Formula One Cars: Specifications & Performance

Mark Sanyal Archive

Formula One (F1) cars are some of the fastest and technologically advanced vehicles on the planet. Car enthusiasts consider them to be the pinnacle of motorsports. No one can disagree that along with amazing speed and acceleration, these cars have got elegance and sleekness which clearly spells magic.

F1 cars are constructed by the racing teams themselves as per the regulations set by the FIA, but the design and manufacture can be outsourced. The car has a single seat, an open cockpit, and open wheels, with the engine positioned behind the driver.


Chassis refers to the main part of the racing car to which the engine and suspension are attached. These days, the chassis is constructed from composites of carbon fibre and similar ultra-lightweight materials to keep the weight as low as possible while not sacrificing structural integrity.

A Marussia Chassis during the development phase

A Marussia Chassis during the development phase

The name ‘formula’ refers to any open-wheeled single-seater car which feature the monocoque construction feature. It refers to the process of making the entire body out of a single piece of material. The monocoque incorporates the cockpit, and a strong padded cell that can accommodate only a single driver. Due to the high strength composites used, the car can endure enormous downward-acting forces which are produced as the car moves (or metaphorically flies) through the air. Thus, the development of the incredibly light, but impressively strong carbon fibre monocoque is among the most significant developments when F1 racing safety is taken into account. The monocoques are strong enough to protect the drivers even in the most serious of accidents. They can weigh as little as 35 kg and still absorb very large impacts arising from forces due to cornering speeds and aerodynamic loads.

An F1 Monocoque

An F1 Monocoque

Nowadays, each team constructs its own monocoque, specific to the driver of the car for the greatest aerodynamic advantage. The seat is made such that it fits a driver’s precise measurements. This is to limit his movements as the car moves around the track. The cars must weigh 702 kg (1548 lb) including the driver but excludes the fuel.

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Engine Specifications

The engine is located between the driver and the rear axle. It is a part of the structural support framework, and is bolted to the cockpit (the section of the chassis in which the driver sits) at the front end, and transmission and rear suspension at the back end.

As per the new engine-formula which was introduced in 2006, it became mandatory for the racing cars to be powered by 2.4-litre naturally aspirated V8 engines. In order to improve engine reliability and to cut costs, engines were limited to 18000 rpm in the 2009 season.

Honda V8 Spinny

Honda’s 2.4 Litre Naturally Aspirated V8 Engine

In 2014, the engine regulations were again altered and 1.6-litre V6 turbo engines, along with two Energy recovery Systems (ERS) with approximately 750 horsepower came into use. The V6 engines are turbocharged, which has improved fuel efficiency as the the engines can extract more power from a limited amount of fuel.

Honda V8 Spinny

Renault’s 1.6 Turbocharged V6 Engine

Though the fuel used is similar to the ordinary petrol, it is not the typical unleaded gasoline. In order to increase performance, blends of (at least 50 different) high-density fuels heavier than water are used. From the 2014 season, the cars have been limited to a fuel flow rate of 100 kg/hour above 10,500 RPM to improve fuel efficiency and limit the use of the full potential of the turbo engines.

The transmission is semi-automatic, and not fully automatic, in order to keep driver skill an essential factor in controlling the car. The gearbox is fitted onto the back of the engine, and is constructed from carbon titanium to minimise heat dissipation. Prior to 2014, the gearboxes were 7-speed semi-automatic transmissions but from the 2014 season onwards, 8-speed semi-automatic transmissions are used with teams having to set the ratios for all eight gears which cannot be changed to suit the needs of specific tracks. These ratios will be used on all tracks and can be changed once during the season.

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Aerodynamics is an intrinsic part of F1 car design. It refers to the study of airflow over and around an object. Millions of dollars are spent by teams on research and development in this field every year, as aerodynamics affects the efficiency and performance on the track.

F1 Aerodynamics Spinny

A graphical model of the air flow around an F1 car

The cars aim for developing aerodynamic principle which would create the maximum amount of downforce for the minimum amount of drag. For this reason, every single surface of the car has its aerodynamic effect considered. Aerodynamics also focuses on the cornering forces, so as to reduce turbulence which slows down the car, while also ensuring that the inherent downforce created helps the car take the corner as fast as possible.


The design of the wings is a major determining factor for the cars’ performance. The wings are fixed rigidly to the chassis. The front and rear wings are highly sculpted and fine tuned along with the rest of the body. In order to direct airflow, they also have aerodynamic appendages.[espro-slider id=1884]

Just like aircraft wings, race-car wings operate on the same principle of lift. The only, and the most significant difference being that these are configured to cause a downward force rather than an upward force. The front wings are designed to slice through the air and direct air over the body of the car, from the front to the rear while also providing mechanical grip to the front wheels. The air that travels over the body makes its way to the rear wing where the downforce created by the wings work to provide mechanical grip to the rear wheels.

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According to the technical regulations, an F1 car should have the following dimensions:

  •  The width of the car must not exceed 1800 mm.
  • The length, height and shape of the car are effectively governed by other specific parameters.
  • Certain pieces of bodywork, such as front wing endplates, must be at least 10mm thick. This is to prevent tyre damage.
  • No part of the car can be more than 950 mm in height.
  • The car’s survival cell structure, or the monocoque, designed to protect the driver in the event of an accident, must extend at least 300mm beyond the driver’s feet.


The high performance of the F1 cars is a result of the combination of lightweight, power, aerodynamics, and ultra-high performance tyres. Everything in the F1 cars is tweaked to aim for the primary factor- speed. These cars can easily attain speeds up to 200 mph. The 0-60 speeds of the modern day F1 cars are typically between 2.1 to 2.7 seconds. Along with the 0-60 times, the ability to perform incredibly tight, high speed manoeuvres, decelerate and reach impressively high top speeds are also extreme. The significantly high speeds are obtained by intense levels of grip and downforce.

The Eau Rouge corner at Spa Francorchamps is taken nearly flat out, all thanks to the highly developed aerodynamics of today's F1 cars.

The Eau Rouge corner at Spa Francorchamps is taken nearly flat out, all thanks to the highly developed aerodynamics of today’s F1 cars.

Another factor which affects performance is the cornering speed, which is very high for the Formula One cars. Grand prix cars have the ability to negotiate corners at significantly high speeds due to their intense levels of grip and downforce, which in turn are affected by the aerodynamic design of the car.


Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsport and for good reason. Every car, be it a front-runner or a backmarker, is built for speed. Nearly every aspect of the cars serves a purpose and the innovations pioneered here almost always make their way to standard road-going cars. Everything from safety to efficiency to aesthetic design, filters down to cars we drive regularly.