There are many aspects of the braking system in F1 cars that make it so different from normal cars. One of the most striking factors is just how much force is required to get the brakes to react. So why are F1 brakes so hard?
F1 brakes are hard because regulations require all of the braking force to be generated by the driver alone, so there can be no power assistance. There is also rarely a need for gentle braking, so the pedal is almost like an on/off switch.
We will go into more detail below about what these regulations mean and why they are important, and we will also discuss why even with a hard brake pedal, the drivers can benefit from enhanced fine control over the brakes.
The Rules Around Brakes In An F1 Car
There are many strict rules in the world of F1, and these rules are set by the FIA, the sport’s governing body. The rules are in place to help keep the sport as fair as possible, and usually to keep the cost as low as possible as well. There are rules concerning every part of the car, and one of the most regulated is the braking system.
No Power Assistance
The rules regarding the brakes haven’t changed much over the years. However, the main one to consider for this article is the rule that prevents any powered assistance for the brake pedal. First, let us look at what power assistance means in terms of your normal road car, and how you use it every day perhaps without even noticing it.
Almost all cars nowadays are required to have what is known as power assisted braking. These systems can work in a variety of different ways, and we will first consider one of the most common, which uses a vacuum system. This system uses a vacuum created by the engine or an external pump to effectively provide extra force on the brake cylinders when the pedal is pressed.
This reduces the amount of input required by the driver and amplifies their pressing of the pedal to stop the car quickly. The effects of the vacuum system can be felt if the engine is switched off and the brake pedal is pressed. At first it may feel normal, but after one or two presses you may hear the sound of air being pushed out as the vacuum disappears.
If you try to press the pedal again now, it will be much more difficult. This is what it feels like to press the brake pedal without power assistance. There are other ways to provide power assistance to the brakes, and one is through extra hydraulics that aid in amplifying the pressure from the brake pedal. Some systems use air pressure, while others may benefit from gearbox-drive assistance.
No matter which system is used, it is clear that they provide the benefit of massively reduced input required from the driver. Similar systems are used in power steering, which make it much easier for the driver to turn the car smoothly. As with these systems, it allows for much smoother braking, which is very handy in a road car where conservation of parts and fuel efficiency is key.
But in terms of F1 cars, the FIA state that “no braking system may be designed to increase the pressure in the brake calipers above that achieved by the driver applying pressure to the pedal under all conditions.” This means that all of the systems described above are prohibited. But does this actually matter?
Do F1 Cars Need Power Assisted Braking?
Formula 1 cars do not need power assisted braking. F1 racing naturally involves a lot of fast driving, but also a lot of sudden decelerations too. The races are won in the corners, as anyone can keep the foot down on the straight. It is in the corners that the drivers’ reflexes are tested, and they are required to use their skill to brake at the precise moments required to give maximum speed into, through and out of the corners.
Being able to corner well can win races. But being able to corner well relies on good braking ability. The driver will try to brake as hard as possible as late as possible, in order to keep the speed as high as possible before the corner. Then, as they approach the turn, they will slam their foot to the floor, braking as hard as possible to slow the car down.
Very Little In Between
Then, when they are turning, they release the brake until they need to press it again. There is very little in between. In a lot of cases it is all of the brakes or none at all. This means there is less need for fine brake control, as although the drivers do have a lot of skill with the brake pedal, they are rarely going to apply it gently, and thus they can treat it like an on/off switch as we said at the start.
When the drivers approach the turn, they do have to push very hard on the pedal in order to get the brakes to engage. Although this may seem very difficult at first, practice makes perfect and the drivers get used to it very quickly. Having this extra requirement for pressure means the driver also won’t accidentally apply the brakes very hard, something you may experience yourself from time to time.
Not Always The Case
Although we have said that it is usually all or nothing when it comes to braking, it is not a steadfast rule. One of the advantages of having a very hard pedal with no power assistance is the fact that it actually gives you much finer control when you need it. A simple way of explaining it is that it works by measuring the pressure applied rather than the distance the pedal travels.
Although not the case in normal cars, the power assistance does make it feel like the braking strength depends on how far you push the pedal in. With no power assistance, it feels more dependent on how hard you press the pedal, even if it doesn’t seem to be travelling very far. This is what provides more room for fine control when using an F1 brake pedal.
Hard, But Not That Hard
Just because the brake pedal feels hard and may be difficult to press the first time you try it, doesn’t mean that the drivers are constantly struggling to slow the car down. As with anything, practice makes perfect, and the drivers quickly get used to the forces required to press the brake pedal.
Not As Hard As It Initially Seems
Some estimates say the driver needs to press down on the brake pedal with hundreds of pounds worth of force, and this makes it sound like quite the task. However, if you consider your own body weight, it is most likely more than 100lbs. Yet you probably find it fairly easy to lift yourself up onto your tiptoes, and could probably do it even if you were twice as heavy.
It is easy to underestimate the strength in your feet, and when you consider the power they have without extensive training, it becomes easier to imagine F1 drivers pressing that pedal hundreds of times each race. Plus, as the car slows down, the driver experiences higher g-forces. This helps to amplify their pressing, as the brake pedal is almost pushed into their foot.
There are lots of parts of an F1 car that are heavily regulated, which cause them to be very different to their road car equivalents. One of these parts is the brake pedal, which due to FIA rules is required to have no power assistance whatsoever. This means the pedal is very hard to push, and requires a lot of force to get the car to come to a stop.
But just because it is hard to press, it doesn’t mean it is hard for the F1 drivers to use. Instead, it allows them to have very fine control over their braking, and due to the driving styles required in Formula 1 racing, they are typically either using no brake at all, or all of it at once.