Formula One: motor of innovation

While the question: “is F1 a sport?” has become an internet meme, many people are considering it as a polluting, expensive and unnecessary show. Even if the foreground of every grand prix is a gathering of wealth, exuberance and noisy cars; F1 has been, and still is, a major driving force of today and tomorrow’s society in terms of performance, protection, management and environment.

Since 1950 and the first Grand Prix in Silverstone, UK, the F1 industry has never stopped searching for ways to improve every detail of racing, whether it’s on the engine, the car or the personnel. Obviously many technical breakthroughs have emerged and worked their ways to regular cars. The shape of every vehicle is the result of aerodynamics studies that have shown that a flattened and well-curved car is less impacted from wind and air flow. The composition and structure of tires has now improved grip and drag, and mechanically speaking, engines have been miniaturized and optimized as well as today’s V6 (6 cylinders) are more powerful than mid-2000’s V12 engines.

BMW-Sauber car air flow. (2006)

Although these breakthrough aren’t off the charts as we’re talking about a motorsport based on performance, other fields have been impacted too. For example, the F1 industry studied the carbon fiber which is a very light and resistant materials with great properties under strain and high temperatures. In order to lighten formula one cars, this fiber has been transformed to carbon shell which is now used in every modern aerodynamic vehicle (bikes, motorcycles, planes, rockets and more). It was on a F1 circuit for the first time in 1981, and developed by Mclaren Racing. Carbon fiber’s resistance is also a huge benefit for people safety as it is now used for technical clothing or military equipment to absorb chocks without overweighting. To improve driver’s safety even more, today’s F1 cars have retention cables holding wheels to the shell and side impact bodies, technologies which will surely be added to regular autos in a near future, like it happened for the ABS (anti-lock braking system).

1981’s McLaren carbon shell.

Human management improvements are also a huge part of racing sport research. Through qualification sessions and race day, winning is a matter of milliseconds and all means are good to earn them.  2020’s Mercedes Racing Team is composed of more than 500 employees, with a hundred of engineers and technicians working every race day on the paddock around the 2 star drivers. Dealing with every personality and making the process work perfectly, everybody knowing their role, has become a master piece in F1. Big companies are inspired by biggest team directors that have lead their teams to long term winning culture, such as Jean Todt, Toto Wolf, Ron Dennis or Christian Horner; indeed its efficiency has become a world class model.

Red Bull’s managing team on the paddock. (2015)

Oddly, F1 is starting to put its print on hospital and surgical block management too. Mortality rate in British health institutes in the 90’s was the spark for huge society debates, increased in 1994 by a study showing a lack of coordination from the hospital staff. Dr Elliott and Goodman has required the Formula one team Scuderria Ferrarri to share the principles and accuracy of its pit-stop team. Pit stop is a major part of racing, whether it’s changing tires or removing broken parts of the car, many seconds can be lost in its process. To optimize its efficiency, every crew member has a strictly defined role, and knows every other member’s function, allowing him or her to improvise and react on purpose. The improvement of team member’s coordination, confidence and well-being has led to an all-time quick pit stop of 1.82s to change every tires of the RedBull car in 2019, which is the average reaction time of a human being. Helped by a choreographer, the Ferrarri pit stop crew has helped initiate a three steps process for hospital staffs to optimize their movements and reactions. The first step is to predict issues and to carry out standardized procedures as answers, then the crew has to master these procedures by periodic training, to end up with everybody knowing perfectly each coworker’s job and be able to be in charge. Hosiptals have also bought F1 teams data processors in order to fasten and sort out the patients monitoring easily.

Ferrarri pit-stop crew at work. (2019)

Formula one is now in the front row of ecological research in the automobile field. Many devices created for F1 are now common equipment for every day’s car. The thermal energy produced by the racing car is gathered and transformed in kinetic energy which is reinjected in the engine by a system called KERS (kinetic energy recovery system). It allows them to reach a 50% thermal efficiency, meaning that a F1 car recycles more energy than it loses, which is a huge improvement for a 1000 horsepower racing vehicle.  It’s not the only device reducing gas consumption created by F1 search and development teams, however their main resources are dedicated to hybrid and electrical engines. Inspired by KERS, a hybrid engine collects thermic energy then transfers it to an electric battery which is afterward used to run its electrical part. This system allows recent hybrid cars to lengthen their autonomy up to hundreds of kilometers using only their electrical component. The FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, responsible for the evolution of F1 racing) is pushing towards the development of the newly born Formula E championship in which only fully electrical cars can compete.

Ahead of its time, F1’s research has improved performance, comfort and security of today’s cars, however this industry is now looking forward to create a less polluting way of travel. The whole automobile field benefits from the new policy of the FIA aiming to dominate motorsport racing with a non-polluting championship. The search and development budget of F1 teams  exceeds a billion dollars and will continue to grow. Formula E is meant to be the new Formula One and it’s the best thing that can happen to the car industry.

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