Are Formula One Cars Too Complicated?

Douglas Pilarski

The Driver Can’t Start The Car By Himself
2022 Alpine F1 CarDessga Arturo Garcia/Behance

Just a few more races until Formula One crowns a new world champion for 2021. Red Bull and Max Verstappen have a lead on Mercedes AMG and seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton.

Exciting stuff — to be sure — with all the drama you would expect from a year-long Formula One circus.

Are the race teams and their cars taking technology too far? Computer systems control everything. Telemetry sends data about every function to the pit crews, the team principal, and even the factory halfway around the world.

Computers rage on even when there is no driver in the car

The driver can’t start the car by himself. He needs a team to start it up. After the car crashes, there is a shutdown sequence to turn it off. The shutdown ritual prevents damage to the onboard systems. That is the simple stuff.

Engineers and designers at Mercedes AMG have brought new approaches to a long list of car functions and components. Advancements in technology give them advantages the other teams can not touch.

The car knows what it should be doing based on how fast it is going. If the car is going 140 mph and gets hit by a strong tailwind, it thinks it is going slower than it is. That changes how the car handles and creates a problem for the driver.

The next time you watch a race, look closely at the delicate fins, buffers, and channels that manage air as it flows over, under, and around the car at speed.

Earlier this year, Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc experienced a complete shutdown of his onboard electronics. He spent several laps re-booting the computer. Leclerc had to divide his attention between holding off competing cars and getting his car computer system up and running again. He was leading the race.

Cars are safer today no doubt. Fans will always remember Romain Grosjean's miracle escape from a flaming wreck at the 2020 Bahrain GP. He escaped with just minor burns. He survived due to safety equipment that gave him a fighting chance. When you see the video, one wonders if he didn’t have an onboard guardian angel as well.

Harking back to the late ’80s and early ’90s, I think the cars from those years were more driver-oriented and not as safe as today’s cars.
Giuseppe Farina won every F1 race in 1950 in this Alfa Romeo 158Photo via Pinterest

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Douglas Pilarski is an award-winning writer & journalist based on the west coast. He writes about luxury goods, exotic cars, horology, tech, food, lifestyle, and workplace issues!

Beaverton, OR

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