Formula 1 cars are extremely complex machines. They are usually pushing the envelope when it comes to technology. Driver assists however have been banned in the sport in order to make the cars more difficult to drive.
F1 cars do have power steering. The sheer speed and forces involved in high speed corners with Formula 1 cars require them to have power steering. The cars would be nearly impossible to drive without it. The hydraulic power steering in an F1 car is therefore a very important component.
Power steering in Formula 1 has been the scene of some debate though. Many fans say that without power steering drivers will need to be a lot stronger and suffer a lot more fatigue during the race putting more focus on driver skill and fitness.
When was Power Steering Introduced in F1?
Power steering was first introduced into the world of Formula 1 in 1988 by Ligier. However, not all teams were convinced by adding power steering to their cars. The reason for this was mainly because power steering was still very much in its testing phase in the sport.
In addition to this, most drivers rely on the feedback they get from the tires through their steering wheel. Drivers ‘feel’ the set up of their car through the forces that go through the tires (the direct contact patch with the surface of the track). JarnoTrulli was well known for this, and actually complained about his power steering interfering too much with his feeling of his Lotus in 2011.
Slowly but surely, more teams started to introduce power steering into their cars following Ligier in 1988. It was proved that the steering force feedback could be cut in half through power steering. In some cases, teams even designed it in such a way that the power steering could be turned on or off in the cockpit of the car.
Williams is one such team. During their peak era in the 1990’s they implemented this design. Damon Hill said that he was told to switch off his power steering before the restart of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix following the Ayrton Senna incident.
The last team to introduce power steering to their car was Sauber in 2002. The FIA also decided to ban electric power steering in the 2002 season, leaving hydraulic power steering as the only option going forward.
Hydraulic vs Electric Power Steering
Going forward, most road car manufacturers are opting to push for electric power steering. Electric power steering is easier to adjust, more powerful and requires less maintenance. However, some have complained that with electric power steering you have very little feeling of how the car handles and the steering becomes too light.
Hydraulic power steering is the old school style of power steering. It is powered by a hydraulically pressured system. This system may require some maintenance over time, and it feels a bit heavier than the electronic system.
Why F1 Cars Need Power Steering
Formula 1 cars produce in incredible amount of downforce, especially at high speeds. Without power steering, it would be nearly impossible to turn the steering wheel with the amount of force being pushed down on the front wheels.
The lateral G forces add an extra challenge through corners, and drivers would struggle to hold the steering wheel in place without the steering aid. This means drivers would need to be much stronger just to get the car around a high-speed circuit.
Some single seater cars do not have any power steering though. Formula 3 cars for example do not. Before the start of the 2020 season, Lando Norris drove a Formula 3 car in order to become more race fit in preparation for the season.
He said that the Formula 3 cars have much heavier steering, and despite being much faster in high speed corners, the Formula 1 cars are much more stable and confident because of the power steering.
Lance Stroll making his debut in a Formula 1 car also complained of his steering being too light as he was used to driving Formula 3 cars with no power steering. It’s an easy adjustment for the team to make. Driver’s can decide on the amount of feedback they want from the steering and adjust it when they need to.
IndyCar is another series which does not feature power steering. You can argue that they manage just fine without the power steering, however if you compare the speed differences between Formula 1 and IndyCar, the cornering speeds are hugely different, which is where Formula 1 needs power steering. NASCAR uses power steering as the cars are simply too heavy to turn without it.
Banning Power Steering in F1
There has been a lot of debate surrounding power steering being banned. In some ways, it will make driving a Formula 1 car more diver dependant rather than machine dependant.
Drivers will need to be even stronger than they are at the current stage. In order to get a Formula 1 car through Silverstone at an average speed of 145 MPH per lap would be an extreme challenge. Silverstone is a really fast and flowing circuit.
I think the removal of power steering would force drivers to drive the cars slower due to the physical challenges they would face. At the end of the day, we want to see these incredible machines driven to their limits and as fast as possible.
It also would not make much of a difference in terms of driver’s performance in comparison to one another. With power steering, drivers are able to focus on using their skills to deliver their best performance.
However, without power steering, drivers might not be able to do that. Drivers would need to focus more on the physical effort they require in order to turn the steering wheel to get through fast corners.
It’s important to remember that these cars are already extremely difficult to drive in terms of the physical effects on the driver’s body. Drivers experience over 5 G’s under braking and fast corners. These G-forces already make these cars extremely difficult to control.
Another factor that makes Formula 1 cars more difficult to control over others is that they banned driver assists. Having traction control and ABS banned from the sport has made these cars extremely difficult to drive even for the best drivers in the world.
There have been some fans that have called for power steering to be banned in the sport. The reasoning behind this is to put more focus on the drivers to control the car rather than a hydraulic power steering system.
It has also been argued that taking power steering away from the drivers will make the racing more interesting as drivers will struggle more to keep control of their cars.
However, the reality is that removing traction control from the cars won’t have much of an effect on how close the racing is between drivers, and that it will not have as much of an effect as banning traction control and ABS.
Another factor to consider is safety. Removing power steering from a Formula 1 car could make them even more dangerous to drive, especially with the amount of downforce that these cars produce in high speed corners.
In addition, they would be more difficult to control in small spaces such as in wheel to wheel racing situations, which can lead to more collisions between cars and big crashes.
Formula 1 cars need to have power steering because of the huge amount of downforce that these cars produce in high speed corners. Without power steering, it would be nearly impossible to get the cars around fast corners and drivers would not be able to drive the cars at their limits like they do today.