F1 technology

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First of all, I want to thank you for the space that was given to me and for the opportunity to clarify the ideas behind the development and technical design of racing cars, for the readers interested in a deeper understaing, through a technical column about technology related to F1, that will be proposed through the platform Funoanalisitecnica.com.

I’d like to clarify, that I, despite being born in Maranello, and having attended the Ferrari school, did not graduate in engineering, but became a technician during my 11-years career at Ferrari. I therefore had the honor and pleasure of working in the Ferrari F1 engine testing and development department employed by engineers of the caliber of Gilles Simon, Luca Marmorini and Mattia Binotto. It should also be noted that prior to my experience, my father also worked as an F1 technician, but employed by engineers such as Mauro Forghieri and the manager Daniele Audetto in the Lamborghini F1 engine design and development department.

So I come from a personal experience and from a family that knows very well the periods of car development, of aerodynamics,tires, but more than anything else: the engine. In the weeks that follow I will therefore have the pleasure of telling to the readers how to design a racing car, from its simplest components to the most complex structures, debunking myths and legends around our work.

F1 technology

As a first topic, allow me the opportunity to present you my key to understanding the technology linked to F1, which I am sure it will contrast with common thinking, but I’m sure that at the end of the article it will enlighten you. I often hear F1 and Ferrari fans speak of a commonplace that negatively assesses the difference between the cars of the 70s and those of the 80s compared to current design concepts, suggesting with conviction that that era was the best for technical research. Forgive me if I do not agree with your reading key, but I will explain the reasons for my thesis.

It is important to know that nothing is invented in the car field, these concepts that have already been developed in other research areas and are applied to the car, with the hope that they can adapt to the demands and needs of the projects, the tracks and pilots. But this does not only happen for motoring, but for any field of technological research.

For example, recently was celebrated the landing on the moon, exactly 50 years ago, on July 20, 1969 (while the first step took place on July 21, six hours after the landing), but if we study history we discover that the development and the design of the liquid propellant multistage rocket, called Saturn V, occurred to the mind of the German baron Wernher Magnus Maximilian von Braun, who transferred all his acquired knowledge of war as a result of the development of missiles called Vergeltungswaffe 2 (retaliatory weapon 2 or more commonly V2) that during the Second World War were used by the German army against its most direct opponents, and that in Great Britain killed 2,754 people and injured 6,523.

The same procedure takes place in a completely similar manner even in the fields of research and development of areas relating to the car, aerodynamics, tires and engines of racing and F1 cars. To find the technology related to F1, it will seem strange to you, for example, to discover that the design and creation of the first wind tunnels date back to the years before 1894, and that the studies on the aerodynamic profiles and the interferences go back precisely to more than a century ago, but only starting from the mid-1960s through the use of movable wings, then towards the end of the 70s with wing-cars (designed using the idea of a huge inverted wing), the concept of aerodynamics on race cars has begun to be extreme and wind tunnels have been used to study the profiles of the single-seaters.

How strange it will seem to you to discover that the first disc brakes comes from a curious search for Good Year: in fact, the American company owned a mine and had to solve a problem with braking the trucks. The gauge of that decauville was so small, and the carts so narrow, that it had been necessary to study a brake that did not carry the drum; thus the first disc brake was born, which then passed from the mine to the airplane, which perfected it (the disc brake was patented in 1902 by Frederick William Lanchester, in Birmingham), and finally to the automobile starting from the years 50.

In particular, the first car to have it in production series was the Citroën DS, in 1955.

And again, how many readers and fans of F1 speak only of aerodynamics, without knowing how much research and what kind of fascinating developments have been conducted in the field of metallurgy technology?

Over the years it has in fact passed from heavy steel to white steel. The use of titanium, which weighs about 45% less than steel, and the magnesium alloy with zinc and zirconium, which weighs 33% less than aluminum, has become widespread in racing cars. And we have switched to using the electron, the ergal, the silumin, and the nimonic for valves, and bronze and copper for components such as semi bearings and valve seats, while other materials have been used and abandoned, such as beryllium.

