TechMunch: The technology of Formula 1

Glenn Simpson takes a look at the technology that continues to drive Formula 1 to be successful and how advances in recent years has maintained the momentum for drivers to keep pushing to be faster.


The debate over man vs. car and who makes more of a difference is one that has long been fought, for the sake of all our sanity, I’m only going to focus on one topic, the technology behind what makes Formula 1 the most innovative motorsport in the world.

As you can imagine, F1 cars have changed dramatically from when the sport began, transforming from what appeared to be wooden boxes on wheels to the intertwined posture of carbon fibre we see today. In this post I’ll discuss some of the biggest advances in F1 technology and how they can be the difference between winning and losing.

  1. Aerodynamics

The foundation and basis of what F1 looks like today is all down to the advancements in aerodynamic technology. For those of us that aren’t aerodynamic engineers, this basically refers to the way in which air moves around an object, in this case, the car.

The idea is to keep the car flowing through the air with as little resistance as possible whilst pushing it to the ground, increasing the grip. Teams are able to use powerful data analytics from aerodynamic testing to figure out the best way to design their car and benefit from both of these factors, ultimately increasing the speed at which the car can be driven.

  1. Sensors

The strategy on race day will almost certainly be the difference between winning and losing a race. Deciding when to pit, what tires to use, how much fuel to use, when to attack and when to be conservative all make a difference, and it’s technology that gives the team the ability to make these decisions.

Sensors on the car are the things that provide the main source of information- they tell engineers how much the tyres are being used, how the engine is running and even how much water is left in the drivers water bottle – the list goes on. Without the use of sensors, the pitwall would look pretty empty and leave drivers and their teams sitting in the dark about how the car is actually performing. Through the use of sensors, the teams can make quick and informed decisions as to how to play out a race and what decisions to make.

  1. Pit Stops

Moving on to something more exciting than numbers on a screen, pit stops are something that are heavily invested in by teams and practiced over and over again, with millions being spent on getting the right tech for the job. All this time and money is spent on getting a pit stop time down from 2.5 seconds to this year’s current record of 1.92 seconds.

A lot of this is down to a simpler approach of practice makes perfect; however, there are some tech savvy ways of helping out too. The first would be the way the engineers take off the tyre. Most of the teams in F1 use pneumatic wheel guns that send pulses of torque to loosen and tighten the wheel nut. Each is hand-assembled to a high standard with tight tolerances and makes the removal of the tyre a one second job.

Some teams also operate a lighting system to release the car after the pit stop. Unhappy with the usual hand release from an engineer, some teams prefer to use a traffic light system that alerts the driver to when they should leave the pits, eradicating human error and reducing the time it would take for humans to process and react to the finished pit stop.

  1. ERS

The Energy Recovery System (ERS) of an F1 car is one of the most advanced pieces of technology in the sport today. ERS can dramatically increase the engine’s overall efficiency by harvesting (and reusing) heat energy from the exhaust and brakes. The ERS system allows teams to use energy released from the car and feed it back into the engine, making the performance much more efficient and taking advantage of the energy that would otherwise have gone to waste. This ultimately makes the engines greener and more reliable, although with the amount of engine failures Lewis Hamilton has had lately, I probably wouldn’t bring that up with him.

We all know that the winners and losers of F1 are decided by decimal points; in fact in last weekend’s Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton took pole from Nico Rosberg by 0.216 seconds, and it’s these advancements in technology that enabled him to gain those very precious 0.216 seconds and take the glory that goes with it.

Glenn Simpson, Senior Account Executive, Technology