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The Technology Behind Formula One 586

axlrosen writes "An article in the NY Times about the technology behind Formula One. The wealthiest teams arm themselves with powerful advantages, almost entirely centering on computing controls in the cars and computer simulation in design. Car data is sent in multi-megabyte wireless bursts each time the team's cars flash past the pits, often in excess of 200 miles an hour. It is simultaneously sent over the Internet to a larger data center in Maranello, Italy, where more complex analysis is done. AMD is expected to supply a supercomputer roughly as fast as the world's 10th most powerful machine to the Swiss-based Sauber Petronas racing team... I love the crazy steering wheel - anyone know what all those buttons and knobs do?"
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The Technology Behind Formula One

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  • Background article (Score:5, Informative)

    by ralphb ( 15998 ) * on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:36PM (#9454172) Homepage
    HowStuffWorks has got an interesting article on CART (not F1, but similar) cars at here. [] It mentions some of the sensing, telemetry, and computing technology used. There's even an explanation of the controls on that crazy steering wheel. []
    • From the article: "You can run a small country on $2.8 billion and still get change,"

      Can I get that in small bills, please?
    • I was just about to post that...
      What makes champ car really cool is the in-car camera with all the useful info (like accel/brake pressure, rpms, speed, etc) when they show champ car racing on HDNet. It looks like the replay mode in GranTurismo 3, but in HDTV.
      • They do this in F1 now too.
        • by TomServo ( 79922 )
          They sorta do this in F1, but really only the RPM. I don't believe the F1 teams are willing to share telemetry data like that, so they actually base the RPM on the in-car shot on the tone of the engine being picked up by the ambient microphones on the cars. It's reportedly "very accurate", but it's not a true reading of the car's actual RPM.

          This is, all based on things heard from the commentary on Speed Channel here in the states, but I have no reason to doubt it.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 17, 2004 @02:23PM (#9454838)
      CART and Formula 1 are only similar in looks. If you know the details they are as different as night and day.

      Pneumatic valves vs. valve springs, composite materials vs. non, and the list goes on and on.

      However, the rising costs of F1 are making teams reign costs in by banning some of the more exotic stuff ... like depleted uranium crankshafts!

      The proof is in the pudding as they say, compare budgets:

      Formula 1 - $350 million dollars a year for a top competitive team

      CART - $50 million dollars a year
      • Keep in mind, though, Formula one is cutting edge in other ways.

        Just look at the drivers listings.

        CART is full of:

        a) people on their way to F1
        b) people retired from F1 (Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi)
        c) people who couldn't make it in F1 (Michael Andretti, Alex Zanardi)

        If I remember correctly, the year that Andretti Jr. and then-F1 champ Nigel Mansell switched places, Andretti couldn't make it more than five laps in his first three races combined, and came home with his tail between his legs halfway
        • by x0 ( 32926 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @07:01PM (#9457909) Homepage
          I think maybe you should have provided the full context of the story rather than witlessly blathering on:

          When Michael Andretti signed on with McLaren, the cars were powered by the all conquering Honda motors. By the time he actually drove the car, those motors had been replaced by Ford Cosworth V8s. At the time, hardly in the same league as the then massively dominant Honda.

          There was a rule change at the end of the 1992 season which severly limited the testing the teams could do. This had the effect that every track Andretti showed up to in 1993 was completely new to him. Huge disadvantage.

          You might have also mentioned that the dismal 5 laps in the first few races was caused by mechanical failures and getting punted off the track, not by lack of skill.

          Andretti fanboy? Not really. The traitor SOB went IRL racing...
          • by jeremyp ( 130771 )

            The real context here []:

            Michael Andretti competed in 13 races. He retired from the first four races following three collisions and a spin. The collisions may or may not have been his fault. His other three retirements were another spin, another collision and a throttle failure. So that's one mechanical failure and at least two driver errors.

            In that year Mclaren had five wins and nine podiums and finished second in the Constructors championship. That doesn't suggest uncompetitive to me except in respect

        • It's true that Mansell won the CART championship as a rookie and Michael Andretti washed out of F1. But the reasons were more about commitment than the quality of CART's talent pool.

          Mansell moved across the pond to Florida. Andretti tried to commute to Europe from Pennsylvania. Nonetheless, he did earn some kind words of respect from the late great Ayrton Senna, and did finally manage a podium finish before his premature departure from F1.

          However, as an epilogue, it should be noted that upon returning
    • by abhisarda ( 638576 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @02:35PM (#9454978) Journal
      Some more stuff-

      Sky Sports(UK) has a race day program(1 hour) before every formula1 race starts. Once every 2-3 races, they examine the technical aspects of formula1 racing. The steering wheel is discussed twice during the racing year.
      The steering wheel costs more than your average luxury sedan. For this 2004 season, FIA made manual shifting mandatory but the top teams still manage to work their way around it and have part of it computer controlled.

      About sponsorships, formula1 car workings, upto date news- see BBC Formula1 [] Many articles on the RHS.
      For those who don't get Speed Channel, you can follow live timing(and a lot more) and unbiased commentary on the website.
      If you are a car collector, you can buy actual parts of the BAR forumla1 car from the pure racing club at BAR [](flash).
      Also take a look at its quarterly magazine( its nice).
      I hven't read the article yet but there is a lot of money sloshing around in F1. Ferrari alone spends 500 million$ a year(and this was 2 years back). BMW vaulted to one of the top teams because they put some of their best engineers and spent a buttload of money(350 million+) initializing the team.
      Even Minardi which is the poorest team in f1 spends as much or more than the top Indy racing teams.
      During 2000-2002 there was a lot of controversy regarding sale of global tv rights to Kirch(German media company). A lot of F1 teams threatened to form a new series of their own from 2008. The threats aren't so loud now but the issue still simmers [].
      • by Dylan2000 ( 592069 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @08:17PM (#9458448) Homepage
        BMW vaulted to one of the top teams because they put some of their best engineers and spent a buttload of money(350 million+) initializing the team.

