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How do Braking Systems Work on a Formula One Car?

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The braking system on a formula 1 car affects the lap time and track position. While it uses the same principle as road car brakes, F1 cars require a shorter braking distance. If you’re a motorist enthusiast, you may be wondering how the cars manage to brake effectively after reaching 200 mph. This brings us to the question, how do braking systems work on a formula one car? Let’s look at the various components of the braking system.

The braking system

It’s made of a pedal, brake discs, calipers, cooling system, and master cylinder. All these are linked by a brake-by-wire unit. Interestingly, the brakes can function at incredibly high temperatures – exceeding 1000 degrees C.

Friction material (Brake discs)

When the driver presses the brake pad, the pistons push the pads into the rotating discs which are linked to the wheel. Although most brakes are built out of steel, carbon-ceramic brakes are safer and more effective. Carbon is extremely light and possesses higher friction at higher temperatures. The grip gets better for discs made out of carbon fiber. You may be surprised the manufacturer can take more than 6 months to construct a brake disc. A formula-1 brake disc has a thickness of 28 mm and is 278 mm in diameter.

Brake cylinders

The braking system has two master cylinders which ensure the brake fluid is pumped into caliper cylinders. Once the driver pushes the pedal, the brake fluid gets into the calipers leading to the contraction of carbon brakes. But the brakes are not activated when the driver pushes the pedals. For the first few seconds, the brakes behave as if the driver has not pushed the pedals. This ensures the calipers and brake discs reach a specific temperature. For every 10th of a second, the temperatures grow to 100 degrees C. And once the temperatures reach 1000 degrees Celsius, the car can brake instantly. This explains why a formula 1 car can decelerate at 200 mph to zero in just 5 seconds. The only downside with instant brakes is that it can be brutal for some drivers.

The calipers

They are not only complex but a fascinating part of engineering. The calipers vary in terms of stiffness and weight. They sit on the leading edge of the disc but can also be mounted at the rear of the disc. Other engineers mount them at the base of the disc giving the car a low center of gravity. Since calipers affect brake performance, the master cylinder must remain connected to the hydraulic system.

The cooling system

No matter the material that makes brakes, there has to a reliable cooling system. The most important part of cooling the brakes is the air ducts. These little inlets direct the air into the caliper and then into the brake disc. The airflow coming from outside the wheel is also improved by fitting the rims with static wheel fairings. While the constant airflow improves the aerodynamic effect, it keeps the wheel up to working temperatures.

The braking system is divided into rear and front braking. This means that if one system fails to work properly, the other one is activated to slow the car down. It’s worth mentioning that the front and rear brakes preserve the tires against wear.

Final words

Ask any formula-1 driver what they look at when driving a car – they will say it’s the brakes. To stop the car from 200 mph to zero in seconds, all the components of the braking system must work together.

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