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Do F1 Cars Have Any Assists?

Formula 1 has been on the forefront for developing and testing out various assists in road cars throughout the years. Assists like ABS and traction control were developed and perfected in Formula 1 in order to gain an advantage over competitors. Do modern day F1 cars have assists?

F1 cars do not have driver assists. Most driver aids have been banned in Formula 1 in order to make the cars more difficult to drive. However, some driver assists actually make the cars slower, and have been removed for performance reasons.

The cars do have elements to them in order to help the performance of the car though, as opposed to helping the drivers. These performance assists are implemented in order to further develop technology for road cars.

Why Are Driver Aids Banned In F1?

Formula 1 is considered to be the pinnacle of motorsport. Containing 20 of the world’s most elite drivers, this discipline of motorsport needs to be challenging for the drivers, and it needs to be interesting.

Banning driver assists in Formula 1 helps to prove just how incredible these drivers really are. If you have ever seen a Formula 1 car in the rain, you would have seen just how difficult it can be for drivers to control a 1000 horsepower engine in slippery conditions with no traction control.

The idea behind banning driver assists in the sport is centred around putting more focus on the driver’s skills rather than the technology put into the car. A driver who can be quick in a car without using any driving assists is much more impressive than one who does use assists.

Driver assists take away the ‘elite’ element of the sport, and make the cars easier to drive. In addition, it makes the racing that much more exciting when a driver makes a mistake by locking up their brakes and allows the pursuing driver to close in and have an opportunity to overtake.

Driver assists would be considered anything that would make the car easier to control through using an electronically controlled system, such as ABS (anti-lock brakes), traction control, or stability control.

Driver assists could also at times make the cars slightly slower. For example, with an ABS system, the electronics will control the braking force, which means drivers would not be able to brake as late as they possibly can. Without ABS, they can apply as much braking force as they would need (based on their skills and experience), maximizing the available amount of grip without having the brakes lock up.

The Banning of Traction Control

Traction control had been seen on a Formula 1 car for the first time in 1990. At the time, the cars were extremely difficult to drive, and the newly introduced driver assist took the fear of car control away for a few seasons. Then the FIA banned traction control in 1994.

However, it wasn’t long before it came back. The ban was lifted in 2001, and drivers were once again able to fearlessly accelerate out of corners at full throttle, knowing that they most likely wouldn’t lose control of the car.

The traction control system made race starts easier as drivers wouldn’t need to worry about spinning the wheels at the start of a race which would slow down their acceleration. In addition, it also meant that the driving wheels (in the case of a Formula 1 car, the rear tires) would wear out a lot slower than without traction control.

Traction control was once again banned in 2008, a year which saw drivers trying to adapt to a new sense of driving abilities, especially in the rain. If you watch footage from the early to mid-2000s you will notice that drivers were extremely aggressive on the throttle in corner exits, knowing that the electronically controlled system will keep their rear wheels from losing traction.

Looking at footage from today’s Formula 1 drivers, their throttle usage now is much more careful and precise. The slightest misuse of the throttle pedal will result in a spin, and a ruined set of rear tires. This results in drivers requiring more skill in order to drive a Formula 1 car at full pace.

The Removal of ABS and Active Suspension

ABS was also introduced into F1 during the 1990s. The system was banned ahead of the 1993 season in order to make Formula 1 cars more difficult to drive and switch the focus more onto driver skill rather than technology.

With the ABS system, a driver was able to fully engage the brakes, and the onboard system would automatically distribute the brake pressure to each of the four wheels to ensure that there was always enough grip, so the wheels would never lock up.

Without ABS, we still see drivers locking up their brakes at every race weekend. It adds an extra element of driver skill, knowing exactly how much brake pressure to apply in order to use all of the available grip without locking up the wheels.

Another system used was called active suspension, which teams used in order to adjust the ride height of the car from corner to corner. This can be argued to have been a type of ‘stability control’ for a Formula 1 car. The system allows drivers to significantly increase their cornering speeds.

The FIA banned this system in 1993 as there was a rise in safety concerns surrounding the system, and how fast it allowed the cars to corner.

Car Performance Assists

Although driver assists are banned in Formula 1, some element of car performance assists are allowed. Since Formula 1 cars use a 1.6 litre engine, they needed to add an element to boost the power output of the engines and keep the speed of the cars as high as possible.

The first way in which this is done is through an ERS (Energy Recovery System). The ERS involves an onboard battery, which charges when Formula 1 cars use their brakes. The kinetic energy generated from the braking force charges up the battery, which then deploys energy back into the engine.

This system adds around 160 horsepower to the 1.6 litre engine. The system can be used multiple times around a lap while charging under braking. It also has various different deployment modes depending on how much power the driver wants in their ‘boost’.

Another performance assist on a Formula 1 car is a DRS. This is a drag reduction system. The DRS allows the rear wing of the car to open up on straights, reducing drag and significantly increasing top speed. The DRS can only be used on specified sections of the circuit, and during a race, only when 1 second behind the car in front.

These performance enhancing assists have also made their way into the everyday road car. Mercedes-Benz have implemented a toned-down version of ERS in some of their new hybrid cars. At the push of a button, the car can produce some extra horsepower which has been stored in the battery.

A road legal version of the DRS system can be found on various modern-day supercars. The latest example being the Mercedes AMG Black Series, which has a rear wing that changes its angle depending on the speed you are going, and whether you are braking. However, the system has been used for many years now, since the arrival of the Bugatti Veyron.

Final Thoughts

Formula 1 has seen tons of technical innovations over the years. It saw the introduction of traction control, the anti-lock braking system, and active suspension. However, these have been banned by the FIA for various reasons.

The main reason however is to make the cars more difficult to drive and to control. We want to see the drivers controlling the cars, not computers. Having these elements in Formula 1 has been beneficial though, as it has helped to develop safer road cars by using technology from the pinnacle of motorsport.

Formula 1 is still at the forefront of innovation, but now with hybrid technology and performance-based assists. The ERS and DRS systems found in Formula 1 have also made their way into our road cars.