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The Evolution of Race Cars & Race Car Driving

The science of race car driving as it evolved through the history of motorsport.

Race Car & Racing Development

This article will discuss the art as well as the science of race car driving as it evolved through the history of motorsport. When four-wheel brakes were still a rarity and suspension was considered a black art. From the time that drivers held a tiller instead of a steering wheel to where we find ourselves today and the purist’s battle against driver’s aids.

The Art of Race Car Driving

“At the first bend, I had the clear sensation that Tazio had taken it badly and that we would end up in the ditch; I felt myself stiffen as I waited for the crunch. Instead, we found ourselves on the next straight with the car in a perfect position. I looked at him, his rugged face was calm, just as it always was, and certainly not the face of someone who had just escaped a hair-raising spin. I had the same sensation at the second bend. By the fourth or fifth bend I began to understand; in the meantime, I had noticed that through the entire bend Tazio did not lift his foot from the accelerator, and that, in fact, it was flat on the floor. As bend followed bend, I discovered his secret. Nuvolari entered the bend somewhat earlier than my driver’s instinct would have told me to. But he went into the bend in an unusual way: with one movement he aimed the nose of the car at the inside edge, just where the curve itself started. His foot was flat down, and he had obviously changed down to the right gear before going through this fearsome rigmarole. In this way he put the car into a four-wheel drift, making the most of the thrust of the centrifugal force and keeping it on the road with the traction of the driving wheels. Throughout the bend the car shaved the inside edge, and when the bend turned into the straight the car was in the normal position for accelerating down it, with no need for any corrections.” – Enzo Ferrari

The Race Cars

“Formula 1 should be the pinnacle of motor racing. It should have the minimum of parameters controlling performance. There are only four parameters which control a racing car; one is the power from the engine; the second is the aerodynamic download it can produce; the third is the amount of grip which can be obtained by the tyres and the fourth is the weight.” Colin Chapman

The evolution of the Grand Prix car since the birth of automobile racing in the last decades of the 19th century has been nothing short of startling yet the Jetsons not withstanding their basic dynamics have remained fairly constant. The main advances having taken place in the areas of aerodynamics, tires, electronics and the use of exotic materials but steering and gear changes and braking still require human intervention to a greater or lesser degree. When most of the driver aids were banned FIA’s majordomo, Max Mosley feared of the day when drivers would no longer be required. That computers would control all aspects of the car as it raced around the circuit. Happily that day is not yet here.


When Mercedes-Benz introduced the W196 in 1954 they limited the car to three gauges for rpm, oil pressure and water temperature so as not to cause the driver to lose concentration. As recently as 1992, the steering wheel on a Formula 1 car was a relatively plain, straightforward piece of equipment, round in shape, with a metal plate at the centre to attach it to the steering column, and generally no more than three buttons – one for selecting neutral, one for releasing liquid through a tube in the helmet for the driver to replenish his fluid levels and one for the radio.

The advent of complex electronic systems in Formula 1 throughout the 1990s changed all that but instead of mounting seven more gauges on a dashboard controls were added to the steering wheel and mostly limited to indicator lights and small dials. McLaren engineer John Barnard introduced a system that enabled Nigel Mansell to shift gears without having to move a hand away from the steering wheel. It was introduced as a lever system at the back of the steering wheel. A pull on the left paddle will shift one gear down while the right paddle shifts up in a similar way. This eliminates the possibility of a driver missing a gear, therefore increasing the smoothness and improving the timing of gearshifts. Together with the introduction of semi-automatic gearboxes, this was one of the most changing introductions in the history of Formula One, especially on the driver’s side. Later on, when left foot braking was introduced into Formula One, the clutch pedal was removed and replaced by a fully automatic hydraulic clutch, activated when the driver shifts gears on the steering wheel.

Engine mapping, traction control and the advent of launch control programs that optimized the race start procedure all required various buttons and toggle switches to enable the driver to fine-tune his car’s settings while on-track. Modern Formula 1 steering wheels are also equipped with a further lever clutch lever which the driver can use to declutch when standing still, such as during a pitstop or in the gravel to keep the engine running.

Shifting Gears

The De Dion-Bouton tricycle that Jean-Marie Corre rode to fourth place and first in class at the 1898 Paris-Bordeaux motor race did not have a gearbox. When the bicycle stopped, the motor stopped and the rider would have to pedal to get it re-started. Yet on that day it was only the team of Panhards that were able to stay ahead of him.

The art of shifting gears in the age of automatic transmissions and paddle shifters is a distant memory of the top line driver, a remnant of the lower classes. What the computer accomplishes in the blink of an eye once offered a passing opportunity via the missed shift. The following two stories, one from the 1921 French Grand Prix and the other of more recent vintage illustrate what has been lost …

Although they had switched engines on Uncle at the Ballot factory, giving him the slowest of the four, during practice he consistently lapped faster than the other drivers. Quite naturally, this worried the Frenchmen. Ballot was not at all pleased. With much excitement he asked: “How does De Palma do it?” “I wish I knew,” confessed Chassagne.

However, the answer was simple. Uncle could outdrive them, but the real trick was in the way we shifted gears on turns. During the time we rebuilt the Ballot in New York we had moved the gearshift lever to the centre, whereas before it had been on the right-hand side. Because it was a right-hand drive, it was now possible for me to shift gears whenever Uncle signaled me. As a result he never had to take his hands from the wheel as we approached a curve. He would yell, “Second!” or “First!” whichever gear he wanted in accordance with the speed we were making. This saved a few seconds on every turn and accounted for the faster time we were making around the course.

