How do Braking Systems Work on a Formula One Car?


Today we are going to talk about
the braking systems on a Formula One car, how the various parts work
individually and how they work together as a combined system. So, when a driver presses
on the brake pedal in a Formula One car, the force
he is applying to the brake pedal is applied to two master cylinders.
One cylinder is a fluid that is linked to the front brake system and the
other cylinder is linked to the back brake system. And that pressure in
that cylinder goes through a brake line and onto the calliper, onto
the brake disc itself. And that pushes the pads onto the disc
and that’s what slows the car down. On the back of the car,
the system is a bit more complicated than that
because we now have Energy Recovery Systems
and we need to deal with those to get the brake balance right.
In your road car at home, when you press the brake pedal,
you have an assist system, a servo-assist. So that multiplies the pressure
you are applying into the master cylinder, to give you the braking effort.
On a Formula One car, we can’t do that. What happens is the driver has to
provide all that force. So, it’s a huge amount of effort the driver is making.
And in fact, if they were to just sit in the car normally and apply the brake pressure,
they couldn’t press the pedal hard enough. In order to do that, what happens is they
are actually using the deceleration of the car
and their own bodyweight sliding in the car to actually get the amount of pressure that
they need. So, the driver is not only having to press the brake pedal really
hard, he’s also having to withstand the huge G-Forces. So, that can be a
G level of sort of five, so that’s five times the pressure you get of gravity.
So, if you imagine his head and his helmet is sort of between five and 10 kilos, for
that peak part of braking the driver is getting as much as 50 kilos into his neck. So, if we look at a brake disc,
this is a brake disc off of a Formula One car.
When we are braking at maximum brake temperature, so on a high-duty circuit,
the temperatures could be up to 1,000 °C on one of these carbon discs. As the car
goes down the straight, the air is coming through the brake duct, coming
out through the upright and that is cooling the disc itself. So, by the end of the straight,
temperatures could be as low as 200°C and those temperatures are really important.
The disc itself has up to 1,000 holes and they are there just to try and
get the maximum surface area and the maximum cooling we can achieve.
In actual fact, because we have removed so much material from
the brake disc, the peak temperatures are actually higher because the
thermal mass of the disc is lower than it would’ve been years ago.
But, it’s not that individual peak that’s important. It’s the repeated braking
that occurs. Repeated braking is where we don’t get the disc cool enough by the
end of the straight and the temperatures come back up. That is when we see these
really high temperatures. So, what we are trying to do is get as much cooling
as we possibly can. It’s important to understand why handling the brake
temperatures is hard. If the disc gets too hot, so when we talked
about that 1,000°C at the end of the straight, what happens is we start
seeing fade. It’s a bit like a car going down a hill, when you get to the bottom
of the hill sometimes the brakes are less effective and that’s because the discs are
too hot. Equally if the discs are too cold, something we might see at end of straight,
then we don’t get the bite, we don’t get that initial braking
that we are looking for, so we have to manage the temperatures of the discs
really well. And we do that with the flow that’s coming through the brake
ducts here. And that flow is fed through the duct and through the upright and
onto the disc. It’s also there to cool the calliper and also the pads that are
inside the calliper. All of that has to be kept at the right temperatures to
get the peak braking performance. It’s also really important how we
deal with the flow that comes out of the disc. That hot air that’s trapped with inside
the drum, how that feeds over the wheelrim and also around the
tyre is really important for the tyre performance because we need to
keep those in the right operating window too. You may have heard on the TV
the drivers talk about brake balance and also brake migration. So, what’s
happening there is it’s important to get the amount of braking effort
at the front and the braking effort at the rear in the right balance.
Because what you are trying to do is maximise the rate at which you decelerate,
so, it’s really important that you are extracting the most grip from the
front tyres and from the rear tyres. And we do that by changing the balance
and that’s an adjustment the drivers can make inside the car. When we talk
about brake migration, what we are actually talking about is balance migration.
So, as the driver presses on the brake pedal, we also alter the balance front to rear using
the Energy Recovery Systems to get an optimal braking performance. On a typical road car,
you might be able to brake at say around 1G. On a Formula One car,
at peak braking we are braking at nearly 5G. And the reason we can
do that is one, the tyres themselves have more grip. We have more powerful,
more capable brakes but we also have the aerodynamic performance of the car.
At the end of the straight, the aerodynamic load might be three, maybe even four times
the total weight of the car and that load is
pushing into the tyres and that allows us to generate much more grip at the tyres
and therefore more braking performance. So, one of the questions we quite
often get asked is, why is it so difficult to brake into the first corner?
Well, as we talked about earlier, it’s really important to have the
right temperature in the brakes. So, if the brakes are sitting there
cold because we have been sitting on the grid waiting for the start,
the drivers don’t really know quite how much grip they are going to
get from the brake system, quite how hard they should press
the brake pedal, to get the right braking force.
If they don’t press hard enough, then they could lose their advantage
into the first corner. And if they press too hard, then they could lock up the
brakes and go straight on. So, it’s difficult to get that balance right
for the driver. So, two of the most difficult tracks
for the brakes are Monaco and Baku but for different reasons.
In Monaco, the problem is that the car speed is generally low, so we
don’t get the huge amount of air rushing through the brake duct we might get
at faster circuits. But what we’ve got are these repeated corners.
So, each corner the brake temperature rises as we press the brakes, we don’t
get enough cooling down the next straight, then we get another application of the brakes
and the temperatures keep going up and up. So, that’s one that’s really challenging
for the brakes in terms of the maximum
temperatures. In somewhere like Baku, Baku is a funny circuit. It’s got half like
Monaco and half more like Monza, so a high-speed circuit. So, what happens
there is we’re having to give enough brake cooling for those twisty parts of the circuits
where the average car speed is low but then we have also got these huge,
long straights. Which means that the brake temperatures get really low at
the end of straight, so going into those corners after the very long
straights, the brakes are cold and therefore they lack the bite that
the drivers would want. In these different circuits, we have to manage the brakes and
that’s the drivers and the engineers working together. The engineers
determining what the right set-up is and the drivers knowing how they need
to manage the brakes within the race.