Driving a Formula 1 car is a challenging task, both mentally and physically. Not only do drivers need to be capable of split-second reaction times to nail the perfect racing line and avoid accidents, but they also need to be capable of withstanding the intense g-forces generated by high-speed cornering.
F1 cars are getting more advanced over the years. They are becoming capable of much greater speeds, both on the straights and in the corners. As a result, modern-day F1 drivers have to deal with much higher g-forces than they did in decades past; during cornering, drivers regularly experience forces between 4 and 6 g.
In this article, we'll be sharing with you all the fun facts about g-forces in F1 racing, including how F1 cars are capable of pulling so many gs and what happens to the drivers when they experience multiple gs.
G-force is, simply put, gravity. G-force is measured in units referred to as gs (which are always written in lowercase and italicized to differentiate them from G, the gravitational constant, and g, the abbreviation for grams).
There are two types of g-forces that you can experience, although only one of these types really matters for F1 drivers. The first is vertical gs, which is the type of g-force that pulls down on you and keeps everything stuck to the earth.
At all times, you experience 1 g of vertical g-force, although actions like jumping actually increase the vertical gs you experience for a fraction of a second. However, this fraction is so short that your body doesn't receive any damage, even though you can potentially experience as many as 100 gs from jumping from a height of 3 feet.
The other kind of gs, and the kind that matters the most to F1 drivers, is lateral gs. Lateral gs occur when you move forward, backward, or from side to side. As such, F1 drivers experience lateral gs almost constantly during a race, from accelerating, braking, and turning.
G-forces are interesting; on the one hand, it's possible to survive and remain conscious after a brief moment of 100 gs or more, but on the other hand, if you try to withstand more than 4 gs or so for even a few seconds, you run a serious risk of blacking out.
In fact, trying to withstand more than 16 gs for more than a minute or so will pretty much guarantee that you'll experience severe injuries or even death.
Ok, so we know that g-forces are incredibly taxing on the human body, especially when they're sustained for more than a few seconds. But what exactly is it about g-forces that have such a drastic effect on our bodies?
There are a few reasons why g-forces affect us so much, but the most prominent one is that g-forces disrupt our blood flow. Even in normal circumstances, blood pressure isn't even throughout the human body; thanks to the pull of gravity, blood pressure is always slightly higher in your legs and slightly lower in your head.
Normally, your body is able to compensate for these small differences in blood pressure, but if you're put into a high g-force situation, things tend to stop working as they should. Lateral g-forces can pull blood away from your head and into your extremities, resulting in impaired vision and eventual unconsciousness.
The effects are even more extreme in the event of a crash when the body is subject to massive amounts of g-force thanks to the sudden deceleration. If you're moving very fast and then you suddenly stop moving within a fraction of a second, it places an enormous amount of force on your various soft tissues.
Essentially, if you come to a sudden stop in a car crash, your internal organs get squished up against your insides. This can be particularly dangerous in the case of your brain, which can get rattled around inside your skull during a crash. Such accidents can easily cause brain damage.
This is one of the reasons why the F1 governing body has mandated the use of HANS devices since 2003. A HANS (head and neck support) device is basically a brace that sits on a driver's shoulders and features a strap that keeps the driver's helmet secured to the brace.
HANS devices work by preventing drivers' heads and necks from moving farther than they would otherwise be able to. In a crash, this helps prevent whiplash, brain injuries, and basilar skull fractures.
Drivers also undergo intense physical training to help them better resist the effects of high lateral gs. Shoulder and neck strength is incredibly important in this regard; in fact, drivers will actually train with weighted helmets to mimic the effects of high gs and perform exercises specifically to increase strength in those areas.
Formula 1 cars are objectively pretty fast overall, but they're actually fairly slow in a straight line when compared to other types of race cars. A dragster will absolutely decimate an F1 car in terms of straight-line acceleration, and even a Le Mans prototype or a rally car would have no problems at all beating an F1 car in the quarter-mile.
The reason for this is that F1 cars are basically designed to prioritize cornering speed above all else. While other cars might be faster on the straights, literally nothing can beat an F1 car in the corners.
The ability of F1 cars to take corners at such high speeds is pretty much entirely due to their aerodynamics. Take a look at any F1 car from within the last decade, and you'll see that they all have crazy front and rear wings with all sorts of elements intended to create downforce and direct airflow away from the wheels.
It's the downforce generated by F1 cars that allows them to go around corners as fast as they do. In addition, F1 cars generate more downforce the faster they go, so by increasing their cornering speeds, F1 cars actually handle better around corners.
Starting with the 2022 F1 season, ground effects will be incorporated into the new F1 car designs. Cars that use ground effects are designed so that there is an area of low air pressure directly under the car, which helps it stick to the road during low- and high-speed cornering.
With all the existing aerodynamic technology and the soon-to-be-introduced ground effects that F1 cars will use, it's likely that drivers may have to contend with even greater g-forces in the future.