Best of street car tech came from F1

Best of street car tech came from F1

Paddle gear shifter. Picture credit: Cllackr

Formula 1 employs the brightest engineers and mechanics one can ever find. They are highly innovative and can produce cars that are capable of winning the world championship.

A lot of technologies are built to make racing easier. Others are path-breaking technologies that conserve energy or increase safety for the driver. Motorsport is a great place for engineers to experiment. Technologies that are developed and used in F1 cars eventually make it to street cars that we used daily.

DH lists some such technologies developed by F1 teams over the years and that are now seen in street cars.

Paddle gear shifters
Paddle shifters are small levers placed behind the steering wheel in a Formula 1 car. This technology was developed by Ferrari in the late 1980s.

The reason behind the development of paddle shifters was to enable the driver to change gears without taking his hands off the steering wheel. Another reason is that paddle shifting changes gears faster than regular shifting because the process is motorised.  

Many automatic transmission cars on the road have paddle shifters and it is a convenience factor.

The Kinetic Energy Recovery System was introduced in Formula 1 cars 2009. KERS provides additional power to the car.

This system works by harnessing heat energy during braking and converting it to electrical energy. This is then used to provide a power boost of 80 bhp to the car for a few seconds per lap. The next level of this is the currently-used motor generator units (MGU-Heat and MGU-Kinetic).

This re-use of braking heat energy is also found in several passenger cars. For example, in India, Maruti Suzuki has this technology in the Ciaz and Ertiga cars. The electric motor gives an extra bit of torque to the car during acceleration.

Carbon fibre

Carbon fibre panel on road car. Picture credit: Yahya S

Most of the bodywork of a Formula 1 car is made of carbon fibre. Several layers of the fabric are molded and that is the outer body that we see on these machines.

The advantage with carbon fibre is that it far stronger than steel, but also much lighter. The McLaren Formula 1 Team was the first to use this on their cars in 1981.

A lot of luxury and sports cars use carbon fibre panels in the body. Manufacturers that use this material are Alfa Romeo, Jaguar, BMW, Bugatti, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche among others.


Model car in a wind tunnel. Picture credit: Rob Bulmahn

Aerodynamics is one of the most important engineering aspects that go into building a Formula 1 car.

This involves creating a body that will ensure smooth air flow. A Formula 1 car has a lot of odd-shaped wings and winglets on the body. These ensure smooth air flow and also create downforce, which means the air flow presses the car to the track and thus increasing grip.

The concept of aerodynamics began in the 1950s. After a hiatus, it was reintroduced in the 70s when engineering genius Colin Chapman began to use these concepts on his team’s Lotus Formula 1 cars.

On street cars, we see spoilers and other winglets that improve the vehicle’s grip and also air resistance.

Additionally, Formula 1 cars found a way to integrate carbon fibre bodywork with monocoque chassis to make a strong racing machine.

Monocoque is ‘single shell’ in French. Monocoque cars will have the chassis and body frame integrated instead of the two pieces being joint together.

Adaptive suspension
Chapman also found a way to manage the car suspension so that the ride height does not change even while going over the kerbs at corners. This was done to retain aerodynamic grip even while the car is going over the kerbs.

This adaptive suspension was banned at the end of the 1993 season due to safety concerns.

On street cars, similar technology is used. Various driving modes like Sport and Track use this technology and is called active suspension. The ride height and how soft or hard the suspension is can be changed with the turn of a knob.