In the automotive industry, new technology seems to flow from the top down. Groundbreaking concepts for new engines, steering wheels, braking efficiency, much of the new technology we see in our new cars had its root in racing. F1, in particular, is known to be a proving ground for automotive tech, which allows us to predict where the current consumer automotive market is headed by watching current F1 advances.
To understand why this trend from F1 to production occurs, we have to understand the driving factors behind F1 racing. Maintaining and racing an F1 team is expensive. It’s also a sport where shaving 1/10th of a second off your lap time can win you countless races. This realm of minuscule improvement having significant value often means that experimenting with new technology and pushing the limit is worth it given the possible reward.
F1 is where paddle shifters first showed up as a way to maximize manual shifting efficiency. Now, as you likely realize, paddle shifters or some form of manual shifting mode is available in virtually every production car. The use of carbon fiber in automobiles also came from F1. While this material is still too expensive for regular production cars, it is heavily used in the performance sector. Lastly, semi-automatic and efficient automatic transmissions had their start in F1. Most of the research that allowed the automatic transmission to pass manual transmissions originated in F1 labs as engineers tried to improve the speed of their race cars. So, the fact that you are driving an automatic car that has some form of “paddle shifting” capability is mainly because of F1 racing.
Automakers refer to this effect as the “F1 Trickle Down Effect,” and it still plays true. As of recent in the F1 industry, new smaller hybrid engines that pivot on maximized fuel efficiency are becoming a prevalent trend. This push means that millions of research dollars are being devoted to improving hybrid engine efficiency simply for F1. The findings of this research, however, are fully expected to trickle into the consumer market. Studying this, we can expect that over the next decade, improvements in hybrid technology may be at the forefront of many consumer automotive advancements.
Another significant area of research being pursued in F1 is that of highly efficient batteries. McLaren Applied Technologies is developing a battery that doubles industry standard kWh storage and doubles supplied voltage. By doubling the voltage, the amperage can decrease while keeping power output the same, meaning smaller gauge wires throughout the body of the car, thus lighter weight. It’s not hard to see how this efficient battery research might directly transfer into production cars like Tesla and the Chevy Volt down the line.
Michelin has developed a new tire technology specifically for F1 racing that supplies cars with more grip while also decreasing rolling resistance. This means better fuel efficiency while also increasing traction. It doesn’t matter whether you have a performance car or an old Honda Civic, this tire technology, in turn, means more power to your car for less fuel input.
You are likely beginning to see a trend in where the future of production cars may lie: efficiency. Battery technology, hybrid technology, and tire technology are all poised to be the next big technological advancements to trickle down into production cars. This doesn’t mean that all of our cars will soon be Toyota Priuses but rather that all of our cars might just get a little bit more fuel efficient along with an increase in power.