Ballot was much concerned and, the morning before the race, discovered our secret. During a final rehearsal with the car tuned perfectly and our morale high, M. Ballot hid behind a bush on one of the turns. As we entered the curve and Uncle Ralph gave the signal I reached for the gearshift but I was too anxious. Instead of shifting into second gear I started to put it in reverse. There was a loud grinding of gears. Up jumped Ballot, howling like an Indian. Waving his arms wildly he charged out onto the course.

“Stop. Stop!” he yelled. Ballot ran up to us in record time.

“Eet is not permitted for ze mechanician to touch ze change-speed lever!”, he yelled. “De Palma, ze driver, must make ze shift!”

…. Team draughtsman Martin Oglivie recalls Peterson going round lap after lap, proving the Lotus-Getrag gearbox, then suddenly going faster…

‘And when he came in we said, “Ah you’ve sorted out the selection problem”, and he just smiled that slow smile and said, “No. I yust stopped you-sing the clutch.” ‘

A preselector or self-changing gearbox is a type of manual gearbox that was popular with vehicles from the 1930s. The defining characteristic of a preselector gearbox is that the manual shift lever is used to “pre-select” the next gear to be used, then a separate control (a foot pedal) is used to engage this in one single operation, without needing to work a manual clutch.




Carbon fiber brakes were introduced to Formula 1 by the Brabham team in 1978. A modern Formula 1 car takes 4 seconds to go from 300 km/h to a complete stop. During braking a driver can be subjected to a horizontal deceleration of over 5Gs. During such heavy braking, the temperature of the brake rotor and pads can warm up from 400°C to more than 1000°C. These high temperatures occur at the very end of the braking, and is approximately the highest temperature a carbon brake disc can take. With the advent of semiautomatic gearboxes and paddle shifters a driver now uses his left foot to apply the brakes.


“Aerodynamics are for people who can’t build engines” Enzo Ferrari

Builders of race cars always realized that the wind traveling over the surface of the car effected the handling but were at a loss on how to make proper use of that air. Several teams started to experiment with the now familiar wings in the late 1960s. WingRace car wings operate on exactly the same principle as aircraft wings, only in reverse. Air flows at different speeds over the two sides of the wing (by having to travel different distances over its contours) and this creates a difference in pressure, a physical rule known as Bernoulli’s Principle. As this pressure tries to balance, the wing tries to move in the direction of the low pressure. Planes use their wings to create lift, race cars use theirs to create downforce. A modern Formula One car is capable of developing 3.5 g lateral cornering force (three and a half times its own weight) thanks to aerodynamic downforce. That means that, theoretically, at high speeds they could drive upside down.

Early experiments with movable wings and high mountings led to some spectacular accidents, and for the 1970 season regulations were introduced to limit the size and location of wings. Evolved over time, those rules still hold largely true today.

By the mid 1970s ‘ground effect’ downforce had been discovered. Lotus engineers found out that the entire car could be made to act like a wing by the creation of a giant wing on its underside which would help to suck it to the road. The ultimate example of this thinking was the Brabham BT46B, designed by Gordon Murray, which actually used a cooling fan to extract air from the skirted area under the car, creating enormous downforce. After technical challenges from other teams it was withdrawn after a single race. And rule changes followed to limit the benefits of ‘ground effects’ – firstly a ban on the skirts used to contain the low pressure area, later a requirement for a ‘stepped floor’.

Wind Tunnels

During the 50s and 60s teams began to reach out to the aeronautics industry and incorporate their use of windtunnels in the development of their race cars and initial work focused on reducing drag. This resulted in aerodynamic cars that tended to generate lift and upset the handling balance of the cars. This might be understandable when you consider that downforce in airplanes may not be such a good thing! However this was to cause windtunnels to gain a bad reputation. In the United States Jim Hall’s Chaparral team, working with Chevrolet’s R & D began to realize the enormous potential of downforce and applied it to their Can-Am, cars. The work was done without the benefit of electronic sensors and it was not until later that windtunnels would provided an environment to accurately measure these forces as they interacted with the race car. Today every team has access to one or more windtunnels, most with rolling roads. In November 1969 a landmark symposium was held in London where a number of papers were presented relating to the use of windtunnel testing of race cars.

The Engines

The power units are fitted with two electric motors, one linked directly to the turbocharger, the other working in the same was that KERS MGU’s have done in the past. The combined maximum power output will be around 760bhp similar to the output of the rev limited V8’s of 2013.

  • Engine – As of 2014 all of the cars in F1 will be fitted with 1.6 litre turbocharged engines. All Power Units must have direct fuel injection (DI), where fuel is sprayed directly into the combustion chamber. A turbocharger uses exhaust gas energy to increase the density of the engine intake air and therefore produce more power. The exhaust energy is converted to mechanical shaft power by an exhaust turbine. The mechanical power from the turbine is then used to drive the compressor, and also the MGU-H.
  • Hybrid System – More of an energy recovery system since it starts with zero energy stored. The internal combustion engine will produce power through consumption of traditional carbon-based fuel, while electrical energy will be harvested from exhaust and braking by two motor generator units (MGU-H & MGU-K) working in harmony. The MGU-K is connected to the crankshaft of the internal combustion engine, generally mounted underneath the oil tank in a recess at the back of the chassis. Under braking, the MGU-K operates as a generator, recovering some of the kinetic energy dissipated during braking. The MGU-H is connected to the turbocharger. Also acting as a generator, it absorbs power from the turbine shaft to convert heat energy from the exhaust gases. The electrical energy can be either directed to the MGU-K or to the battery for storage for later use.
  • Battery – Heat and Kinetic Energy recovered can be consumed immediately if required, or used to charge the Energy Store, or battery. The stored energy can be used to propel the car with the MGU-K or to accelerate the turbocharger with the MGU-H. Compared to 2013 KERS, the ERS of the 2014 power unit will have twice the power (120 kW vs 60 kW) and the energy contributing to performance is ten times greater. In fact one could do away with the battery and rely on capacitors to store the energy.