And in parallel, research into fuel consumption and use has expanded, so much so that the first Italian commercial super-fuel, produced by Shell, dating back to 1929, contained 10% of alcohol, while at the time of the sanctions in 1974, when Italy found itself deprived of gasoline imports, just the Italian Shell with its technicians elaborated a sort of national fuel, composed of 85% of ethyl and methyl alcohol with the addition of a little petroleum ether and of benzol.

Today, on the other hand, we have engines that, thanks to the implementation of hybrid technologies, guarantee higher speeds than the previous aspirated V8 engines that consume 1.7 liters / km, with lower consumption and guaranteeing the power not produced by the combustion engine through the electric structure, which works through battery recharging and takes place through the movement of the car itself (the batteries recharge during braking).

In short, limiting the appeal of racing cars to the diversification of body work is at least reductive, especially if we consider that before 1978 knowledge and the possibility of studying aerodynamic components was not within the reach of all the teams, who then tried in the fields of battle their ideas, having as their only reference point the chronometer and the empirical experience.

Today, on the other hand, if we have come to have more and more similar cars between the teams, it is because continuous research has meant that knowledge in certain areas becomes more and more refined. Thanks to the technology linked to F1, the use of data is increasingly common, as for example in the field of aerodynamics, while the effect is underestimated and therefore the study and development of the levers that determine the height from the ground, of torsionality of the chassis, of the metallurgical research, of the research in the motor field, in the rubber industry, etc., all factors that then go second to influence the aerodynamics, making moreover the gaps between the racing cars more and more minimum (just think that in the years 70s were frequent gaps between the pole position and the followers even beyond the second, while now the qualification is played in the thread of tenths, if not even of hundredths of a second).

To understand how much research in other fields helped aerodynamic engineers, it is sufficient to take the unsuccessful Ferrari F92A project as an example. Why? Simple, because at the time the structural knowledge of composite materials such as carbon fiber did not allow a correct use of the bottom, which twisted following the dynamics of use on the track of the car. If one had used the knowledge that one has today of composite materials and levers that guarantee a constant height from the ground of the racing car, it is likely that also the F92A would have become a winning car.

I often hear criticisms raised against the technical regulations on hybrid engines, but even in this case I feel compelled to point out that behind these choices there are market strategies that guarantee jobs not only for those who produce cars, but also to those who produce fuels, for example, and guarantee an enrichment of knowledge that can then be transferred to standard cars for all car manufacturers in the world. Who knows, for example, that the pistons and the connecting rods of the engine are mostly produced by Austrian companies for all the car manufacturers present in the world scene?

That’s why we decided to open this column on technology related to Formula 1 by exploiting a journalistic place that deals mainly with technological disclosure: not to get lost in simple conjectures and to enrich our technical knowledge on racing cars, evaluating them even for little sectors debated. Certainly not everything that is part of my knowledge of the car and of design can be disclosed, as Enzo Ferrari said:

“What the public knows about certain news matters little, but among the readers there are also competitors and then the matter is different”.

So it is normal that I will not use too engineering terminologies to explain complex concepts, made simple through years of study and research, nor will I provide engineering data of which I am certainly aware, but must remain secret for reasons of professionalism. And since we’re talking, let’s reveal another myth that has always bogged in the world of automotive research and in the reader’s collective imagination.

Engineers, regularly graduated from the university, do not have the knowledge to develop a component or to understand its behavior. An engineer limits himself to a calculation of the probability, but it is always the practical research that gives the answers. This is taken care of by the technicians, that is the role I played during many years of experience in Ferrari and before me my father, both in F1, and finally the drivers in the Formula 1 world championship circuits.

Because as Enzo Ferrari said: “All the theories are valid and acceptable when they find the comfort of practical experimentation, and this is done only with races and races, with their irrational, aberrant tests carried out by pilots who do not respect any limit to the exploitation of the mechanical means at their disposal ”.

Autore: Fulvio Conti – traduzione – Filippone Furioso

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