Differential Settings in Formula 1 Cars

April 1, 2008

It is not totally uncommon to see drivers fiddling with small buttons on their steering wheel during the course of a race or qualifying session. More often, they do adjustments before some corners. One of the things that they try to do is adjust the differential settings to suit the corner that’s coming up. These settings go a long way in determining the handling of the car. Drivers use the diff, as it is popularly called, to compensate for excess understeer or oversteer that keep varying as the tyre wears out and the track characteristics change.

Basically, it is the amount of ‘lock’ that is changed electronically from the steering wheel. You might know that a differential allows the inside and outside rear wheels to spin at different speeds. This is crucial to the turning of the car into corners. The ‘lock’ determines the speed differential between the inside and outside wheels.

To put it all in a simple way, for more ‘oversteery’ situations, less lock is dialled in. This allows for an increase in the speed differential between the wheels, which in turn allows the outside rear wheel to rotate at a speed which is significantly higher than that of the inside wheel. So, the car will tend to spin out which is what we refer to as oversteer. More amount of lock dialled in, on the other hand, will make the car prone to understeer due to the fact that the car will ‘struggle’ to turn into corners if both of the rear wheels spin at around the same speed.

So, drivers constantly try to arrive at the degree of lock that best suites the condition of the car, track and their driving style.


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January 3, 2008

Click here to read F1 TECHNOLOGY :: ENGINE (PART 1)

As previously mentioned in the first part, an F1 engine is capable of revving to an astonishing 19000 revolutions per minute. It is because of its ability to rev so high that the engine produces close to 750 horsepower from a relatively low displacement of 2400 cubic centimetres. This can be explained with the following formula: power = (torque x rpm) / 5252. The torque of an engine is largely fixed (by its physical dimensions). And you can also see from the formula that power and rpm are directly proportional to each other. So, if the engine can rev higher, it can produce more power.

To ensure its revvability, the F1 engines’ bore is always bigger than the stroke. This configuration is called an “over-square” configuration. Also, “valve overlap” (the amount of time, in degrees of rotation of the crankshaft, for which both the intake and the exhaust valves remain open) is also quite high in F1 engines. This leads to reduced work by the piston on the charge or exhaust gas. As you can easily imagine, the stresses thus involved in an F1 engine are exorbitantly high. To take care of this, exotic materials are used for the cylinder head, piston, connecting rod and the other parts of the engine and many of them are top-secret metals.

And, you’ll be surprised to know that it weighs a meager 95 kilos!


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How An F1 Car Is Improved

December 16, 2007

The two primary ingredients for a successful F1 team–a team that manges to show consistently improving performance– are: a competent technical director and a technically sound and/or super quick driver(s). There is one more thing that the technical director needs to do his job, which is money. We’ll start with the driver’s responsibility. The driver is the one who is actually putting the car thro’ its paces and so he is the person who can paint the true picture of the car black and white. He has to feel the car; feel the limit of the car. To be more specific, he has to report to his engineer the following: the behaviour of the car under braking (for example in a straight line/in the midst of a corner/on the entry into the corner/on bumps), its behaviour under acceleration (all of the above said situations apply here), its turning characterisitcs (for example, whether it oversteers/understeers, how much amount of steering angle provokes understeer), its overall balance (whether any on the front/rear ends is nervous), its braking characteristics (for example, how much pedal pressure at what point of time and at what rate/how and when it locks up), its behaviour on bumps (for example, how it affects his control over the acceleration/braking/turning he might have to do just after/at the point of hitting the bump(s)), the overall grip level provided by the geometry of suspension system, the weight distribution and the aerodynamics, his confidence in driving the car at maximum attack (and this is affected by, the tyre wear characteristics, brake fade characteristics, traction control maps, engine reliability and the behaviour of the car with respect to the decreasing fuel levels), the behaviour of the car in trailing throttle/lift-off conditions. The above list doesn’t include all of the details but you can rest assured that all of the above things are definitely there.

The engineer will convert the driver’s “feelings” into the more immediately possible “set-up” changes and also will report to the technical director regarding the possible changes that can be made to the aerodynamic/mechanical components of the car.

There ends the work at the track level and the work is then passed onto the factory where the technical director often occupies his desk. He will have all the feedback (both at the seat-of-the pants level and in the technical level from the engineer) on his desk. He will try to distinguish between the necessary points and the unnecessary points. He will start to try and decrease the unnecessary points while at the same time improving the more positive points even further. The team will then try out his ideas in the wind tunnel and if it seems to be an improvement, it will find its way into the car.