Sensors in race cars have been around since the days of the Silver Arrows. Auto Union’s Professor Eberan-Eberhorst helped develop a special on-board recording instrument that plotted various parameters such as car speed, engine speed, shifting and breaking points. The major limitation of this system is that the data was not available until after the race. For real-time data acquisition it was necessary that there be some form of telemetry. Wireless telemetry made early appearances in 1930 in France and Russia. The German V-2 rocket used a system of primitive multiplexed radio signals called “Messina” to report four rocket parameters, but it was so unreliable that Werner von Braun once claimed it was more useful to watch the rocket through binoculars. The widespread use of telemetry in Formula 1 occurred in the late 1980s when teams were sending data only in bursts as the car passed close to the pits.

Nowadays current Formula 1 cars have 150 to 300 sensors, chief amongst them is the fuel flow sensor. These measure a 100kg/h fuel flow limit set as part of the 2014 regulations. The chief maker of this sensor is the English company Gill Sensors and Controllers and operates using ultrasonic technology. These sensors must withstand temperatures exceeding +100°C, 50g of shock in 60ms, high acceleration loads to 10Khz and the build-up of oil and dirt ingress encountered from racing at speeds of up to 350 km/h. With new regulations for 2014, Gill has recently developed a new generation of capacitive liquid level sensors with remote electronics that offer reliability and accuracy in operating temperatures up to +170°C.

During official testing sessions, teams are allowed to use large sensors to better understand the performance of their cars. Typical sensors include:

  • Pitot Masts – A pitot tube is a pressure measurement instrument used to measure fluid flow velocity. The pitot tube was invented by a French engineer named Henri Pitot in the early 18th century and later modified to its modern form in the mid-19th century by another Frenchman, Henry Darcy.
  • Infrared Tire Temperature – Large pods containing an array of infrared thermal cameras are fitted to various parts of the bodywork temperature changes across the tire tread as well as areas of the bodywork to see if it is getting hot and to gauge the path of the exhaust plume.
  • Aero Rakes – These are made up of an array of Kiel probes which will map airflow across the full surface of the rake or grid. Commonly these are fitted behind the front tyre to measure the tyre’s wake, or towards the rear of the sidepod to map the flow passing towards the rear wing/diffuser.
  • Cameras – These are useful in measuring deflection of bodywork or monitoring surface flows by detecting the relative movement of the stickers wool tufts attached to the bodywork.


At the dawn of motor racing a puncture was not considered a mechanical failure, it was expected to occur and often. Drivers and their riding mechanics were expected to fix them where ever they occurred. It was not a question of traction but rather of survivability.

A reporter once asked 1980 World Champion Alan Jones whether his tires played an important part in his race that day. Jones replied “Oh, absolutely. You see, they keep the wheels from touching the ground.” In the early sixties teams realized that by removing the grooves from a tire a car will have more grip on the road surface due to the expanded area of the tire making contact with the road. All teams ran with slick tires up to the 1998 season when grooved tires.were mandated in an attempt to slow speeds. For 2009 regulation changes have called for a return to slick tires and a ban on the use of tire blankets to pre-heat the tires to their optimum temperature of 110C-110C.

For the 2014 season Pirelli has create two types of tires, one for dry conditions and the other for wet. Within the dry tires there are four compounds, Super Soft, Soft which are referred to as option tires and Medium, Hard which are referred to as the prime tire. For wet weather there are intermediate and full wet tires easily identified through their tread patterns the dry tires being slick but color coded. Pirelli will bring approximately 1800 tires to each race meeting with a prime and option tire designated by the FIA for expected conditions. One will be designated the primary tire an the other the option tire. These tires are designed to have a nominal life span of 1/2 to 1/3 of the race distance.

The Driver

“The chief qualities of a racing driver are concentration, determination and anticipation … A 1929 Austin without brakes develops all three – anticipation rather more than the first two, perhaps.” Graham Hill

Piero Taruffi, the author of the seminal work The Technique of Motor Racing written oven a half century ago believed that a successful racing car drive should have a fair share of the following:

  1. Great enthusiasm
  2. A sizeable helping of courage, and mastery over his nerves
  3. The trig ht mental and physical make-up
  4. Physical fitness and lots of stamina
  5. A good bank balance

Physical Fitness

Fitness training has come a long way in the over 100 years that men have been driving racing cars. Each team now has a personal trainer assigned to one or both drivers.

Alexander Leibinger, a physiotherapist and osteopath said that being in good physical condition also helps to quickly eliminate the physiological byproducts of mental stress, like the acids the body produces. ”If you have a better basic fitness level then your body can handle it and eliminate all of the stress products,” Leibinger said. ”That is why we do a lot of basic training, say 20 hours a week of endurance training and muscle training. To have a good basis so that during a race weekend, when the stress is very high, the body can handle it.”