        A small(?) nitpick, there is no BMW team in Formula One, they just supply the engines for the Williams team, just as Michelin supply the tyres and HP supply computer systems.

        Williams is one of the most successful Grand Prix teams of them all with a long and rich history and this is my real pet hate, living in Germany, to always hear it being referred to as BMW when BMW has no influence over anything to do with the car or the team. They just make the engines, like Honda, Renault, Judd and many other companies have done before them.

        Not picking on you, it just gets my goat when people get this wrong.
    • by sentientbeing ( 688713 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @03:09PM (#9455392)
      im pretty sure one of those yellow and black knobs is a cigarette lighter.....
  • war driving (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:36PM (#9454183)
    brings war driving to a whole new level
    • Re:war driving (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      One of the neat tricks teams can use to spy on other cars is monitoring their in car camera feed and sending the audio through a dsp to find out stuff like what valve timings they're using. It works with a mic on the side of the road too, but then you've got to correct for the doppler effect.
  • by L-Train8 ( 70991 ) <> on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:37PM (#9454190) Homepage Journal
    The McLaren website has an interesting flash doo-dad that explains the steering wheel. Go here [] and click on "interactive steering wheel.
    • by CaptnMArk ( 9003 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:43PM (#9454263)
      This one is better: []
    • "What's this Bf button for?"

      "NO! Don't touch that!!!"


      Bang! "Ow!" Bang! "Ow!" Bang! "Ow!"

      "Ooooo, I can't watch!"


      "I thought you knew..."

    • That McLaren steering wheel is great, but it's a bit out of date. The launch-control buttons (the green ones in the upper corners) probably aren't there anymore or do something different. Launch control was banned for the 2004 season, although Renault [] has been having amazing starts without it this year, and their process is still a bit of a mystery.
      • by op00to ( 219949 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @02:32PM (#9454945)
        Is it? I heard their amazing starts were due to a loophole in the gear shift rules. Basically, it works like this:

        The team has (for example) 500ms to let the computer control the engine to execute a gear change. Renault has got gear changes down to a science, and only needs 10ms. The other 490ms are still "ok" to have the computer control the engine. It's not a lot of time, but every little bit helps...

        My numbers might be off, but this is the way I understand how they do it..
        • My understanding of the SpeedChannel commentary went like this:

          Renault figures out, based on track conditions, fuel load, air temp, etc. what the ideal clutch pressure/engagement speed is for a wheelspin-free launch and set that into the computer. Red lights go off, Alonso pulls the upshift paddle (or releases the brake - not sure which) and the computer grabs first with a hopefully-optimal clutch drop.

          If the number-crunching goes wrong the start is less-than-perfect. But in any event, they aren't using

    • by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @02:16PM (#9454747)
      When I was a kid, there was an animated series on TV that explained what race car steering wheel buttons do.

      For example, one button controls the cars "Jump" feature, allowing it to jump over canyons, rivers and the like.

      Another button extends the circular saws from the front bumper so that the car can race through the jungle at full speed.

      Another one closes the top and enables underwater operation, and there's one that extends a set of wings so that the car can fly for short distances.

      The exact functions of the buttons vary by race team. Some of the evil race teams install unfair buttons, like spiked wheel hub extenders or fire dispensers.

      I really think that these buttons were overused and shifted the focus of the drivers from racing to implementing dangerous technical tricks. If they had only put some of the button effort into fuel tank safety, many of the lesser-known drivers would have avoided gruesome deaths in huge fiery explosions. I'm still emotionally scarred from witnessing some of those scenes at such a young age.

      • by geekd ( 14774 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @02:50PM (#9455178) Homepage
        Dude, that is the funniest thing I've read all day.

        I remember that show!

        (it's Speed Racer , for the clueless)

        Actually, it's on SPEED Channel all the time now. I watched it again for the first time in may years a few weeks ago. Many of the drivers faces are based on '60s F1 drivers. There is one recurring villan that looks just like Graham Hill.


    • If I remember correctly, the steering wheel buttons are:

      1) Smoke screen
      2) Oil Slick
      3) Machine gun
      4) Rockets

      Of course, you also need the button to properly dock with your trailer so that you can be loaded with the supplies.

      I'm surprised that after 20 years, it still looks like Darth Vader's toilet!
  • by ackthpt ( 218170 ) * on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:38PM (#9454199) Homepage Journal
    I'm a cycling fan and you would be correct to assume I'm on the edge of my seat regarding the upcoming 2004 Tour de France []. For the past few years cyclists have been getting better connected to the team directors with radios and able to feed performance information via radio back to the team car where a trainer or doctor monitors heartrate and who knows what else. Some in the sports media and among fans of the sport gripe that this is taking away the exciting guesswork of the sport and turning riders into little more than robots. e.g. How does the peloton know how much speed to pick up to sweep up a break away with a 12 minute lead, 10 km from the finish line? Knowledge, feedback and monitoring the opposition. Sometimes they still get it wrong and a break succeeds, but not often these days.

    Having bought one of the top flight cycling computers, which came with software far more sophisticated than I need. I could go totally overboard on my power to mass, VO2 Max, heartrate training, etc. For what? To beat guys on my weekend rides? If I were a Pro I would need to have not just a coach, now, but a team behind me to monitor my fitness, nutrition, energy levels, and a slew of other data, where once I'd pretty much only need a coach. The bar is being raised and without money or sponsorship where does this leave the talented natural who can't meet the bar?

    There's considerable complaining about how uneven F1 is, with Ferrari's huge budget. It's hitting all sports. Spend to win and use money and technology to remove so much doubt the mystery of the game is ultimately solved.

    It was good to watch the Pistons dismantle the Lakers, but how less often are we to see upsets anymore?

    • by no reason to be here ( 218628 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:44PM (#9454279) Homepage
      It's hitting all sports. Spend to win and use money and technology to remove so much doubt the mystery of the game is ultimately solved.

