Formula 1 cars are extremely complex machines that push the envelope when it comes to technology. But since driver assists have long been banned in the sport, you might be wondering if F1 cars have power steering.
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, and the cars would be nearly impossible to drive without it. The hydraulic power steering in an F1 car is therefore a very important component.
Below, I’ll explore the use of power steering in F1 in more detail, discussing when and why it was introduced, and the idea of it being removed from the cars.
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 they should add power steering to their cars at that time. The reason for this was mainly that power steering was still very much in its testing phase in the sport.
Another reason was related to the fact that drivers rely on the feedback they get from the tires through their steering wheel. Drivers ‘feel’ the setup of their car through the forces that go through the tires, which are their only point of contact with the track beneath them. Former F1 driver Jarno Trulli actually complained about his power steering interfering too much with his feeling of his Lotus in 2011.
More Teams Started Implementing It
Slowly but surely, more teams started to introduce power steering into their cars following Ligier in 1988. The steering force feedback could be cut in half through power steering, and 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 was one team that did this. During their peak era in the 1990s 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 Ayrton Senna’s deadly crash.
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 it requires less maintenance than hydraulic power steering. 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 an 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 pushing the front wheels into the track.
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 F1 season, McLaren’s 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 he could be more confident because of the power steering.
Lance Stroll also complained of his steering being too light when he joined F1, as he was used to driving Formula 3 cars with no power steering. But the power steering system is adjustable. Drivers can decide on the amount of feedback they want from the steering and adjust it when they need to.
IndyCar & NASCAR
IndyCar is another series that does not feature power steering. You can argue that they manage just fine without the power steering, but if you compare the speed differences between Formula 1 and IndyCar, the cornering speeds are hugely different, which is why Formula 1 needs power steering. NASCAR uses power steering as the cars are simply too heavy to turn without it.
KEY POINTS• Formula 1 cars do have power steering
• The cars need it as they produce so much downforce in high-speed corners
• If they didn’t have it, the cars would be incredibly difficult to drive
Banning Power Steering In F1
There has been a lot of debate surrounding power steering being banned in F1. In some ways, it would make driving a Formula 1 car more driver dependent rather than machine dependent.
Drivers would need to be even stronger than they are right now, and they’re already very strong! In order to get a Formula 1 car through Silverstone, with its fast flowing layout, at an average speed of 145 mph per lap would be an extreme challenge without power steering.
Would They Be Slower?
The removal of power steering may 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’s important to remember that these cars are already extremely difficult to drive in terms of the physical effects on the drivers’ bodies. Drivers experience over 5 Gs 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 compared to some other motorsports is the fact that the FIA 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. However, IndyCar has no ABS, traction control, or power steering, so this argument may not be the strongest!
The Argument For Banning It
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 would make the racing more interesting as drivers would struggle to keep control of their cars.
However, the reality is that removing power steering from the cars wouldn’t have much of an effect on how close the racing is between the drivers, as they would all be in the same boat and would all adjust to it.
The Safety Aspect
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 wheel to wheel racing situations, which can lead to more collisions between cars and big crashes. This is never going to be favored in the cost cap environment.
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.
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