To state that athletes are different from you and I is to state the obvious but a strong case can be made for the concept that some emotions and character traits normally regarded as antisocial – rage, hate, greed, lust, revenge, ruthlessness, and so on – may be necessary to fuel competitive fires to the levels necessary to excel in Formula One racing, hence the old adage ‘nice guys finish last’. It may also pay off for a driver to be paranoid, feeling that the whole world is against him, which, in fact, all his rivals are. Nigel Mansell was just one example of a driver who seemed to parlay paranoia into success on the track. “We’ve always had bad losers – Nigel Mansell is a bad winner,” is how Keke Rosberg, the 1982 champion with Williams, characterized the Englishman.

Ayrton Senna was an innovator in using a sport psychologist (or physical/mental coach as Nuno Cobra called himself) before anyone else in F1. Senna would also meditate prior to every race, visualizing what would happen during the race and between his car and that perfect lap.


Denis Jenkinson always believed that winning races was more important than driver’s titles so it’s not surprising that one of his favorite drivers, Stirling Moss, never won a title. It should be noted however that during a career that comprised 375 competitive races, Moss won an astonishing 212 of them.

In those days the best school for a race driver was the hill climb. That’s where most of us learned. In a circuit race, you would guide yourself by the man in front and the man in back. But in a hill climb you were alone. You couldn’t know what the next man would do, you had to go to the maximum all the way, give it everything you had for the distance. Rene Dreyfus – My Two Lives


When asked Stirling Moss, British sporting hero stated that today F1, with it’s multinational sponsor is more of a business than a sport. He explained that although he had a great rivalry with Mike Hawthorn in 1958, when both were racing to be the country’s first world champion, the two got on very well. Moss even stood up for Hawthorn when he was disqualified from one race in 1958. If he hadn’t, Hawthorn would have lost the precious extra points he needed to win the championship. Ironically two of the greatest champions in the history of racing, Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher bare a strong responsibility for the winning at all costs atmosphere that pervades Formula 1.

Yet perhaps Moss is more the exception than the rule. Phil Hill, a man know for his integrity remarked:

“Racing brings out the worst in me,” he said. “Without it, I don’t know what kind of person I might have become. But I’m not sure I like the person I am now. Racing makes me selfish, irritable, defensive. If I could get out of this sport with any ego left I would.”

The Race

Long avenues of trees, top-heavy with foliage and gaunt in their very nakedness of trunk; a long, never-ending white ribbon, stretching away to the horizon; the holding of a bullet directed to that spot on the sky-line where earth and heaven met; fleeting glimpses of towns and dense masses of people – mad people, insane and reckless, holding themselves in front of the bullet to be ploughed and cut and maimed to extinction, evading the inevitable at the last moment in frantic haste; overpowering relief, as each mass was passed and each chance of catastrophe escaped; and beyond all, the horrible feeling of being hunted. Hundreds of cars behind, of all sizes and powers, and all of them at my heels, traveling over the same road, perhaps faster than I, and all striving to overtake me, pour dust on me, and leave me behind as they sped on to the distant goal of Bordeaux.

Even at the start, the remembrance of the gigantic line of vehicles at Versailles, all awaiting to receive the signal to dash after me, weighed me down and as we sped on and on and they came not, the strain became worse and worse. I have sympathy now with the hunted animal, for once in my life I was hunted; and of all the impressions of that wild rush to Bordeaux that awful feeling of being hunted was the vivid and lasting, and having experienced it, I do not wonder that Number One has seldom won a race.

Charles Jarrott

Practice & Testing

Born on July 15, 1906, Rudolf Uhlenhaut was an engineer and designer of Anglo-German descent, who later sat on the Board of Management at Daimler-Benz.

In 1955 after a test session on the Nürburgring, for example, world champion driver Juan Manuel Fangio reported that the car was not quite set up as it should be. So after a substantial lunch Rudolf Uhlenhaut, head of the racing department, climbed into the car, dressed in suit and tie, and lapped the Ring three seconds faster than the world champion. When Uhlenhaut pulled up alongside Fangio he told him it was nothing a little practice wouldn’t put right.

As of 2009 teams are limited to 15,000 test kilometres during a calendar year. Young driver training and promotional events do not count towards this tally. Testing can only take place at FIA-approved sites and, ahead of a session, teams must inform the governing body of their schedule so that an observer can be appointed if deemed necessary. Testing during the race season itself is banned (from the week preceding the first Grand Prix to December 31), with the exception of a small number of straight-line aero tests.

With evermore restrictions on testing more and more time is given to racing simulators. One of the leading providers of simulators to motorsports is Cruden B.V. out of the Netherlands. These simulators provide six degrees of freedom (6-DOF or forward/back, up/down, left/right, pitch, yaw, roll).

The use of simulators has their detractors. Former Ferrari president, Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo slammed Formula 1’s reliance on simulators. “It is a joke,” said di Montezemolo during a lunch with media. “We have been forced to invest a huge amount of money in these terrible machines, artificial, instead of testing here [at Fiorano] and Mugello. Of course it should be remembered that Ferrari alone amongst Formula 1 teams has its own private test track.


The concept of a qualifying for the pole position has not always existed in Grand Prix Racing. In fact at the first Grand Prix drives were flagged off at intervals. When grids became the rule starting position was determined by ballot. Each marque had the right to place its drivers according to their own judgment but in conformity with the ballot. Eventually starting positions were awarded based upon practice and later special qualifying times.

