How F1 racers turn really fast

How F1 racers turn really fast

Cars travel at their fastest speeds when moving in a straight line, and Formula 1 is no different. F1 racers drive at over 215 mph on the straightest parts of the track. But when it comes to turning around tight corners, these kinds of speeds just aren’t possible. In order to avoid spinning out and crashing, racers have to slow down and use physics to strategically craft the most efficient turns while retaining the greatest amount of speed, ideally giving them a leg up against the competition.

The most efficient path through any corner (or set of corners) is generally referred to as the “ideal racing line.”

This line changes depending on the path of the track before and after the curve, but the goal is always to spend as little time in the turn as possible. That means using the entire width of the track to minimize the angle that the car will take around the turn, ultimately allowing drivers to carry the most speed through it.

This is Formula 1
As a new fan of the sport, watching these races for the first time,
there was one thing I couldn’t help but notice:
F1 drivers are all over the road.
To make a left turn, they go all the way to the right of the track, and then swing back left
Through 90 degree corners
Hair pins
Turns that lead into other turns
And if I learned anything in geometry,
it’s that the quickest path between two points is a straight line.
But what do you do when you can’t take the straight line path?
For race car drivers, where they turn is one part of a larger strategy based on physics,
practice, and a lot of skill
F1 racers drive laps through different circuits around the world, at ridiculous speeds
Brad Philpot: the highest speed they get up to is something like 215 miles per hour
That’s Brad Philpot
Brad Philpot: I’ve been racing since I was 8 years old,
and I’ve been teaching people how to drive on track for the last 15 years
I think the one area, a Formula One car is better than pretty much all other cars is cornering speed
This is important because — unlike other big motorsports like, Nascar,
which require drivers to travel in mostly symmetrical oval
F-1 circuits contain every kind of corner you can think of
and racers want to get through those corners fast
Brad Philpot: the racing line is is purely and simply the fastest way
through a corner or a set of corners.
if you had unlimited grip and the car wasn’t just going to roll over
you would always hug the inside
you would always go the shortest possible distance
but the fact is that the more your steering wheel is turned,
the less speed your tires can cope with Hugging the inside track means you’d have
to slow down pretty severely to avoid losing grip and sliding out
Hugging the outside edge might theoretically let you go faster, but
Brad Philpot: You would be going a lot further,
like, massively further, depending on the width of the track
And as you can see from these F1 simulator shots Brad showed me
Brad Philpot: You’d also have zero margin for error because if you had
a fraction of understeer or oversteer, you’re immediately on the grass and in the barriers
The ideal racing line for a turn like this is a combination of both approaches:
The driver can hug the outside of the track on the way in, then turn in to clip the apex,
or the center of the inside track, and end up back on the outside edge without losing too much speed
Brad Philpot: By starting out as far wide as you possibly can and then getting to
the inside in that smooth flowing arc, you’re literally minimizing the
angle that your car is having to take, which means you can carry more speed.
So far, we’ve been using this fake 90 degree turn example because it’s simple to explain
But in real life, corners aren’t that straightforward
The closest real world examples is Stowe on Silverstone in the UK, but
Brad Philpot: Stowe isn’t really like that normal typical 90 degree corner
It is a bit longer
You reach the apex of Stowe and you’re there for a little while,
at least a few tenths of a second, if not a second or so
so you still feel like you’re kind of hugging the inside for a while,
but you are definitely taking pretty much that typical line we spoke about
You can see that in this clip from the 2022 grand prix
Carlos Sainz leads the pack and takes this nearly textbook ideal racing line
But most corners are a little more complicated
Brad Philpot: a corner does not exist in isolation
so the racing line you take for a particular corner is almost always a compromise
Take this set of corners from that same Silverstone circuit
Brooklands is the super tight one, and it goes straight into Luffield
Brad Philpot: you’re at the end of a very long, fast straight. You then end up in a sweeping
left hander where it gets tighter all the way around,
and it’s then followed by a really long right hander
So judging by what we’ve been discussing so far, you’d probably say that
you need to compromise your exit a little bit in the left hander
so you wouldn’t go all the way wide However, in this example, you do almost
the counterintuitive thing based on what we’ve already been learning
Luffield, which is the second corner, the right hander, is a very, very long right hander
well over 180 degrees
it nullifies most of the benefit you would get from going wide and then cutting back towards it
It’s not an apex that you kiss like in our 90 degree right hander example
you meet the inside, and you have to stay there
By trying to compromise the initial left hander,
you’re actually just wasting time, you’re wasting distance
and this is why this is such a complicated thing and it doesn’t have an easy answer
You can see all drivers having a slightly different approach
to this particular set of corners in this clip from the 2022 grand prix
While the leading car tries to use the most
ideal path, hugging the curves, the following cars are more spread out
And did you catch that?
These two cars almost collided — and to avoid it,
this driver went off the track, screwing up his racing line entirely
Once you have to contend with other drivers, racing lines become a lot more complex
Brad Philpot: what you have to do is compromise based on the track that’s available to you
So you’re still going to be going outside, inside,
outside as much as you can, but that will be on maybe half the track width
If the weather is wet and rainy, that adds even more complexity
racers may compromise their line even further in search of areas of the track that have more grip
Formula One drivers are constantly making calculations to adapt
to any condition and still maintain a good racing line
And they can do that because they’re not thinking of the line as they’re driving — they just do it
Brad Philpot: If I went to pretty much any F1 track, even tracks I’ve never actually
been to before, I would probably know pretty much where I want the car to be
from driving on simulators or watching videos and all that kind of thing
so it’s not a guess
Once race day arrives with all it’s variables and rivalries, the focus is no longer on ideals
it’s on the strategic compromises a racer is willing to make to get ahead of the competition
Brad Philpot: That’s really what separates drivers
you’ve got various inputs that you’re making as a driver
throttle input, braking, steering, changing gear, communicating with the pit,
conversing with your engineers, strategy
But the biggest one of all of those is the steering, it is the line you’re taking



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