F1 Suspension Explained
January 22, 2019
For many, Formula One is the pinnacle of automotive engineering. These incredible machines race around the track at unbelievable speed, testing the physical capabilities of not just the driver but also the months and years of development that goes into every part of an F1 car. Every component of these vehicles is refined to the nearest millimetre for optimum performance, and every piece must work in perfect harmony to produce the incredible times that modern racing cars achieve.
We have recently looked at the power of F1 engines, and how these cars produce the incredible force that screams across tracks all over the world. However, without the support of other components, the vehicle would not be able to achieve its potential. Here, we take a look at another critical part of the F1 racing machine, the suspension technology.
The Importance of Suspension in Racing
You often find that people have the wrong idea about the purpose of suspension, and this is usually due to the different role it plays in a standard road vehicle compared to a high-performance race car such as those in F1. In the cars that we drive on a daily basis, the role of suspension is to make the journey more comfortable while also helping the tyres stay in contact with the road surface. In F1, the purpose of suspension is slightly different.
With the focus on race times as opposed to comfort, F1 suspension is designed purely to maximise the amount of contact the wheels can make with the surface. Ultimately, the suspension is responsible for moving the potential speed created by the engine and body aerodynamics into the tires.
What does F1 suspension look like?
As mentioned previously, there are similarities between F1 suspension and road car systems. However, the focus for these race cars is wholly on performance. This means that the springs and shock absorbers on F1 cars are significantly firmer than on traditional vehicles, with the intention of defusing any impacts and returning the machine to its smooth travel state as quickly as possible.
In F1, the front and rear suspension systems are entirely separate, while the springs are also often separated from the rest of the suspension system. This allows the spring section of suspension to be operated in much more finite detail, where its strength increases in line with the amount of force. While symmetrical at the start of the double-wishbone layout, F1 suspension arms are different lengths when connected to the wheel which allows for control of the camber angle, the way the wheel connects with the road. Because the amount of corner force created by F1 cars would cause most vehicles to roll, F1 suspension is designed to allow the bottom of the wheel to lean out slightly further than the top, aiding stability while turning.
Rules on F1 Suspension
As with most components of a Formula 1 car, suspension in competitions is tightly regulated. Until the 1990s, F1 cars were allowed ‘active suspension’, which enabled racing teams to alter the behaviour of their systems during a race. Nowadays, all F1 cars must have conventional spring suspension that is also separate from the front and rear wheels. This separation means that the rear wheel suspension cannot be designed to react to impacts on the front of the vehicle, and vice-versa. There are also rules on the number of suspension arms and their symmetry.
While suspension cannot be adjusted mid-race, teams can make minute adjustments to their suspension systems before a competition, taking into account factors such as weather, tyres and driver preferences. This precision is where the experience and quality of the team in question can come into play, as all parts must create a perfect balance for the driver to achieve the best possible times.
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