8 Incredible F1 Facts That Will Make Your Head Spin

Formula 1 Facts
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Formula 1 might be a high-speed procession some weeks but don’t let this mislead you; it’s still the most competitive, dangerous and high-drama show in town.

No other sport invests so much money in development or has such complex equipment. Even the slowest F1 car can accelerate from 0-100 km/h in 1.7 seconds, 100-200 km/h in 3.8 and reach their top speed of well over 300 km/h in less than 9 seconds. Each costs well over £1 million to build and will be transported to the track in a 30-tonne tractor/trailer unit developing over 1,500 lb/ft of torque that has to be parked symmetrically in the paddocks or Bernie throws a hissy-fit.

Here are 8 Incredible Things about Formula 1.

1. Engineering Tolerances and What Happens when You Exceed Them

Formula 1 Damper System

Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi lost both front wheels during practice for the Shanghai GP in 2010 due to a catastrophic failure of his front suspension.

The nearside upright shears first under heavy braking, causing massive stress on the opposite side. Milliseconds later the offside gives up all pretence at being an upright and surrenders faster than an Italian tank division, slamming Bueni into the Armco.

The problem was apparently caused by the team trying out a new, lighter pair of uprights. It’s always tempting to try and save some weight but it looks like someone forgot to factor in the G-forces experienced under braking and the massive centrifugal force from the wheels (you can see just how much energy they have by the way they fly off, accelerate and nearly wipe out a marshal).

Funnily enough Scuderia Toro Rosso reverted to the old, heavier suspension components afterwards…

2. F1 Engines

F1 Engine

The engines in a modern F1 car are one of the most complex and intricate pieces of engineering that you’ll ever come across. You don’t believe me? Well, consider the following:

  • They rev to over 18,000 revolutions per minute, with each piston accelerating to a peak of more than 7,000Gs and rising and falling 300 times per second.
  • The tolerances are so fine that the engine cannot be turned over when it’s cold. Warm oil and water need to be pumped through them to let the metals expand just a little, allowing them to rotate.
  • At full pelt the fuel pump delivers fuel at a greater rate than your domestic tap does water.
  • 200 channels of data from over 150 sensors will generate 25Gbs of data per race, all of which is transmitted to the pits via telemetry in real time.

All pretty impressive, huh? Makes the time when your cam-belt failed on the M25 look pretty unimpressive, doesn’t it?

3. G-forces and the Driver’s Neck

Schumacher Neck

OK, let’s try again. One G (or gravitational) is equal to your normal weight, 2G is twice, and so on. Remember the, er, ‘larger’ lady that you pulled that night, the one who weighed the same as you do? Well, imagine her lying on top of you – it would take twice the normal effort to get up with her weight on top of yours, wouldn’t it?

Well, it’s the same with G-force. If a racing driver experiences 2G his head will feel twice as heavy as it normally does. Three G is three times, and so on.

During an F1 race a driver will experience up to 5G under braking and cornering (the car can go from its top speed of 300km/h+ to a standstill in 3 seconds) and 3G under hard acceleration, meaning that his neck has to support up to 24kgs during a long corner. That’s the equivalent of having a sack of spuds slammed into the side of your head while you’re driving.

This means that developing the neck muscles is a priority for every driver and they might spend one and a half hours or more at a time working on it; they all have disproportionately thick necks compared to the rest of their body as a result.

And every time your body experiences high G-force – and this could be as high as 5G – it screams out for you to do everything that you can to stop it. But that’s not an option, because if you unwind the steering even a fraction then you’ll be going home in a coffin after hitting the wall at up to 200mph.

Do you still think that F1 drivers are over-paid prima donnas?

Here’s a video that will explain it all:

4. The Gearbox

The gearbox from the 2008 BMW Sauber F1 car takes around 40 working hours to assemble using 1,500 different components, choosing from over 50 different gear ratios to suit each individual circuit.

They can change gear 50 times faster than you can blink, and the driver will shift ratios between 2,800 and 4,000 times per race.

5. The Steering Wheel

F1 Steering Wheel

The sheer complexity of just about everything involved in running an F1 team is mind-numbing. Every single aspect of it is controlled to the nth degree and the only thing that’s more difficult to engineer is a guilt-free day’s F1 viewing when the in-laws are visiting. Every car comprises of over 80,000 components, more than a kilometer of wiring and yet it all weighs far less than a small hatchback.

Let’s look at the humble steering wheel, as one small example. I don’t know about you, but the most that I’ve ever spent on a wheel is just under £200 (a Momo Prototipo, now you ask); they have to write a cheque for £40,000 for one of theirs.

I’m also impressed when I can adjust the volume of the stereo with mine – an F1 car will have 20 or more buttons on it to adjust everything from the differential settings, speed limiter in the pits, radio communications and neutral gearbox selection.

Impressive eh?

6. Driver Stress

We touched on this earlier but it’s worth spending a bit more time to understand the stresses that an F1 driver’s body is under during a race. Never doubt that they are serious athletes – the days of them turning up with a hangover, smoking a tab just before, and celebrating with a pint of beer afterwards are long gone.

Their heart rate will nudge 200 beats-per-minute at times, and will average 150 for long periods. They will lose over 3 litres of fluid during a race (sometimes urine too, peeing where they sit, which must take some practice) and their blood pressure will rise by 50%. The toll that a typical race takes on their body is reckoned to be the equivalent of running a marathon, burning 1,200 calories.

It might take 800 lbs/in of effort to press the brake pedal, the cockpit temperature can exceed 50 degrees Celsius and you need to concentrate continually for 300kms because a split-second loss of concentration means that you might exceed the car’s capabilities by 1%, which is the difference between a blistering lap time and a spin.

We still think that Nigel Mansell was being a bit of a drama queen after the 1992 Monaco GP though.

7. Tyres

F1 Tyres

An F1 driver is said to be able to detect the loss of less than a tenth lb/sq of tyre pressure, which further compounds my shame on discovering that my Legacy’s o/s rear tyre was down to 18 lb/in the other day without me noticing…

The tyres are inflated with nitrogen instead of plain old air to ensure that no water vapour is introduced, which would affect the tyre pressures as they heat up, as it expands at a unpredictable rate. All four wheels can be removed and replaced in under 4 seconds, which is handy, as they’ll only last about 100kms. They’ll also lose half a kilogram each due to wear and operate at a temperature of over 90-110 degrees Celsius in the dry.

When the pace car comes out the cars are forced to slow down so much that it becomes far harder to stay on the track as the tyres lose grip due to their cooling. You do realize that when I say ‘slow’ I mean slow as in a Mercedes SLS AMG with a 6.3 litre V8 engine with 571bhp and a maximum speed of over 300km/h mph, don’t you?

8. Temperatures

We’ve seen that the average cockpit temperature is higher than your beach holiday in Majorca, and the tyre temperature is hotter than your morning coffee, but did you know these heat-related facts?

F1 Brakes

Carbon brakes need to be at a minimum temperature of 500 degrees Celsius before they will work effectively and they will top 1,000 degrees under braking. If the pace car is out then the driver will brake frequently to try and keep them working properly, otherwise he’ll have a dead pedal when the race restarts. (Incidentally, the energy needed to slow the car from 315km/h to 185km/h is the same amount needed to make an elephant jump 10 metres in the air.)

Did you know that the temperature of the oil in the gearbox will reach over 150 degrees when racing and the exhaust will touch 950? By way of a comparison Max Mosley’s arse will only reach a laughably poor 50 degrees during a decent spanking session.

What are the incredible things about F1 that have amazed and stunned you? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

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