Antonio Ascari and Giuseppe Campari were fierce rivals on the Alfa Romeo and it was not enough to beat Campari, Ascari had to destroy him and this would prove his undoing at 1925 French Grand Prix at Monthlery …

During practice Campari had, most unusually, set a faster time than Ascari. Grid positions being decided by ballot in those days, the team gave their fastest drivers the front positions. This always went to the younger and more talented Ascari, Alfa’s number one. “But one of the directors, Rimini, who normally didn’t attend and knew nothing about racing, insisted that Campari be given the front slot, based on his practice time. Ascari was furious, for there had always been some envy and friction between the two drivers. Antonio had a point to prove and charged ahead from the start, increasing his lead despite my signals to slow down. He just misjudged that long corner. It was not even raining at the time, and he died in my arms.” The 24-year-old Giulio fainted, and took some time to recover, for he idolized Ascari, telling me “He was the first Nuvolari, very soft on his cars , smooth and so fast.” The quote from Ramponi was relayed to Patrick O’Brien during a personal interview fifty years later and is used with his kind permission.

During the turbo era of the 1980s engines were allowed unrestricted turbo boost in qualifying, where they were developing 1,350+ hp at 5.5 bar boost (80 psi). These engines and gearboxes would only last about 2–3 laps.

The Start

Earlier race cars did have starters but as we can learn from the following turn of the century recounting by Charles Jarrott that all was not so simple …

(Frank) Wellington who was an expert on ignition burners (so he informed me), then proceeded to light the ignition lamps for the motor. His methods were drastic, novel to me, and terrifying to the bystanders. There was rather a big blaze, but, as he explained to me afterwards, that was a detail, and it really was not dangerous. Anyhow, when I say that he turned on the petrol tap, flooded the whole of the engine with petrol, turned the tap off, lit a match, dropped it inside the bonnet of the motor and then ran away, one can imagine that my criticism of his expertness was somewhat more forcible than my expression of the word “primitive.” And having assured the bystanders that the aid of the fire brigade was not necessary, and the flames having subsided, we got the burners to work with the aid of some methylated spirit, and proceeded to start the motor.

The famous Le Mans start and the less famous Tourist Trophy start were some of the few instances where running to your car and starting the engine was part of the race. In most other forms of racing the engines are running or started on the grid somewhat theatrically as at Indianapolis prior to one or more pace laps. The modern Formula 1 cannot start on its own and their unique standing start can only happen after the cars have returned to the grid following a formation lap.

Formation Lap

Before the start of the race the cars must move onto the grid and take their places based upon their qualifying times. Approximately five minutes before the actual start and based upon the length of the circuit the cars take a lap around the track in formation and form back onto the grid ready for the flag to drop, or now for the lights to go out.

During the formation lap – and this is something you learn quickly in the lower formula – the driver must also leave his mark on his opponents, let everyone know he is not there to be pushed around, that he will finish as high as he possibly can. A squeeze on a bend, a hint of overtaking, a braking manoeuvre extended to within a few centimeters of the gearbox of the car in front demonstrates your intention and ambitions: these feints and thrusts are a sort of declaration of war. The driver in front of us, who may not be perfectly mentally and physically tuned, might actually start the race with his eyes in the rear-view mirror, losing sight of the cars ahead of him. And that is a fatal mistake: if this is how he has started, in most cases he will be easy to swallow up later. – Ayrton Senna

Pitstops & Mechanics


With the arrival of re-fueling the modern pit pit crew comprises 17-20 people, each with a very specific role. When a car enters the pit during a regular stop it stops in marked area . If the driver misses the mark it costs valuable time to move the car manually back to the right position. The lollipop man shows the side of his board which says “Brakes on”. The refueling man puts the hose into the car. At the same time the two jack holders, one at front and one at the rear, use levers to lift the car off the ground. The wheelmen at each wheel, use air guns to remove the nuts, which hold the wheels in place. While the wheels are taken off, new wheels already waiting by the car are attached. After each new wheel is attached one of the wheelmen holds up his arm. Others check the air intakes for blockages and if necessary wing adjustments are made. When all four wheelmen are ready the Jack Holders lower the car. The lollipop man rotates his board to display “1st Gear” When refueling is completed a light will go on and the hose is swiftly removed. Lollipop man checks for traffic and raises his lollipop to signify to the driver that he can go back out into the pit lane. By this time the driver is focused on the lollipop and the millisecond it is raised, he accelerates off, the average time in the pits between 6 and 8 seconds.

Lollipop Man – The lollipop man heads up the pit crew, often the chief mechanic and it is his responsibility to organize the pit stop. He marks the area where the car should stop and ensures that the car is still while the mechanics change the tires and refuel. Only when the tires have been changed and all the necessary fuel is in the car, does he raise his lollipop to signify to the driver that he can leave the pits.

Wheelmen – The wheelmen are in charge of making sure the old tires come off the car and are replaced by new ones. Three wheelmen are allocated to each wheel, one responsible for removing and reattaching the wheel nuts, one to remove the old tire and one to put on a new tire If the driver requires aerodynamic modifications to his car, two wheelmen are prepared to make front and rear wing adjustments.

Refueling Man – As soon as the car halts outside the garage the refueling man attaches the fuel pump to the car to begin the refueling process. Two mechanics assist in holding the fuel hose. For refueling during a race, teams use identical rigs supplied by one FIA-approved manufacturer. For safety reasons the refueling rate is limited to 12.1 liters per second.

