, and their 70 kilogram body now weighs a third-of-a-tonne. 5 Gs is enough to stop you from breathing. The drivers need supreme concentration, to ignore the G-forces and maintain their focus for the hour-or-so that it takes to cover 305 kilometres.
And following in the slipstream of the F-1 car is the domestic car. Many of its features (disc brakes, turbo-charger, advanced tyre technology, and sophisticated valve trains) were spin-offs from Formula 1 cars.
The very first car race was between Paris and Rouen in 1894, and the winning car averaged 16.4 kilometres per hour. By 1971, the Italian F-1 Grand Prix was won at an average speed of 242 kph. The very first Formula 1 race was in 1948. Today the Formula 1 Championship consists of a series of some 17 races, run every two weeks between March and October.
After each race, the engineers have to frantically tinker with the car's design for the next non-negotiable race deadline in two weeks. And in each race, the car is substantially different from what it was in the previous race.
Formula 1 today means that the engine is three litres or less, has ten cylinders, and can't be supercharged. The car also has to always weigh at least 600 kilograms, and have four wheels, only two of which are steered or driven.
The engines are amazing. They generate some 600 kilowatts at around 18,000 rpm. Compare this to your average Holden or Falcon which generates about 140 kilowatts at 4,000 rpm. Actually, by the 1990s, the engines were limited to only 12,000 rpm, because of friction in the valve train. But then Renault invented pneumatically-driven valves, which let the maximum engine speed jump to 18,000 rpm.
Each car has about one-and-a-half kilometres of wire, integrating the data from some 120 sensors that glean information such as the angle of the rear wing, the brake temperature, the oil pressure and the tyre pressure. These vital statistics are constantly relayed back to the crew in the pits. Each car is made of about 9,000 different components. The body and chassis are made from carbon fibre, which when compared to steel, is four times stiffer and five times stronger. The carbon fibre steering wheel alone costs $120,000.
The software to integrate the data from the sensors, and to manage the engine and gearbox, comprises some half-a-million lines of code, which took some 20 person-years to write. The gearbox can have up to seven different speeds - and if the timing of the changing of the gears is off by even a few thousandths of a second, the gearbox will self-destruct.
It takes a lot of money and brain power to roll one of these F-1 babes out onto the track. For example, McLaren has a budget of about $500 million per year, and employs 350 people. They have even constructed 3D digital replicas of each race track, so they can test the engine before each race. McLaren invented a new braking system (progressive electro-hydraulic power brakes) which dramatically shortened the braking distance - but it was banned.
They also invented a unique rear differential, to better feed that awesome power to the back wheels without spinning - but it too was banned. In fact one engineer estimated that half of his 15-year career had been spent on developing engineering wizardry that was now illegal.
The job of the scientist is to discover phenomena that are already there, but currently unknown to humans. The job of the engineer is creative - to design and build something that has never been built before. You could say that today, in the design of the Formula 1 car, engineering comes closest to art.
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