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F1 Technology :: Traction Control

December 12, 2007

Traction is tyres gripping the road. When there’s more traction, we say there’s more grip. With more grip, more amount of engine torque can be transferred to the road and the speed of the vehicle in corners (where lateral forces act on the tyres) can be relatively higher. Traction Control, as the name suggests, can be identified as a device that makes sure that the traction available at any instant of time is maximum–which is crucial to achieving the best possible lap time. Traction Control is an essential thing to have for cars that have prodigious power outputs. Formula 1 cars have incorporated this device since 2002 (until 2001 it was banned). For the 2007 season, the FIA have again banned the use of Traction Control to put more control back into the drivers’ hands. This article analyses in brief how exactly Traction Control does what it does and the effect of its ban.

Traction Control regulates the amount of engine power going to the driven wheels to ensure that the tyres are not given more torque than what they can take effectively–lest the wheels will start spinning. Regulating engine power can be done by either cutting the spark or by cutting the fuel supply. In F1, the former is adopted as it is deemed to be “faster” although less fuel efficient. 

Banning Traction Control will require the drivers to be more judicious with the throttle, particularly in corners where the apex speeds are in the region of 100-150 kph. They just can’t nail the throttle as they used to do previously. But, in high speed corners the problem of losing traction and hence spinning gets less aggravated as the huge down force that the rear wing produces pushes the rear axle down. The teams will be required to go softer with respect to their suspension settings and also run higher down force levels in an attempt to get more traction. The rear tyres will wear relatively aggressively in the 2008 cars as more often than not they’ll be punished to the limits by the drivers. So, we can see more clearly the difference between the best drivers and the good drivers.

Why Slower is Faster

November 5, 2007

To go faster, go slower. Seems a bit odd, doesn’t it? Sure, it does. But, most of the time in Formula 1, when drivers try to keep raising their pace lap after lap, they make a lot of mistakes that ironically spoil their lap times. There’s only so much that one  can extract from a car. If you’ve to brake 80 metres before, for a corner, you’ve got to brake 80 metres before. If you’ve to nail the throttle only after kissing the apex, you’ve got to nail the throttle only after kissing the apex. Then how do you increase your pace? You might ask. You increase the pace not by braking at 70 metres before the apex (in contrast to 80). You increase the pace not by dabbing the throttle before the apex. You increase the pace by braking at the 80 metre mark, exactly, millimetre perfectly, lap after lap. You increase the pace by nailing the throttle at the apex.

May be, 80 metres can come down to 79 metres in those laps when you have found a great rhytm in your lap and the tyres have gelled in perfectly and you’re dancing with the car.

Those laps will (mostly) be your fastest laps.

And those who do have the habit of nailing such laps, lap after lap, throughout a race are far and few between.

And one such far-and-few-between driver is Kimi Raikkonen.

Lewis Hamilton? (Instalment 2)

November 3, 2007

Lewis Hamilton’s style is to keep the car pointing straight for as long as possible in preparation for a corner. The advantage of this style is that Lewis has a more obedient car, when he eventually turns-in, that will respond to his steering inputs in a controlled manner without overloading the outer wheels. By having the car straight, he has the dynamic weight of the car more evenly spread out between the inner and outer tyres. One obvious advantage of this technique is that he has a larger contact patch from the four tyres that he can use for braking with maximum force without fear of locking up – that is so easy to do at the turn-in.

Another very unique thing that you notice about Lewis’ style is his steering input. It’s not so much about the point of his initial steering input as it is about the rate of input. He just ever-so-slightly squeezes his ‘wheel into the corner, takes some amount of positive lock out of it, almost immediately again gives the positive lock back again. All these happen between Lewis preparing his car for the turn-in and the point when he hits and crosses the apex of the corner. Why is Lewis doing that? Again, he always thinks in straight lines. He wants to make sure he has a perfectly dynamically balanced car at all the points of a corner.

Follow this link to read Lewis Hamilton? (Instalment 1).

Driving at “Ten-Tenths”

October 20, 2007

What does Steve Slater mean when he screams (which he often does), “Look at thaaaat. Kimi is ab…solutely on the limit!”? He means to say that

(1) Kimi is wringing the hell out of his Ferrari.

(2) He is pushing his Ferrari to its limit and (very frequently) beyond.

(3) He is driving (thrashing would be more apt) his Ferrari with a ridiculously low factor of safety that one small slip-up (read that as a braking point missed by a few metres), he along with his car will be promptly in the wall!

(4) In short, Kimi is driving at “Ten-Tenths”!