Why Are F1 Brake Pedals So Hard? (The Forces Required)

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There are many aspects of the braking system in F1 cars that make them so different from normal cars. One of the most striking factors is just how much force is required to get the brakes to react. But you may wonder why F1 brake pedals are so hard to press.

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. The forces required can exceed 150 kg (330 lbs), but the G-forces the drivers experience under braking effectively ‘help’ them press the pedal.

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 their 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 (unlike power assisted steering, which the cars do have). 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 road 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 you press the brake pedal.

Vacuum Power

This reduces the amount of input required by the driver and amplifies the force you apply to the pedal to slow down and stop the car quickly and with ease. The effects of the vacuum system can be felt if you try and press the brake pedal when the engine is switched off. 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 applied to the brake pedal. Some systems use air pressure, while others may benefit from gearbox-drive assistance.

Reduced Input

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, power assistance allows for much smoother braking. However, it’s a different story in F1.

“No braking system may be designed to increase the pressure in the brake calipers above that
achieved by the driver applied force to the pedal under all conditions”

– 2023 F1 technical regulations

These rules are set out by the FIA, and they prevent any kind of power assistance on the brakes. 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 their foot down on the straight.

It is in the corners that the drivers’ reflexes are tested most, and they must use their skill to brake at the precise moments required to give them maximum speed into, through and out of the corners.

Being able to corner well can win races, but being able to carry enough speed through the turns requires solid braking ability. The driver will try to brake as hard as possible as late as possible, in order to keep their speed up before the corner. Then, as they approach the turn, they will slam their foot to the floor, braking (effectively) 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, and 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 so they can treat it like an on/off switch as we said at the start.

Key Point: It’s important to note that, while it’s effectively like an on/off switch, drivers still have a lot of fine control over their braking. They may also use trail braking too, which involves keeping some brake pressure applied through part of the corner.

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 (and they have very strong legs).

KEY POINTS

• F1 brake pedals are very hard as they don’t have any power assistance

• These systems are prohibited by the sport’s rules

• F1 drivers usually brake as hard as possible as late as possible, but they still have fine braking control

How Hard Are F1 Brake Pedals?

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 kilos worth of force, and this makes it sound like quite the task. However, consider the fact the average F1 driver weighs about 70 kg (150 lbs). Under heavy braking, their body experiences G-forces of up to 5G or more.

This effectively makes them weigh 5 times their normal weight, and those G-forces are trying to ‘push’ the driver forward under braking. This means they’re being ‘pushed’ towards the brake pedal, making it far easier to apply the necessary force as the car begins to slow down.

Obviously they won’t experience any of this benefit when they first press the pedal, but as they begin to decelerate, the G-forces kick in, making it easier to press the pedal down the necessary amount. However, F1 drivers are also incredibly strong, so they don’t have much trouble pressing the brake anyway.

Final Thoughts

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 it requires a lot of force to get the car to come to a stop.