      Doesn't always work in all sports. In baseball, for example, the Yankees, who spend the most of any team, have remained competetive, but are not guaranteed a Championship, as the last few years have shown. In fact, the World Series winners the past few years have all been mid-market teams (2003 Marlins, 2002 Angels, 2001 Diamondbacks). Conversely, the Mets, who spend the 2nd most in baseball, have been in the cellar for the last few seasons. Same for the Rangers, who also boast a fairly high rate of team spending.
    • by fiannaFailMan ( 702447 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:47PM (#9454316) Journal
      the price of all this equipment is always coming down. I remember when my mates and I were all using toeclips and we had to look on jealously at the pros using Look pedals, nowadays everybody has the Looks. It wasn't so long ago that a wrist/handlebar mounted heart monitor with a radio telemetry strap was out of range of mere mortals, now you can pick them up for less than $70 and with a boatload of functions.
    • by kmankmankman2001 ( 567212 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:52PM (#9454410)
      Ferrari isn't winning because they have the most money. BMW-Williams, Toyota, Ford (Jaguar-Cosworth), etc. aren't exactly collecting foodstamps you know.

      Ferrari is winning because they have assembled a fantastic team. From the engineering talent that designed the car to the logistic support to the pit crew and, of course, one of the greatest drivers in the history of the sport - Michael Schumaker.

      I'm also trying to remember who won the World Series last year. The Yankees, right, cause they have the biggest payroll? Ooops, no, it was the Florida Marlins with a payroll at the other end of the spectrum.

      Analogies are great except when they don't hold up.
      • by another_mr_lizard ( 608713 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:59PM (#9454519) Homepage
        Ferrari budget was over 250 million last year. The next biggest spender was McLaren at 120 million. Jags budget last year was in the region of 70 million.

        Even with equal budgets Schumacher would probably still be sneaking the championship, but currently no team spends like Ferrari and that is damaging the sport.
    • This is the old argument of "how fast do you want to go?" "How much money do you have?".

      The real question you should be asking is. How do you stop it? Nascar seems like the one organization that tries to make everything equal. But it totally fails. The same rule applies. Whoever has the most money has the best shot at winning. In Nascar all of the cars are the same. The exact same bodies, and most of the settings are the same. The only difference is the motors, but those are more similar than diffe

    • by alphafoo ( 319930 ) <> on Thursday June 17, 2004 @02:02PM (#9454572) Homepage
      The bar is being raised and without money or sponsorship where does this leave the talented natural who can't meet the bar?

      One one hand, the bar has always been raised. Rowing has been a popular sport for some time now. But what do you do if you are in the 99.9% of the world that cannot get access to a boathouse? You don't compete in rowing, that's what.

      On the other hand, if you are able to meet the basic requirements to compete, talented amateurs rise up through the ranks and tend to get sponsorships. As an example, I started racing triathlon a few years ago, and used an old bike and cotton gear and no wetsuit. I couldn't shell out $1300 for race wheels, so that made me less competitive. I trained hard, read books, and starting finishing on the podium, and got ranked All-American. I read a book on how to get sponsorships, applied for a bunch of them, and got some for this season. One of those sponsors loans me $1300 race wheels for my big races in exchange for my being a billboard, so now I don't have to buy them. If I can go that little bit faster, I can win bigger races, get bigger sponsorships, and so on.

      Incidentally, cycling deserves a lot of credit for sticking to its roots. The rules on bike frame geometry are strict and have kept much faster frame designs out of the peloton, mainly in deference to tradition, AFAIK.

  • Blue AC? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Ratso Baggins ( 516757 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:38PM (#9454210) Homepage
    The blue one labled AC is kinda obvious - all expensive cars come with air.
  • by Ubergrendle ( 531719 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:39PM (#9454214) Journal help a team beat Michael Schumacher. The guy is ridiculously good, and he's paired with a great car. F1 basically is a contest to see who will finish 2nd.

    Tiger Woods in golf, Wayne Gretzky in hockey, Michael Jordan in basketball -- all three of these guys dominated their respective sports at one time or another. But I don't think anyone has ever dominated a sport as much as Schumacher has in the past few years. Its getting so bad that F1 is actively NOT promoting Schumacher, as people are losing interest...
    • Yes, and the fact that, that guy has an ego that would put hitler to shame doesn't help the overall F1 image either.

      When his own teammates accuse him of not playing as per team rules, you can begin to understand how much hated this guy is.

      But give me F1 anyday over Nascar.

      • by Animaether ( 411575 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:57PM (#9454490) Journal
        Just my opinion, for the most part (based on facts, sadly)...

        He does play by team rules, that's partly the problem.

        Who doesn't remember Barricello being in #1 position in front of M. Schumacher on #2 being ordered by the Ferrari team to let M. Schumacher win ?
        Those kinds of tactics are exactly what are hurting Formula 1 as a whole, and not just the Ferrari/M. Schumacher image.

        Mind you, any team M. Schumacher has been in has also always been cutting-edge to the point of risking safety. This ranges from cars being sprayed with fuel in the pit lane due to cutting corners to make tanking faster to crewmen getting hurt by driving into them.

        Not taking away that M. Schumacher is a great driver, mind you, but so were Aeyrton Senna and Nigel Mansell - but those loved the sport. M. Schumacher, I'm afraid, tends to love mostly himself and will do anything to further his image.
        • Those kinds of tactics are exactly what are hurting Formula 1 as a whole, and not just the Ferrari/M. Schumacher image.
          No, whats hurting F1 is, on the majority of courses, its almost impossible to overtake, which means that its almost never maneuvers that win races, but consistent speed and a good pit stop strategy.

          Schumi's great, but even he uses the pit stops to actually overtake (on the rare occasions when he's not on pole).
          • I advocate a one-fuel tank strategy for F1, even if you cut the laps in the race from 70 to 50. No pitting, pit stops don't exist. 3 Hour long qualifying sessions, teams can only draw one session, draw is random, best lap counts - you can come in as many times as you want during qualifying. But the tires and fuel have to last the whole race. There would be huge changes in the cars, but they are already talking about mandating V8s. I think it would make the sport great again.
            • V8 Formula 1 cars (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Gordonjcp ( 186804 )
              A couple of years ago, there was a programme on TV about F1. Jacque Villeneuve took out a F1 racing car from the mid-1970s, all huge rear tyres, little skinny fronts (looked almost like a dragster), manual gearbox, V8 into open pipes... The look on his face when he came back in! Can't quite remember what he said, but it was along the lines of "This is fantastic, what racing's all about, but you'd never be able to race one today".

