Even if we are not fans, it is always interesting to watch the F1 developments, in particular the technological innovations incorporated year after year to improve the performance, reliability and safety of the cars..
The F1 races provide a benchmark for innovations that eventually find their way into the production series.
Many well-known ones are already integrated in our vehicles: disc brakes, active suspension, traction control, automatic shifting, turbo engines, etc, even the long-duration lubricants commonly used today were born in the F1.
Other more recent developments are gradually finding their way, like the kinetic energy recovery system (KERS) for braking, which in F1 is used to provide some additional power in especial moments and, in production series, is already employed in some hybrid engines to recharge the electric batteries.
The challenge today in the automotive industry is to improve the engine efficiency to use less fuel. Current hybrid engines achieve efficiencies in the 40-50% range, and much more could be achieved if the energy lost in heat could be recovered.
A recently created alternative to the Formula 1 is the Formula E, racing electric cars, which is expected to take the role of the F1 regarding innovations and development. Right now, the main concern is the management of batteries to maximise power while extending autonomy.
Whatever the type of car, the goal is to reduce CO2 emissions, as mandated by the regulatory authorities, the objective in Europe being 95 g/km by 2020. And a helpful strategy in all cases is to reduce weight (a 10% decrease in weight entails 7-11% lower consumption) by replacing steel and aluminium with composite materials, lighter and stronger… but also more expensive.
Although their use in the automotive industry is growing, composite materials like carbon fibre are seldom seen outside the top-end vehicles because of their cost. But considerable advances are being achieved in the introduction of processes such as Resin Transfer Molding (RTM) or the Sheet Moulding Compound (SMC) with glass fibre, which are becoming more cost and time efficient for production of large series.
Simulation, and particularly the study of the structural behaviour by finite element analysis (FEA), increasingly constitutes the essential tool in this phase of technological innovation.
Keep watching the coming developments Formula 1 and Formula E, because you already know the mantra: “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday”.