Formula 1 season is here, and there are few things more exciting than watching these high-tech machines push the boundaries of physics and technology. Over the years, F1 has been responsible for several vehicle innovations. In fact, several pieces of Formula 1 technology have become the street cars you can drive today.
On current Formula 1 cars, the rear wing has a driver-adjustable flap to reduce aerodynamic drag. Known as DRS or drag-reduction systems, the concept of active aerodynamics is now found in a number of road cars, from the mediocre to the monstrous.
While models like the new Porsche 911 GT3 RS use a literal DRS system to aid outright performance, other models like the Ford Mustang, BMW M5, and even the older Chevy Cruze sedan use similar technology for efficiency. In these cars, the active grille covers engage at certain speeds to reduce drag and improve fuel economy at higher speeds. Once at a lower speed, the shutters are opened again to improve engine cooling.
Another Formula 1 innovation that has now become a road car is regenerative braking. In F1, the Kinetic Energy Recovery System, or KERS, uses braking power to regenerate electrical energy in the car’s hybrid power unit. Sound familiar?
That’s because models like the Volvo S60 Recharge hybrid, the Porsche 919 hybrid hypercar, and even the Toyota Prius milquetoast use this advanced technology to increase the efficiency of the hybrid drive system. Of course, all modern EVs also use the same technology to help expand range.
Carbon fiber is certainly not uncommon in modern road cars, but it also comes from Formula 1. Initially, carbon fiber was used to reduce weight while maintaining strength and rigidity compared to aluminum components. This weight savings is especially important in F1, where every ounce shaved can improve a car’s balance.
In road cars this is mostly an aesthetic choice, although in high-performance cars there are certain advantages. For example, the carbon fiber roof on the E92 M3 helps reduce the car’s center of gravity to improve handling. And in the unique Jaguar XE SV Project 8, carbon fiber body panels offset the machine’s larger, heavier weight.
Turbo-hybrid engines from F1 in today’s cars
Current Formula 1 cars use turbo hybrid power units. It features a turbocharged V6 engine and an electric motor that combines nearly 1,000 horsepower. However, the technology has been in F1 since 2009.
Today, cars like the Volvo S60 Recharge, Polestar 1 (Seriously, Volvo knows how to make a hybrid), and the Porsche Panamera E-Hybrid use hybrid technology. They did this not for efficiency, but to provide monster performance without a big combustion engine.
Current F1 technology that may be on its way to street cars
While most of the above technologies are still present in today’s Formula 1 cars, there are also new innovations in F1 cars that may be coming to our vehicles soon. For example, hydrogen, synthetics and biofuels are being tested or used in modern race cars. With the push towards green energy, don’t be surprised to see similar technology coming to road cars in the near future.