              Thing is, F1 is about putting cars out with the absolute hottest technology

          • I would agree with both points, and add another, regulations. Current regs are allowing for insane amounts of downforce, and little in the way of mechanical grip.

            I was reading that at the USGP, cars hit around 200 mph at the end of the long front straight. To make the next turn, the cars need to brake to around 70 mph. They start braking at the 50 meter mark! With such rapid deceleration (possible due to the amount of downforce at high speed), there is a very slim margin of error, thus overtaking is in
          • That's true. With evenly matched cars, it's impossible to overtake on the track. You'd need a car significantly faster than the one in front. I think the big reason for that is the high corner speeds and short braking distances from aerodynamic downforce. If you look at races with low downforce cars and motorcycles, there's a lot of passing. Nascar stock cars are big, fat and slow on a road course, but it's fun to watch because there's passing and you can really see the cars sliding around. The last few yea
      • by bastion_xx ( 233612 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @02:02PM (#9454574)
        Yes, and the fact that, that guy has an ego that would put hitler to shame doesn't help the overall F1 image either.

        Unlike JPM, Villnevue, Senna, Prost, Coultard, Ralf S., or any other the other winning drivers?

        I actually think Michael has a good diplomatic approach during the post race interviews. Most people appear not to like him because he's not lovable like Jordon or Tiger Woods.

        But, to bring this back on track: yeah there is a ton of money spent on F1. Guaranteed that once tobacco money is taken out of the picture (I'd say by 2008 at the latest), overall spending will go down unless the FIA finds some way to compensate for it.

        Personally I like that the teams innovate. Anti-lock brakes, traction control, ECU development, etc. and examples of technolgoy that has been tested in race cars first (although not necesssarily developed there) and then deployed in production run vehicles.

        Plus, they are damned fast! :)
      • But give me F1 anyday over Nascar.

        Amen to that. I'm in the heart of NASCAR country. I just don't see what it has to offer. Carburated engines. Tauruses. Give me a break. I put NASCAR on the same level as Pro Wrestling.
    • Sauber are not going to beat Ferrari, they are, more or less, Ferrari's B team, running with last years Ferrari engine and gearboxes.

      Schumacher is a genius, but it is about time that he put his foot down and demanded that the team get a second driver of close to his caliber, so we can see some actual racing. Ferrari's clear 1, 2 strategy may be working, but the lack of excitement has hurt F1 to the point where it is hurting both Ferrari and Schumacher himself as well.
      • No.

        At Albert Park in early March, Ferrari and Sauber had the same V10 engine.

        New 'long life' rules meant last year's scarlet unit was not reliable enough to be fitted to the Sauber C23, so the customer team got works- spec Ferrari power.
        link []

        ... they have however not gotten the same updates, but when this season started Ferrari and Sauber had the same engines.

        That's how much difference the REST of the car makes!

      • Schumacher is a genius, but it is about time that he put his foot down and demanded that the team get a second driver of close to his caliber, so we can see some actual racing.

        Absolutely. Ferrari's dominance in recent years is similar to McLaren's in the mid-late 1980s, but with the crucial difference that in McLaren's most dodminant season, 1988, although the team won 15 of the 16 races with John Barnard's revolutionary MP4/4, and took 199 Constructor's points to second-placed Ferrari's 65, since Ayrton
  • by digidave ( 259925 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:39PM (#9454218)
    "I love the crazy steering wheel - anyone know what all those buttons and knobs do?" "

    I'm pretty sure I saw buttons for Ctrl-Alt-Delete on there.
  • by b12arr0 ( 3064 ) * on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:40PM (#9454226) Homepage
    I think the buttons and knobs control things like the oilslick and exhaust cloud. :)
  • Button uses (Score:5, Informative)

    by hoyty ( 35485 ) <> on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:40PM (#9454231) Homepage
    The buttons have a couple of uses. Usually 3-4 are for fuel mixture, how much fuel the engine is given. This determines HP and mileage. Then there is usually a rev limiter button for pit speeds. Other things on the steering wheel can include shifters or kill switches.
  • Super Speedway... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Cyclopedian ( 163375 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:40PM (#9454235) Journal
    If you've watched the IMAX film "Super Speedway", you'll see how they build a CART racer from scratch. It doesn't focus a lot on applied computer technology in this field, but it's still informative.

    Such as this tidbit: modern brakes on CART (and F1) racers can bring the vehicle to a total stop from 200mph in 1.6 seconds. Imagine the g-forces.

    • by JonTurner ( 178845 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:57PM (#9454493) Journal
      >>a total stop from 200mph in 1.6 seconds. Imagine the g-forces. ...not to mention the heat! 1000C+ is typical after braking at the end of a straight, with normal operating temperature between 400-800 degrees Celsius!

      More info from : "A mere 4 seconds is the amount of time it takes for a Formula One car to go from 300km/h to a complete halt. At 200 km/h, a Formula One contender requires just 2.9 seconds to stop completely, a process that will have been accomplished over 65 meters. At 100km/h, these values are just as mind-blowing: 1.4 seconds and 17 meters! Under these heavy braking periods, a driver is subjected to a horizontal deceleration of close to 5,2G."


      "These brakes are extremely expensive as they are made from hi-tech carbon materials (long chain carbon, as in carbon fibre) and they can take up to 5 months to produce a single brake disk. The first stage in making a disc is to heat white polyacrylo nitrile (PAN) fibres until they turn black. This makes them pre-oxidised, and are arranged in layers similar to felt. They are then cut into shape and carbonised to obtain very pure carbon fibres. Next, they undergo two densification heat cycles at around 1000 degrees Celsius. These stages last hundreds of hours, during which a hydrocarbon-rich gas in injected into the oven or furnace. This helps the layers of felt-like material to fuse together and form a solid material. The finished disc is then machined to size ready for installing onto the car."