Jack Holders – There are two people in charge of the jacks – a tool used to manually lift the car off the ground. There is one Jack Holder for the front and one for the rear. They use levers to lift the car off the ground immediately as it comes in for its pit stop.

Firemen – Two crew members are on standby with fire extinguishers in the unlikely event of a fire breaking out.

Starter – If a driver stalls the car, a gearbox mechanic is ready to manually start the car from the rear.

Pitstops during the thirty’s were a different matter. While there were no international regulations governing how many mechanics could take part the individual race organizers usually set limits of 2-3. Hermann Lang, of the Mercedes team describes such a pitstop:

First is a signal for the driver to stop on the next lap, this consists of an inclined red cross on a white background. With three mechanics No. 1 puts the left rear wheel on the track; Nos. 1 and 2 raise the car on the jack; No. 1 changes the left, No. 2 the right wheel. No. 1 gets the starter, No. 2 lowers the car. No. 3 has in the mean time handed the driver goggles, water and leather (to clean the windscreen) and refueled.

The team used a pressurized refueling device that dispensed 20 gallons in 8 seconds (compared to 25.5 in 2008) though regulations required the engines to be switched off when used. Altogether the perfect pitstop took 21 seconds, a record amongst teams at the time, front tires were rarely changed.

In the early days of motor racing one mechanic or mechnician as he was know would actually ride next to the driver during the races. S.C.H. Davis served as a riding mechanic to Count Louis Zborowski in the 1924 French Grand Prix:

“Mechanics are always asked whether they feel uncomfortably nervous. The answer is that a mechanic first must have confidence in his driver, and after that should make no attempt to ‘drive in his mind,’ being too busy with his job. A driver sitting by another who is handling the car nearly always drives in his mind, and if the pair have not got the same cut-off points before a corner, then the one who is not driving is sure to be nervous.”

“Our run up the vase of the triangle course was a real joy, but the long straight leg up and down the ‘Montagnes Russes’ at 117 mph with the wind howling round one’s ears and air pressure trying to force our heads back, amply demonstrated the real thrill of racing, the full exhilaration of speed… Every few minutes I would look back, and see if, in the distance there showed the bright colored speck of another car … if it faded, well and good; if it grew more definite … gradually overtaking us than I would warn Zborowski by one tap on the shoulder. When the other car was ready to pass, two taps. In between each gauge had to be watched air pressure had to be maintained in the fuel tank and an occasional glance outside to make sure that nothing looked loose and that the tire treads were standing up.”


Traction CircleThe art of cornering has many aspects but it all starts where the tire hits the road in what was once referred to as slip angle and is now illustrated in the form of a traction or friction circle.

In the diagram at right the roadway exists in the x-y plane with the direction of travel illustrated by the headlights. The vehicle cornering to the right shows the tire rotated at an angle from its actual direction. This is the aforementioned slip angle. The use of a circle describes how cornering, braking and acceleration forces come into play and using modern data acquisition these forces can be graphed.

A tire can generate horizontal force where it meets the road surface by the mechanism of slip. That force is represented in the diagram by the vector F. Note that in this example F is perpendicular to the plane of the tire. That is because the tire is rolling freely, with no torque applied to it by the vehicle’s brakes or drive train. However, that is not always the case for often the is either accelerating or braking.

The magnitude of F is limited by the dashed circle which denotes the maximum level of adhesion. The diameter of this traction circle is affected by many things, including the design of the tire and its condition (age and temperature, for example), the qualities of the road surface, and the vertical load on the tire.

Racing Line

Racing circuits all have one thing in common, they consist of a series of turns connected by straights of varying lengths. The goal of a driver is to complete the circuit or lap in the shortest amount of time. To do this the driver attempts to maximize the time his car is running at full acceleration. If the car is no longer accelerating then it must either be decelerating or has reach terminal velocity. This should happen just before he or she has reached the next corner. If this is not the case then an adjustment to the gear ratio is warranted.

In navigating a turn the driver will follow an imaginary line, which is known as the racing line. This racing line seeks to widen the radius of a given turn. Once the racing line is determined a driver may modify the point on which they turn in, moving the apex further into the corner allowing them to accelerate sooner. This is especially true for a mid to slow corner followed by a longer straight. A driver may also modify their line when defending their position, taking an earlier turn so as not to “leave the door open” for their opponent to pass on the inside following late braking. In judging the proper racing line through a series of turns the driver must give priority to the one leading to the longer straight, especially if the straight offers a passing opportunity.


Peter Windsor, one of the principles of the new US F1 team remarked that “To my eye, as I’ve said before, there appear to be two major divisions: those who brake in a straight line and naturally find the geometrical apex, and those who brake as they turn in to an earlier apex.” Jim Clark belonged to the latter group, who would get on the power early and try to drift the car through the true apex and to continue to drift as he set the car up for the following straight.

A modern F1 car will stop from 200mph to 0 in just 5sec. “You have to hit the brakes very hard initially,” says Jenson Button,” “There’s so much downforce – about 5.5g – that your head is pushed forwards. The most difficult part is controlling the middle and the end of the braking. You must try to keep the car balanced and not lock the wheels. With 5.5g of loading, you can lock the wheels very easily.” Using turn 4 at Barcelona, a medium speed right-hander as an example Button uses the car’s natural oversteer to initiate the turn. “Normally you get a bit of oversteer [rear-end slip] on turn-in,” he says. “Then you balance the car using the throttle and the brakes at the same time.”

