Formula 1 has been on the forefront of 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. But 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, putting more focus on driver skill. However, some driver assists actually make the cars slower, and have been removed for performance reasons.
The cars do have features that 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. I go through these later on, but first let’s talk more about driving assists in F1.
Do F1 Drivers Use Assists?
F1 drivers don’t use assists. While the cars used to have ABS and traction control, these have both been banned in the sport for a long time, with ABS outlawed from the start of 1994 and traction control banned for the 2008 season. The only things that could be thought of as an assist on an F1 car are anti-stall and DRS.
Anti-stall is a system designed to prevent the cars from stalling after a spin or on the starting grid. This helps to get the driver back to racing, rather than helping them while they race.
DRS on the other hand is an overtaking assist, but it does not make the car easier to drive. I’ll talk more about DRS (and ERS) at the end of this article.
Why Are Driver Aids Banned In F1?
Driver aids are banned in F1 as the sport wants to showcase the raw talent and ability of the drivers, along with the amazing machinery that is an F1 car. Driver aids make driving the cars easier, and F1 banned them to ensure that the racing is dependent on the drivers’ skills.
Formula 1 is considered by many as the pinnacle of motorsport. Featuring 20 of the world’s most elite drivers, this discipline of motorsport needs to be challenging for the drivers, and it needs to be entertaining for the fans.
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 will have seen just how difficult it can be for drivers to control a 1000-horsepower engine in slippery conditions with no traction control!
Skill vs Technology
The idea behind banning driver assists in the sport is centered 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 from the ‘elite’ element of the sport, and they 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. This is only really possible without assists like ABS.
What Is Considered A Driving Assist In F1?
Driving 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 sent to each wheel, 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.
However, without the ABS assistance, they must be able to do this without locking up. This is why it not only unlocks performance benefits for the drivers, but also puts more emphasis on their skills than the technology within the cars.
When Did F1 Ban Traction Control?
The FIA banned traction control in 1994. Traction control had been seen on a Formula 1 car for the first time in 1990. However, traction control returned to F1 in 2001, before being banned once again in 2008. Traction control hasn’t been seen in Formula 1 since.
In the early 1990s, the cars were extremely difficult to drive, and the newly introduced driver assist made things much easier for a few seasons. 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.
Making It Easier
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 tires. This results in drivers requiring more skill in order to drive a modern Formula 1 car at full pace.
When Did F1 Ban ABS?
F1 banned ABS after 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. The system had only been seen for the first time in F1 in the years just before the ban, but it hasn’t been seen since.
With ABS, 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. It would rapidly release and reapply brake pressure, just like ABS in your road car.
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.
When Did F1 Ban Active Suspension?
F1 banned active suspension at the end of the 1993 season, as part of the overhaul of removing all driver aids from the sport. F1 teams used active suspension in order to dynamically 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 allowed drivers to significantly increase their cornering speeds. The FIA banned active suspension for the 1994 season as there was a rise in safety concerns surrounding the system, and how fast it allowed the cars to corner.
Do F1 Cars Have Launch Control?
F1 cars do not have launch control. F1 cars used to have various assists like ABS and traction control, but there is no dedicated launch control system on an F1 car. F1 drivers must be able to manage the throttle and minimize wheelspin on their own when racing off the grid or out of the corners.
To launch the car, the driver enters neutral on the starting grid, before engaging the clutch, selecting first gear, and bringing the revs up to an optimal level. When the lights go out, the driver releases the clutch and launches.
KEY POINTS• Driver assists are not allowed in Formula 1
• Features like ABS, traction control, and active suspension have been banned for many years
• This puts more emphasis on driver skill rather than the technological capabilities of the car
Car Performance Assists In Formula 1
Although driver assists are banned in Formula 1, some car performance assists are allowed. Formula 1 cars use a 1.6 liter engine, and they need some extra components to boost the power output of the engines and keep the speed of the cars high. These components fall under the umbrella of the energy recovery system.
The energy recovery system (ERS) involves an onboard battery, which charges up and deploys extra power in various ways. The kinetic energy generated from the braking force in the MGU-K charges up the battery, which then deploys energy back to the rear wheels.
This system adds around 160 horsepower to the 1.6 liter engine. The other key component of ERS is the MGU-K, which uses waste exhaust gases to generate electrical energy that can be used to power the turbocharger’s compressor or to provide more power to the rear wheels.
DRS on an F1 car can also be thought of as an assist, as it is designed to help the drivers overtake on the straights where it is used (known as DRS zones). It does so by opening a flap in the rear wing that reduces the car’s drag, therefore allowing a trailing car to reach a higher top speed than 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 through energy that has been stored in the battery.
A road legal version of the DRS system can be found on various modern-day supercars. One of the latest examples is 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 movable rear wing system has been used for many years now, since the arrival of the Bugatti Veyron.
Formula 1 has seen lots of technical innovations over the years. It saw the introduction of traction control, the anti-lock braking system, and active suspension. However, these have all been banned by the FIA for various reasons.
The main reason was to make the cars more difficult to drive, putting more emphasis on driver skill. After all, we want to see the drivers controlling the cars, not computers! Having these elements in the sport in the past has been beneficial though, as it has helped to develop safer road cars by using technology that was heavily developed in F1.
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