      "There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games." - Ernest Hemingway.
  • by adequacy ( 544972 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:41PM (#9454238) Homepage
    When I switch on Speedvision at my friend's house to watch Formula One, what amazes me most about these cars is not just their speed but their ability to turn left (of course) but also to the right. As a NASCAR fan, this "bidirectional steering" thing the Europeans are doing is truly amazing. Maybe someday it will come to the states.
    • ummmm.... actually NASCAR does go turn both directions. There are round courses where they only turn left, but there are also "road tracks" where they turn both ways. An example is the Infineon Raceway in Sonoma []. Click on the map on the right side of the page to see what it looks like.
      • To be fair, they usually significantly dumb down the track or drive simpler road tracks.

        At Watkins Glen, for example, (my favorite track to drive), they skip the toe of the boot, which is the most complicated part of the track to drive well.

        Not slamming NASCAR, but there's a world of difference in the type of driving they do.

        They're all (F1, NASCAR, etc) pansies compared to the drivers in SCCA ProRally, CARS and WRC, though. I mean, really. They don't even have trees to hit!
    • by gosand ( 234100 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @02:03PM (#9454580)
      When I switch on Speedvision at my friend's house to watch Formula One, what amazes me most about these cars is not just their speed but their ability to turn left (of course) but also to the right. As a NASCAR fan, this "bidirectional steering" thing the Europeans are doing is truly amazing. Maybe someday it will come to the states.

      You mean like the US Grand Prix []? (I know you were joking)

      I have been to the Indy 500, and the US Grand Prix. I can tell you that to me, F1 is much more impressive than Indy cars. Thankfully, I have never been to a NAASCOOORRR race, but there were plenty of ignorant rednecks at the Indy 500 for my tastes. What is most impressive to me about F1 is their handling. Holy Crap! When I went, it was raining part of the time, and they were still going insanely fast through the corners. When it dried out, they were even faster. Unbelievable. The downforce on those cars, and the suspension/tires is amazing. Not to mention the braking ability. The sheer speed is nothing sto sneeze at either. Hell, their *average* speeds are impressive.

      I have heard NAASCOOOORRR fans say that F1 is too much technology and not enough driving, but F1 has the best of the best when it comes to sheer driving ability. Then there are those absolute FREAKS who do rally. Those guys are nuts.

  • Jamming! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by itwerx ( 165526 ) <> on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:41PM (#9454240) Homepage
    Wonder how long it takes before they start either jamming each other's transmissions or playing man-in-the-middle and injecting false data...?
  • by DaedalusLogic ( 449896 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:42PM (#9454252)
    New regulations are being ushered through to eliminate a lot of the computerized systems in F1 cars. No more fancy traction control, the engines are going to be smaller, and there might even be an honest manual gearbox in future seasons. I doubt this will effect the telemetry advances, you still need all that data. What it will do is eliminate the edge Ferrari and BMW Williams have over everyone...

    Go out and look for articles on the changes. I read a great piece in Autoweek a month or two ago.
    • It happens every year.

      Team X comes up with great new tech Y.

      Team X wipes the floor with everybody else.

      Regulations make Y ilegal or restrains it hard.

      Back to square one.

      (Remember Williams' active suspension? It got Nigel Mansell a chamopionship!)

    • We shouldn't forget that there was a time that Americans competed fiercely in both this style of racing as well as in the groundbreaking engineering aspect. Nobody typified both traits as much as Jim Hall. After he introduced high wings to devastating effect, they were banned. Then he introduced something else:

      The 2J was as radical as the 2E and 2H had been. Maybe more so. The car looked like a white brick. A very fast white brick. The car carried two motors. A 465 cubic inch Chevy V8 powered the rear whee

  • by fiannaFailMan ( 702447 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:43PM (#9454257) Journal
    Formula 1 is Grand Prix racing, similar to Indycars but I believe the speed is slightly slower, tracks are more varied than the ovals that you're used to, and it's the major motorsport that the rest of the world watches. There is also competition between various teams who construct the cars rather than all of them being built by one or two manufacturers as (I think) it is in Indycars. Most of the constructors are British-based with the obvious exception of Ferrari.
    • I like F1, and Le Mans, but the problem most Americans face is that the races are on at like 3AM. I sometimes catch a race real late or maybe watch one on tape delay, but it just isn't the same as Live.

  • buttons (Score:5, Informative)

    by dougrun ( 633662 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:43PM (#9454260) Homepage
    N is the Nuetral button to kick the transmission into N. E is the cockpit extinguisher. L is probably the pit lane speed Limiter. Others control brake bias, fuel mixture, radio communications, the wheel's screen (pi display), and other handling stuff. The steering wheel alone is about $50-100k. (a Champcar figure but should be close).
  • Brake Balance (Score:5, Informative)

    by The Ape With No Name ( 213531 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:44PM (#9454274) Homepage
    On a F1 car a car's front-to-rear brake balance can only be adjusted with an analog lever or knob. If you watch Michael Schumacher go down a long straight, you will see him reach with his right hand to adjust the brake balance. Interestingly, the Ferrari has a shifter interface on the left hand that allows both up and down shifts but only downs on the right (I think). When he adjusts the brakes he can continue to shift with his left hand. Also, because the cars use compressed air to shift and are always in gear (essentially) there is a lockout button (N) for stewards to put the machine in neutral on top of the bonnet. So an F1 car is not all high-tech, but a mix. I wish it were more like the the 60s though. Rolling death rides. Those guys had to be brave, talented AND FUCKING NUTS.
    • Re:Brake Balance (Score:3, Insightful)

      by GPLDAN ( 732269 )
      If it were like the 1960s, this year would have seen the death of Jensen Button, JPM, and Jarno Trulli. Oh yeah, and Michael would eventually perish as well. It took Jimmy Clark dying and Jackie Stewart saying "this is bullshit, enough is enough" to get safety pushed up.

