Gearing Up For An African F1

Published 12 years ago
Gearing Up For An African F1

Formula One is arguably one of the most technologically demanding sports on the planet. Obscene amounts of money are poured into vehicles that are the pinnacle of design and performance engineering; vehicles piloted by drivers whose talents seem superhuman. Even to the most ardent enthusiast, the complexities of these vehicles is mind-numbing.

A Formula One car is broken down into the following components: the nose, front wing, push/pull rod suspension, sidepods, rear end, exhaust system and rear wing. The grotesque-looking nose channels airflow and serves as a safety mechanism. According to 2012 regulations, the nose must sit 550mm above the base of the car to prevent major trauma to drivers in cases where the side of a vehicle is hit. Configuring airflow over most of the vehicle is the job of the front wing. It creates the aerodynamic down force needed to keep the car in contact with the track—essential when traveling at close to 400km/h. Airflow is a major consideration in the design of Formula One cars, and the suspension is of particular concern as these are areas of great turbulence. The push/pull rods allow for increased suspension geometry and decreased air resistance.

The sidepods of a Formula One car house many of the crucial components such as the GPS locator, oil-cooling radiators, batteries and clutch disengage systems (which marshals can use in emergencies). As they can be obtrusive, many manufacturers use deep undercuts to assist with airflow. The rear end ensures optimal airflow at the back of the car. Tighter paneling and smaller gearboxes are naturally advantageous.


Last year, teams made use of engine mapping that allowed engines to blow “off throttle” which created extra down force in corners. However, this year, the use of “blown diffusers” has been banned. Teams are looking at alternatives, with some directing their exhaust gasses over the rear beam wing (which has proven to be less effective).

Drivers are able to control the amount of drag using the Drag Reduction System (DRS), which in turn equates to greater or less speed, as required. In practice and qualifying, DRS can be used at any time. Mid-competition though, a car must be less than a second behind another vehicle to be activated (the system shuts down when the driver brakes).

Formula One cars are capable of changing gears in only 0.05 seconds. During a race season, each team is allowed up to 30 pairs of gear ratios, but these must be openly declared to the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile). Tolerances within the Formula One engine are in the realm of mere microns (i.e. thousandths of a millimeter) and most engines are normally aspirated 2.4-liter V8s.

Formula One cars use the Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems technology we are now seeing in production vehicles. It harnesses heat energy produced by normal braking, which is stored and used to boost acceleration. Lap times can be decreased by anything from 0.1 to 0.4 seconds.


Typically, a Formula One car weighs just 550kg and is 85% carbon fiber. It can speed up from zero to 160km/h and back down to zero in only four seconds. Drivers can be subjected to as much as 5Gs (G-force); that means their bodies weigh five times more than normal. Some drivers have even said that under extreme braking, their tear ducts squirt water onto their visors!

Formula One is a spectacularly expensive sport to engage in, either as a host country or as a constructor team (constructor countries comprise the United States, Italy, India, Spain, Great Britain, Russia, Germany, Austria and Switzerland). Countries hosting circuits are Australia, Malaysia, China, Bahrain, Spain, Monte Carlo, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Hungary, Belgium, Italy, Singapore, Japan, Korea, Dubai, the United States and Brazil. In 2010, Austin-based company Full Throttle Productions submitted data that helped secure a track in Texas. They claimed that a race weekend would have a direct economic impact of $300 million for that area and produce $26.6 million in new tax revenue for the state.

But such profits would come at a cost. Full Throttle Productions needed $25 million for the next decade, in the form of state financial support—not an easy task for most African states to pull off. The GDPs of countries that host Formula One circuits are in the trillions of dollars, with the exception of Hungary, which raked in a paltry $147 billion last year. Selecting an African country, Uganda say, we can determine from their GDP—$42 billion—that such an investment would be ludicrous when so many other vital aspects demand the state’s attention.

South Africa held the National Formula One Championship series from 1960 to 1975. The death knell was sounded due to spiraling costs and objections to the country’s apartheid policy. Still, there have been two races since—one in 1992 and one in 1993 (won by Alain Prost in his Williams).


If South Africa entered the fray, it would be the only country on the continent to do so—other nations being too poor or embroiled in political turmoil. Rallying has traditionally been more successful here (the Safari, Ivory Coast and Paris-Dakar races). There was some racing undertaken in North Africa where French and Italian influences were felt, and most of these were held in city streets. There was the Tripoli Grand Prix, the Moroccan Grand Prix and the Algerian Grand Prix—the latter cut short by an uprising in 1954. Racing featured in Portuguese-influenced territories in the 1960s, such as Mozambique and Angola. Excessive heat sometimes saw the majority of cars simply failing.

There is talk however, that F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone will be bringing the sport to South Africa. A proposed location for a Monaco-styled course has been suggested along Mouille Point in Cape Town. But, says Francois Pretorius, CEO of Motorsport South Africa: “We have not received any confirmation in this regard.” Despite Ecclestone alluding to the proposal being close to conclusion, environmental impact studies would still need to be done, and the substantial costs would need to be offset against any potential benefits. Hopefully, South Africa will be able to champion the cause for its brothers.