The Evolution of F1 Cars


Think sleek and sultry lines, unbelievable speed, and innovative body types; when it comes to Formula 1 cars, speed and grace epitomise the relationship between car and driver. In the fifties, the cars resembled simplistic tubes, flying around the track at breakneck speeds. Fast forward to today, and the F1 cars are sleek and sophisticated, and make the velocities of early eras in motorsport seem pedestrian. The sharp lines and rumbling engines show clear evolution from the early days. A triumph of modern technology, the muscle of the F1 car is frankly outstanding today.

History of the Formula 1 Car

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The first F1 race cars had their origins in the European Grand Prix cars of the 1920’s and 1930’s. The tragedy of WWII punctuated the development of the sport, although it did a great deal for the technology of factories. The birth of F1 was in 1946, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile‘s (FIA’s) standardized the rules for the first time. Once the 1950’s came around, F1 racing was brought to center stage with the first championship race. After the 50’s, and after many of the initial growing pains had been overcome, Formula 1 racing became an unbelievably expensive and exciting event. Only the best of the best car manufacturers, like Ferrari, Mercedes, and Maserati were worthy to compete. In no small part to the extravagant cost of success, Ferrari dominated the early years, along with Alfa Romeo and Maserati. The British BRM, and French Talbot also competed, albeit with far less success.

The Evolution of the Formula 1 Car

At the beginning Formula 1 cars had their engines in the front. Their tires were narrow-tread, and the vehicles were powered by a 1.5 liter supercharged engine, or they were decked with a 4.5 liter aspirated engine. In the mid 50’s, to lighten the load and increase the speed, regulations limited the engine to only 2.5 liters. By the late 1950’s and into the early 1960’s, all F1 cars had their lighter engines placed in the back. Teams like Lotus, and drivers like Jim Clarke, were masters at facilitating new techniques and technologies.

More from Formula One

In 1968, a new F1 car, the Green Lotus, was loaded with a lightweight aluminum sheet chassis. This car was also one of the first to carry an advertisement on the body of the vehicle, racing around the track sporting the emblem of their supporters. Lotus went on to create some of the most innovative racing cars ever conceived. As the years passed by, cars became sleeker and sleeker, faster and more appealing all around. With the new designs and enhanced aerodynamic features, these cars could handle corners like none before, with drivers racing at faster speeds on tougher tracks.

In the late 70’s, Lotus again made ground breaking advances in the F1 arena, adding side skirts and an under-body design, which helped the car to get the grip it needed to fly around corners and race up the tracks. The F1 cars had so much power, that accidents frequently resulted in fatalities. With all the power those small bodied vehicles housed, drivers found it impossible to tame the potential. Instead of a supercharged engine rumbling under the hood of the F1, in the 1980’s electronic driving aids were created to help the drivers control the cars better. When the early 90’s ticked round, semi-automatic gearboxes and traction controls were invented and became integral to Formula 1 vehicles. These advances in technology helped drivers to control the car, lowering the risk of driver deaths, whilst allowing for increasing F1 car speed and acceleration.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Formula 1 cars have evolved from racing coffins to lean, sophisticated machines. A Formula 1 car is expensive, to say the least, and made of the best, most technologically advanced materials. We have seen a lot of changes over the years. We have moved from front engines to rear, turbo charged engines to electronic driving aids, from smooth tubes to carefully engineered downforce generating lightweight bodies.

”What happened in Suzuka was very unfortunate – a freak accident – and I can’t really fault any of the people involved, the marshals or the race director or any of those people. Everything was done as it should have been”- Max Mosley

Of course, even with the much improved safety measure of the cars and the tracks, accidents still happen. However, recently we’ve seen serious crashes with the driver walking away relatively unharmed. Mark Webbers crash at Valencia immediately comes to mind. However, at Suzuka, last year, Jules Bianchi collided with a recovery vehicle and he’s still in a critical condition. l, like many others, Max Mosley (former president of the FIA) and Martin Brundle (F1 Commentator) to name a couple, believe that this was just a tragic accident and no amount of safety and technology would have stopped Bianchi being injured so badly.

It is clear that the improved technology and safety measures have limited severe injuries in crashes that would almost certainly have resulted in fatalities 30, even 20 years ago. Let’s hope the evolution of the F1 car continues its trend towards improved safety for the drivers of these amazing vehicles. Let’s also hope that the cars get fast, and more maneuverable, so that they can continue to be the ultimate test of a driver’s skill and fortitude.