      The late 60's and early 70's, esp Jackie's drive at the Nordschliefe, were insanely great. But if you ask Dan Gurney, nothing was worth the price paid.
  • by rapiddescent ( 572442 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:45PM (#9454281)
    I've done some work for one of the major teams in the BTCC. These are 2.0 litre normally aspirated 1000kg cars that have been homologated from standard euro saloons. Even at this level, data is gathered from the car and analysed carefully to detect even the slightest dent in the power map. Most of the teams use the same off the shelf package for analysis.

    However, the championship do not allow wireless data xfer anymore and only unencrypted voice is allowed to communicate with the driver. There is a sturdy DIN style plug that one of the engineers plugs a laptop into and downloads the data from the car when it is in the pits. A 20 minute race typically will see about 30Mb of data being retrieved. The organisers TOCA stopped wireless xfer because team managers were able to change the cars characteristics mid race and then reset them back before the scruitineers got a look in!

    Most of the teams use windows xp on sturdy laptops with more powerful computing back at base - I guess because most of the software is off the shelf.

    Formula1 is another ballgame...

  • by asoap ( 740625 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:45PM (#9454290)
    Dynamic Suspension (the suspension changing automatically via electronics) and also changing settings of the car automatically from the pits has been outlawed in f1. So when you see the driver pressing buttons he can be doing stuff like changing fuel maps, suspension damping, viewing differnt informatio. They also have a 'turbo' button. Which has nothing do with a turbocharger. But it works like this. If you are at the last few laps of a race, and you want to catch the guy ahead of you, you press this button which lets you raise the rpms of the motor another 500 rpms, which gives you a little extra boost. But you also sacrifice the health of the motor.

    Years ago, when a driver crashed, you would see him get out and throw his steering wheel against something. That doesn't happen any more because those steering wheels cost $50,000.


  • I think they should remove most of the technology to level the playing field for the smaller teams. F1 should be a bit more in the spirit of man and machine racing each other, not man determines direction computer controlled racing machine is pointing in.
  • There are a lot of rule changes [] in the talks. One of them is to have a "standard FIA ECU for the engines". The ECU is the electronics that control the engines. The problem with changes like this is that F1 is supposed to push technology to the limits, but when you let the teams do all kinds of high tech stuff it gets too expensive and you have too much of a divide between the best and worst teams. We'll see if the changes cut costs or make the races more exciting...I just hope that the FIA doesn't forge
  • Buttons (Score:5, Informative)

    by openSoar ( 89599 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:46PM (#9454302)
    Article on the steering where here [] that describes hat each button does. I think this one is from the 2002 season but most things are the same.
  • by ShinmaWa ( 449201 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:46PM (#9454303)
    Who cares about the technology of Formula 1? It took them another 408 attempts to get it right []!

    (its a joke people)
  • by GillBates0 ( 664202 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:47PM (#9454313) Homepage Journal
    I'll take the liberty to recommend the 3D IMAX Nascar [] movie for likeminded 3D/slashdot buffs.

    That movie's the next best thing to experiencing the joys of 250mph+ car racing, and an absolute must if you're into car racing games (TD, NFS, etc). I also learnt a couple of neat facts like driving in quick succession (about 5ft apart) helps the successive cars to avoid drag, and the air flow from the following car helps push the leading car along.

    Anyway, enough's hoping for a 3-D car racing game for the PC.

  • F1 Technical (Score:5, Interesting)

    by richj ( 85270 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:48PM (#9454334)
    This is a great site for a lot of the technical aspects of F1.

    I found it funny that the NYT waited until the Ferrari was in Canada so they could shoot pictures of it without the Marlboro ads the car typically has painted on while racing outside North America. :)
  • What the buttons do (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jdehnert ( 84375 ) *
    The buttons control all sorts of aspects of the car. Brake bias, sway bar settings, fuel mixture and horsepower, pit speed rev limiter, etc.

    Now the really AMAZING part is that if you watch the races, you can usually see Schumacher fiddling with these settings during a race and often in a turn or at well over 100 MPH.

    I race myself in an open wheel car, and I do OK, but my concentration is usually at close to 100% all of the time, so seeing Schumi adjusting things in a turn just blows me away every time.
  • Timing (Score:2, Troll)

    by AviLazar ( 741826 )
    While the driver has a lot of cool buttons and features, at 200 MPH, does he really have the time to worry about the things? I mean lets face it, a slight (and i mean SLIGHT) jerk of the stearing wheel at 200 MPH generally means flying to one's death....
    • There are hundreds of example of drivers recovering from tire blowouts and suspension failures at that speed. (usually on a straightaway, though). I've done it myself at ~150 mph.

      The effects of a tire blowout at that speed are intense, but within the capabilities of even the top end street-legal sports cars, a $10 M formula 1 racing system.
      driven by alert and experienced drivers.

      There are also plenty of examples of fatal crashes at 55 mph, so i don't know what to make of that.

      But the point remains: if y
  • The Steering Wheel (Score:5, Informative)

    by aluminumcube ( 542280 ) * <greg@elysion.cTWAINom minus author> on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:49PM (#9454359)
    The steering wheels are all proprietary items for each team, so I can't tell you exactly what Ferrari's does.


    - Behind the wheel are two paddles. Pull one and you get an upshift on the computer controlled sequential gearbox, pull the other for a downshift. The cars have what are essentially normal manual transmissions, but instead of the driver controlling the clutch and shift forks, computer controlled hydraulics do the job and produce perfect shifts. Typically, pulling both paddles will put the car in neutral (allowing drivers to get out of a spin if possible)

    - On the upper right and left, the + and - buttons are probably backup shift buttons. For the team I worked with, the paddles behind the wheel could sometimes be problematic, so they had backups in the same place as the wheel in the picture.

    - The yellow "N" switch is "Set Neutral." Press it once and the car stays in Neutral even if the steering wheel is removed. Drivers are required to, upon exiting the race due to a mechanical failure or crash, replace the steering wheel (which they need to remove to get out of the car) and place the vehicle in neutral so crews can remove it. If they don't, they are fined an obscene amount of money.

