Unless you're taking part in a drag race, straight-line speed and acceleration isn't the most important thing when it comes to designing a race car. For race series like Formula 1, cornering speed and handling are more important when it comes to winning races, but they're pretty fast off the line too.
In this article, we'll be talking all about how fast a Formula 1 car can accelerate and decelerate, and we'll explain how these cars are able to achieve such performance statistics to begin with.
Formula 1 cars are pretty quick when accelerating from 0, although they're not actually as quick as you might think. The current crop of Formula 1 cars can accelerate from 0-100 km/h in about 2.6 seconds.
Compared to most road cars, this is indeed pretty fast, although compared to other kinds of race cars it's about average. For example, MotoGP bikes can accelerate just as quickly to 100 km/h, and there are a few other types of race cars that could easily beat a Formula 1 car in a 0-100 sprint (these include WRC cars, LMP1 cars, and Top Fuel dragsters).
However, Formula 1 cars are pretty much impossible to beat in terms of their 100-200 km/h acceleration times. While it takes 2.6 seconds for a Formula 1 car to hit 100 km/h from 0, it only takes about 4.5 seconds for a Formula 1 car to hit 200 km/h from 0.
This means that a Formula 1 car can go from 100-200 km/h in about 1.9 seconds, which is faster than what basically every other car aside from a dragster is able to do.
In terms of their top speed, Formula 1 cars are also pretty fast compared to a lot of other race cars. The fastest speed set by a Formula 1 car during a race was 372.5 km/h (231.4 mph) by Valtteri Bottas at the 2016 Mexican Grand Prix.
However, the fastest speed that a Formula 1 car has ever gone is 397.3 km/h (246.9 mph), which was a record set by Honda in 2005 at the Bonneville Salt Flats using their RA106 race car.
To be fair, though, this car had been modified in several ways to help it achieve this speed; most notably, it used special tires and had its rear wing removed to decrease drag.
A Formula 1 car's acceleration times are pretty impressive to be sure, but what's possibly even more impressive is how quickly these cars are able to come to a stop from top speed.
Under full braking, a Formula 1 car can go from 100-0 km/h in about 15 meters. For context, compare that to the braking distance of the McLaren Senna, a purpose-built, extremely track-focused hypercar; the Senna takes about 40 meters to brake to 0 from the same speed.
In terms of time, a Formula 1 car can brake from 100 to 0 in less than 1.5 seconds. Because these cars can brake so quickly from such high speeds, there is often a truly absurd amount of g-force placed on drivers during braking.
In fact, when braking on some of the high-speed circuits like the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, drivers sometimes experience forces in excess of 5.5 g. The cars generate such tremendous g-force during braking that in 2019, Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton stated that g-forces were literally pulling the tears out of his eyes.
Formula 1 cars are able to achieve the performance figures they do because of their design and engineering. Let's take a look at several of the main components that contribute to a Formula 1 car's acceleration and braking abilities: the engine, the transmission, and the brakes.
Since 2014, all Formula 1 teams have used the same engine, which is a 1.6-liter turbocharged V6. Despite the fact that they doesn't displace very much volume, Formula 1 engines are incredibly powerful for their size; currently, Formula 1 engines produce about 850 horsepower.
Despite their high horsepower figures, Formula 1 engines actually produce a fairly low amount of torque; only about 260 lb-ft at 16,000 rpm. This is part of the reason why Formula 1 cars don't accelerate as quickly compared to other race cars, since a high torque figure is good for acceleration.
Formula 1 cars have low torque figures because their engines are extremely oversquare, meaning they have very high bore/stroke ratios. Having a short stroke means less torque, but it also allows the engine to rev very fast which is better for high-end power.
Plus, while Formula 1 engines don't make much torque, the cars themselves don't weight very much either, so a high torque figure isn't necessary to get a Formula 1 car moving.
The transmission is another part of a Formula 1 car that has a large effect on its acceleration characteristics. Since 2014, all Formula 1 cars are required to use the same gearbox, which is an 8-speed semi-automatic sequential gearbox.
If you don't know what a semi-automatic gearbox is, it's a transmission that partially automates the process of shifting. A Formula 1 driver shifts through gears through the use of two paddles on the steering wheel; the left one downshifts, while the right one upshifts. However, Formula 1 transmissions don't have a clutch, which is what makes them semi-automatic.
Sequential means that drivers can only shift up or down to the gear that is directly next to the one they're in. This is in contrast with true manuals where drivers can theoretically advance through the gears in any order they want (for example, in a true manual you could go from 1st gear to 3rd gear to 6th if you wanted).
The brakes are, of course, the main component of a Formula 1 car responsible for slowing it down. The brakes in a Formula 1 car are pretty impressive; they're made from carbon composites, which enables the brakes to withstand intense heat without losing their effectiveness. Formula 1 brakes can operate in temperatures of up to 1,000 degrees Celsius.
Aside from the fact that they can operate at such a high performance level and are usually made with better materials, the brakes in a Formula 1 car are basically the same as the ones you'd find in an average commuter car.
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