Left-Foot Braking

During the 70s many young drivers got their start racing karts. Most of the karts came with only two pedals, for gas and brake. The faster drivers soon found that judiciously using the gas while applying full breaking they could adjust the balance of the car and lessened the karts tendency for oversteering. When Ronnie Peterson reached Formula 1 and joined the Lotus team he had retained his preference for left foot braking and found a receptive ear in Colin Chapman. With the 1974 Lotus T76 Chapman produced a Y-shaped brake pedal that could be used by either foot. The clutch pedal was retained but only required for starting. Thereafter, gear changes were performed using a button on the gear change lever to activate the clutch via an electro-hydraulic actuation system. Left-foot braking common in rallying became more wide-spread in F1 with the arrival of Michael Schumacher.

The graph on the left traces the throttle-to-brake response of two drivers. Driver A is using his right foot to brake, while Driver B is using his left foot. From the graph you can see that right foot braking wastes some time in removing his right foot from the throttle over to the brake peddle. This time is marked by points “a” and “b”.

But suppose that both feet are working in tandem. One common race situation that requires left-foot braking is when a racer is cornering under power. If the driver doesn’t want to lift off the throttle, potentially causing trailing-throttle oversteer, left-foot braking can induce a mild oversteer situation, and improve the car turning in to the corner. Mild left-foot braking can also help reduce understeer.


Overtaking another car is usually the result of greater speed exiting a corner, later braking into a corner, slipstreaming, a mechanical problem or a driver mistake. Add to this you have the artificial means of KERS and DRS. A slower car will be asked to allow a trailing car to pass by being shown a Blue Flag by one of the marshals.

Maurice Trintignant, brother of Louis, had only started racing that year and the organizers at the Grand Prix de Pau, became worried when they realized that Trintignant had qualified for a position in the middle of the field. Charles Faroux wanted to move Trintignant to the last position but changed his mind only on the condition that Trintignant during the race would not try to pass any one and would keep a close eye on his mirrors!


Communication between drivers and their mechanics has always been critical to the success of the team whether the mechanic or mechanics were sitting in the seat next to the driver or safely in the pits.

Now that riding mechanics have been banned and communication between drivers save for the occasional salutes to fellow racers who forget to check their mirrors, communication in now limited to drivers and their pit crew. Before two-way radio this was accomplished through the use of hand signals, flags or sign boards.

Alfred Neubauer was famous not just for his girth but for the host of flags he carried to each race. One drawback though was that the other team or driver could also see these signals, sometimes to their distinct advantage. In response some hand signals were added that could be changed depending on the circumstance similar to the signs used in American Baseball without the theatrical spitting and grabbing of one’s crotch! At the beginning of each race Neubauer took his place at trackside, a black and red flag in his hand. An official seeing this strange sight tried to have him removed but to no avail. There is even a photograph of Neubauer at the front of the grid holding up 4 fingers to signal four seconds to start. Amazingly all eyes are on him rather than on the starter! From that moment on a race without Don Alfredo could not have been very important. Woe betide the driver who should happen to miss or ignore these signals. The driver trying to keep his car on the track at speeds of over 150 miles per hour was left to cope.

The introduction of two-way radios, computers and electronic monitoring gives the team and driver real-time information regarding the race as well as the health of the car. While electronic control from the pits is forbidden they can inform the drive to make an adjustment from the cockpit. To top this of the teams also have the latest weather information should a storm be brewing.

As if this information overload is not enough live feeds have now allowed the viewing public, happily sitting on their couch to listen in while the crew exhorts their overwrought driver that the moment had arrived to go all out to catch and pass the car ahead. It’s doubtful if this sorry spectacle would have ever been directed at a Tazio Nuvolari or Gilles Villeneuve had the technology been available. They knew nothing else.


Race strategy is constantly evolving, but goes through particularly marked transitions when major rule changes are introduced. Shortly after the reintroduction of refueling stops in 1994, the teams’ race strategists worked out that at some circuits benefit could be gained from making two or three stops, rather than just one. This was because the car could run substantially quicker on a lower fuel load (with less weight to carry around) and using the grippier, but less durable, soft tyre compounds. The difference in performance was such that it could be sufficient to offset the effect of the 30 or so seconds lost making a pit stop.

Regardless of rule changes, there are certain factors that must always be considered. Data such as weather forecasts, the likelihood of overtaking at a particular track, the length of the pit lane and even the chances of an accident likely to require the use of the safety car all come into play when deciding strategy. And, of course, one of the largest ingredients remains, as always, luck.

But with built-in tire degradation has F1 become to “tactical” or in fact too much of a crap shoot?

The Race Circuit

The Nordschleife, today the only circuit used, contains only 4 km of straight in its 22.18 km, and that straight is interrupted by humpbacked bridges. Apart from the broad Startplatz between the pits and the huge grandstand, is is of normal road width; cars blast down to the wide sweep of the Sudkehre and back behind the pits to the slightly banked Tribunenkehre or Nordkehre where they sweep left and vanish from the grandstand view.

Plunging downhill through the Hatzenbach and Quiddelbacher Höhe in the forested Hocheichen valley, up past the Flugplatz and the Schwedenkreuz, the road writhes its way down to the Fuchsröhre, then up again to Adenauerforst. A series of fast curves then brings cars in a downhill rush to Adenau Gate, then they climb past the cliff-like walls of Bergwerk, plunge through a valley, then steeply uphill to the Karussel. This is the most famous corner on the Ring, turning almost a full-circle, with a concrete-banked ditch on the inside. (Caracciola’s mechanic Wilhelm Sebastian is credited with discovering the time-saving method of using the ditch as a banking in 1928-29.)