    - The red "L" switch is the pit lane speed limiter switch. In F1, the pit lanes have a very rigorously enforced speed limit. Hitting that button causes the computer to limit the car's speed to whatever the track pit speed limit is.

    - The LED display can show a whole bunch of data. From moving track maps to onboard telemetry, timing, gear status, Gran Turismo...

    I don't know exactly what the rotary switches do on that car, but I have seen them for:

    - Brake bias; controls the front and rear split of pressure on the brakes allowing the driver to set the car up based on tyre wear and fuel weight (in F1, fuel is measured by weight, not by volume).

    - Engine fuel mapping; drivers can conserve fuel at the expense of raw power or gain raw power at the expense of fuel depending on the tactical situation.

    - Oil/Water cooling; they can control how much water and oil is flowing through the coolers. In wet races or if your trapped behind the slipstream of another vehicle, it becomes important to control these things. F1 car engines require heat for all the components to work properly, but too much heat of course, kills them. It is a constant game of keeping these things in balance. Usually, engineers in the pit lane will inform the driver of exactly what changes to make (by the rules, they cannot simply have radio commands control the vehicle).

    Of course, the rest of the buttons are for the radio, drinking water pump, the fuel filler flap, rear caution light and those sorts of gizmos.

    A few of the buttons are also like the water/oil cooler controls in that they only exist for the driver to press when the engineers tell him to.

    All of that for around US$30K per steering wheel...
  • by SaxMaster ( 95691 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:49PM (#9454363)
    The steering wheel controls, as a couple posters above have said, are used to change fuel mixture, rev limiters for pit speeds, as well as adjusting launch and traction control systems. What they DONT tell you in the article is one of the things that makes Schumacher so good is how he utilizes that wheel during a race, aside from steering the car :) He adjusts his mixture, TCS systems and gearbox on the fly during the race, sometimes in the middle of one corner anticipating the needs of the next corner (!) This adjustability and all the testing he does is one reason he dominates the competition. Schumi's wheel has even more controlls than the wheel they pictured in the article, which belongs to Barachello.
  • by switcha ( 551514 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:51PM (#9454391)
    The wealthiest teams arm themselves with powerful advantages,...

    And diamonds! []


  • F1 Rules (Score:3, Informative)

    by Apreche ( 239272 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:51PM (#9454400) Homepage Journal
    F1 Steering Wheel []

    Formula 1, if you didn't know, is the premiere motorsport in the world. Every rule about car design in F1 falls into one of two categories. Rules that prevent the egineer from killing the driver and rules that say the car must not fall apart. The result is the most technologically advanced cars in the entire world. These are the fastest four wheeled motor vehicles on earth that can make both left and right turns. Every race car driver falls into 3 categories. Driving F1, wanting to drive F1 and too afraid to drive F1. If you think Nascar is dumb because they go around in circles, F1 is for you. I've heard it described as driving a go-kart with a jet engine. (it's really just a V10).

    Oh, and some other information. Michael Schumacher is the greatest driver in F1 today, he has won the championship the last 6 times. He is the highest paid athlete in the entire world. He drives a ferrari, the best car there is. It looks like he is going to win again this year, he has lost only one race so far. And while it seems boring to watch the same guy win every time it shows you why F1 is so great. The best driver wins every time. And this guy is the undisputed greatest driver of cars to ever live.

    The US grand prix in Indianapolis is this sunday at 1pm. It is the only race in the US this year. If you haven't seen an F1 race I highly reccomend you check it out. Imagine Nascar, with right turns and no rednecks. It doesn't suck.
  • The actual meaning and the layout of the buttons on the wheel is secret and varies by driver, but usually there are buttons for setting the balance and torque of the brakes, the pitstop speed limiter, the differential, the ratio of fuel and air, and probably much more.
  • What Technology? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Viceice ( 462967 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @01:56PM (#9454481)
    Everytime some engineer dreams up a killer piece of technology, it gets banned. Figured out an effective shape that generates downforce? Get banned. Figure out how to recofigure ur car on the fly? Get banned.

    And what about traction control? Adaptive suspension? not to mention 1001 other things that make a car go faster and safer, and turn better.

    I hate it the way they keep banning technology. It used to be that F1 was the pinnicle of automative technology. Not anymore. Now you can buy a road car with more technology in it then an F1 car.


  • Nascar (Score:3, Informative)

    by SirLanse ( 625210 ) <> on Thursday June 17, 2004 @02:06PM (#9454622)
    I know /.ers love tech gadgets, but if you want to see the drivers compete - NASCAR. They do not allow squat of computing on board during the race.
    • Re:Nascar (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jackmakrl ( 115512 )
      I hate NASCAR. Nothing puts me to sleep faster (except motocross racing). If you want to see some *real* racing watch FIA World Rally. Some of the in car footage is insane.
  • I Might Also Add... (Score:5, Informative)

    by aluminumcube ( 542280 ) * <greg@elysion.cTWAINom minus author> on Thursday June 17, 2004 @02:08PM (#9454656)
    The most expensive part of the steering wheel is, by far, the custom connectors.

    The steering wheel body is all carbon fiber and all the teams can do composite work like that in their sleep (I have some cool CF toys that a couple of the composite shop guys made for me, they are scary good artists with the stuff).

    The buttons are all hardcore off the shelf units from the aerospace industry.

    The computing components are all well inside the body work, usually up in the nose or above the driver's legs.

    The god damn connector though! It was something like 30 pins and they absolutely need to be hardcore because the wheels get taken on and off the car over and over again. They need to also twist with the wheel and lock up tighter then a bankvault without any extra levers or other things to fiddle with. When I was working with the team, I was shocked at how much effort it took to make those damn things...
  • by GPLDAN ( 732269 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @02:17PM (#9454759) I will be in section C, way up high in row HH. Drop me a line if you will be there. Halfway between S/F line and T1. I'm hoping for Renault to do one of those crazy "we don't have launch control - wink wink" starts from row 3. :-)

    A few years ago, F1 used to have two-way telemetry to the car. Computers were adjusting brake-bias settings on the fly on a TURN by TURN basis. Cars were dynamically adjusting settings to optimize for all kinds of things. Really, it was getting silly.

    Eccelstone, the guru who presides over Formula 1 and looks like a cross between an evil elf from LOTR and Andy Warhol, had to make changes. He banned that. before last year's season, he reduced qualifying to a one lap shot instead of your best lap over time, and he created the parke-ferme, a parking garage that cars had to roll into after they pulled off the qualifying lap. Teams were (are) not allowed to touch the cars between the end of qualifying and the race start. At all.

    this created goofy things, such as last week's Canadian race where Schumi qualified back because his brother Ralf (we call him Little Ralfy) and the BMW-Williams just decided to go totally lite on fuel for the purpose of getting the pole. He had to pit 12 laps into the race, but it was part of the strategy. michael went for a 2-lap strategy and won.

    So, now - the rule changes have created a more boring sport. Unless you are some hard charger with brass ones (hello Montoya and Sato) you rarely risk passing for position, except at the start. It's just not worth the risk, wait for the pit strategy to kick in. It also promotes blocking. Rubens blocks for Michael and executes Team ferrari strategy, that's his role in life.

    The technology is shattering the smaller clubs. Arrows is gone, Minardi will probably be gone, Eddie Jordan is constantly broke and needs Ford engines to run. Now the dollars are cutting into teams that are bigger. Jaguar may pull out of F1 if they lose Webber, a promising driver. Honda was thinking of dropping BAR, after they dropped Jordan and leaving altogether, knowing they could not match the spending that Toyota was going to do. Toyota is something like 5x the size and wealth of Honda, something I didn't know until I started wacthing F1.

    Drivers are no longer valued for just driving prowess, but the engineers they can bring WITH them, and their leadership abilities within the organization. Michael Schumacher is part CEO, part engineer, part driver and basically gets what he gets because he is a large reason that Ferrari executed the plan it had. He brought Ross Brawn with him from Bennetton Ford.

    There are the big six in F1 right now - Honda, Toyota, Renault, Mercedes, BMW and Ferrari. Everyone else is an also-ran. Sauber uses 2 year old Ferrari engines, I think this year they upgraded to 1-year old engines. And to emphasize how big of a disadvantage that is - this year at Canada, the times were approaching 3 SECONDS faster than last year. The difference between a 1:12 and a 1:15 per lap is so large, old tech will leave you in the dust.

    In contrast, if you attend Champ Car (formerly CART) it's like going to a damn vintage race. Spec chassis with spec Ford engines, standard turbo, no traction control, no ABS, manual gearboxes. It's like watching F1 in 1989. And IRL is KILLING it, this is almost certainly the last year. Nobody wants to see those tanks doing makeshift street courses. Americans like ovals, and speed speed speed.

    F1 is brilliant, but they know they can't keep going as is. You hear crazy rumors all the time. One is that the V12s will get chucked, and everyone has to go to V8s. The spectacle and sound of a V12 revving at 19k RPM is amazing. THe cars will deafen you from 100 yards away. the carbon fiber chassis and cutting edge brake tech is stunning to see in person. Seeing a car brake from 200mph to 40mph in 200 feet really can't be described until you see it happen.
    • F1 is brilliant, but they know they can't keep going as is. You hear crazy rumors all the time. One is that the V12s will get chucked, and everyone has to go to V8s. The spectacle and sound of a V12 revving at 19k RPM is amazing. THe cars will deafen you from 100 yards away.

      The cars only have V10s already. V12s are long gone. They had 3.5 liter capacity a few years ago and that's down to 3 liters and speeds are up.

      The next frontier seems to be either max revs (unlikely) or minimum engine numbers (if Ferr

  • by JakiChan ( 141719 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @02:44PM (#9455091)
    There are usually 2 reasons for a technology to get banned in F1. The first is that it makes things too easy. They want to make the drivers have to work for the victory. That's why they removed launch control - launching the car takes skill (since you have way more power than traction). The other reason is to slow the cars down. The safety technology has trouble keeping up with speeds the cars are capable of, especially in the corners (where an accident is most likely). That's why the tyres have grooves, for example. They need to go slower. And this safety focus has helped - just look at 10 years ago when we lost 2 drivers in one weekend (including the great Senna) and nearly lost Rubens...

    I consider myself a Tifosi but when Schumi is walking over everyone it's no fun. And then he loses but wins by default...I'd rather see some variety on the podium so that the end of the year is exciting. As it is I'm cheering for Jenson since I think he's doing great this season.
  • by OrsonKart ( 789169 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @03:45PM (#9455870)
    I used to work for the Benetton F1 team when Schumacher was around. I joined in 94 as their sole software engineer tasked with writing data analysis, strategy and telemetry sw. 94 & 95 were great years - we won around 60% of that year's GP's and the bonus was $$$$ :-) In those days the on-board data loggers contained 4mb(now 128Mb) and the real-time telemetry was a pitiful 9600 baud, which didn't work 100% on every track (e.g. Hockenheim and Monaco). I found Schumacher to be a good egg, fairly quiet, polite and interested in your work. Happy days. wrt the super computer etc, I'd take that with a slight pinch of salt. F1 teams are prone to exagerate slightly. PC's are adequate for most of their tasks excepting cfd and design work which is usually done on unix boxes.
    • Chek out last weeks Autoweek magazine McLaren just opened a new shop. $900 million worth. I wouldn't be suprised at a supercomputer. Just wish theyd had some inside shots.
  • Another summary... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Shoten ( 260439 ) on Thursday June 17, 2004 @04:38PM (#9456535)
    A couple of years ago, Wired [] had an amazing article [] about F1 racing, particularly in terms of how it evolved yearly from the technological arms race. A team would develop something astounding, and others might copy it, and by the next year it would be outlawed. Innovation after innovation came and went like this, with few of them being allowed to remain. What I most liked about the article was the picture of a Mercedes-Benz F1 motor mounted to the dyno, looking utterly gorgeous (spotlessly clean, I should add) with its huge shiny exhaust pipes glowing cherry red. :)

Always leave room to add an explanation if it doesn't work out.