After the Karussel a long, winding climb follows to the Höhe Acht, then dives down twisting and turning to Brünnchen, through the fast Pfanzgarten bend and on to the Schwalbenschwanz double turn. Up, then, to the Dottinger Höhe and a left-hand sweep onto the home straight with its humpbacked bridges, a last 120 m.p.h. curve under the Autoniusbruche and so back to the start and another tortuous.

The Environment

Today the longest circuit to host a Formula 1 race is the Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium that was shortened from it’s original length of fourteen to its current seven kilometer. The old town to town races of the heroic past of which the Mille Miglia, Targa Florio and the Carrera Panamericana were the remaining holdouts are a distant memory. Except for temporary street circuits in Monaco and now Singapore, races are held on specially built and ever more antiseptic closed circuits.

Mottard sur La Buire, Ventoux 1908Charles Jarrott, that wonderful chronicler and participant of motor racing at the beginning of the last century remarked that racing on closed circuits destroyed the charm and natural judgment required when racing on the open road and replaced it with the dreary monotony of grinding out a certain distance over the same road again and again, rewarding the drivers most reckless and daring rendered possible by the knowledge of the course. In fact he remarked how boring the last three-parts of the race had been on his way to victory at the 1902 Circuit des Ardennes and that he had not even bothered reconnoitering the circuit even though it was only fifty-three miles in length!

To Charles Jarrott the continual passing and re-passing of the same landmarks were little more than tiring.

The current Formula 1 driver familiarizing himself with a new circuit in some oil-rich sheikdom can only dream of another Eau Rouge or 130R (Sazuka), such is his lot.

The fan sitting in his $300 seat can hear but only see his heroes as they appear on the JumboTron but at least any danger from wild animals has been minimized …


Over the years Graham Hill had jotted down all of the issues he has encountered in racing in a little black book. When he would go out to the circuit Hill would simply flip it to the appropriate page to find out what problems he may encounter and how he should set up his car to compensate.

Cornering Technique

Today there are many tomes on cornering technique available to the beginning driver, the most famous having been written in 1958 by Piero Taruffi. In his section on cornering he mentions the “conventional line” which in effect attempts to take a corner in more or less its maximum radius by starting at the outer edge of the road, clipping the apex and finishing again at the outside edge of the road. While Taruffi’s book is considered by many including the great Fangio to be the first “text-book” on motor racing this technique has been around since the dawn of circuit racing. An eye witness at the 1908 French Grand Prix described the following, manner in which Leon Théry negotiated the difficult downhill bridge section at Ancourt.

Hugging the outer edge of the road he cut across to the inside edge under the bridge and, cutting the corner on the other side in the same way, was gone up the slope without the trace of a skid.”

Théry’s great rival, Camille Jenatzy used a slightly different technique as recounted by a fellow participant in the 1903 Gordon Bennett Cup.

“Throughout the seemingly endless series of curves, Jenatzy kept his foot to the floor. He skidded at breakneck speed around the corners, often only narrowly missing the bordering walls in the process, as was shown by his skid marks that were everywhere to be seen. I could not imagine that he could keep up this daredevil driving style for very long.”

Driving In Inclement Weather

Rain was called the great equalizer. To be considered good in the rain was a badge of honor and to be called Der Regenmeister was the height of accolades. Herman Lang was fully competitive with the other drivers except when it came to rain. Reuolf Caracciola was the accepted regenmeister but Lang was still not comfortable in those conditions. It took extra practice under the tutelage of Neubauer in order for Lang to gain more confidence.

I cannot give enough praise to the inspired driving of the winner. He averaged 72.82 mph, and I, who came in eleventh and second of those who started from scratch, was more than pleased with 69.01. Not for an instant did Caracciola falter. The rain was blinding and the roads never more slippery, but whenever he passed me at that terrific speed I felt no envy, only incredulity at his skill, his courage and the endurance of his car. He broke records with ease under a deluge of rain, on road that was at times almost flooded, and never sacrificed the safety of others to his own ambition. – Tim Birkin describing Rudolf Caracciola

Flags & Officials

1903 Paris - MadridThe use by race officials of flags and other signals have been around since the beginning. During early city-to-city racing there were established control zones within city limits where the cars were escorted behind the precursor to the modern day safety car, a man on a bicycle only to recommence racing as they left the city behind. Currently Formula 1 has started using a virtual safety car which is a combination of on-board and trackside signaling. Once the VSC has been deployed no car may be driven unnecessarily slowly, erratically or in a manner which could be deemed potentially dangerous to other drivers or any other person at any time whilst the VSC procedure is in use. This will apply whether any such car is being driven on the track, the pit entry or the pit lane. In fact, no car may enter the pits whilst the VSC procedure is in use unless it is for the purpose of changing tyres.

All competing cars must reduce speed and stay within a target speed range. The goal is to produce an actual reduction in speed of around 30% by all cars on the track and limit any bunching up of cars behind the safety car.

Returning to the 1908 French Grand Prix and the bridge section at Ancourt. This section was considered very dangerous by the race organizer who placed a bugler at some distance who would announce the approach of a car with a blast of his instrument. This was to allow a flag man ample time to run up the road and warn any competitor should the section be blocked by an accident from another car. Luckily for the flag man this did not happen during the main event! Regretfully for the flag man the invention of onboard warning lights and safety cars were still almost a century away.