2009 Formula 1 vs. 2019: a brake comparison


 Ten years have passed since the Brawn GP and Brembo brake fairytale




A total surprise. That's what Formula 1 in recent years has been missing given the series of successes by Mercedes with just a smattering of victories for Ferrari and Red Bull. Ten years ago, the situation was completely different. It was possible back then for a team in the process of being dismantled and purchased for just one sterling, to be rebaptized Brawn GP and win the World Drivers' Champion and World Constructors' Champion titles.

But that was a very different Formula 1, beginning with the engine specifications (2.4 liter V8 aspirated with a maximum engine speed of 18,000 rpm) all the way to the tires (Bridgestone), plus in-race refueling, unlimited consumptions and a higher number of engines per driver (8 for the whole season, which is made up of 17 GP races).

There were differences in the brake components that Brembo supplied to a good part of the line-up: Scuderia Ferrari (which has used Brembo braking systems since 1975), Red Bull, Toyota, Toro Rosso, BMW Sauber, and Brawn GP.

See, since the 1980s Brembo has not only been supplying braking systems to the most famous teams but also to the teams with smaller budgets that want the same guarantees offered by the best brakes on the market. This is exactly what Ross Brawn decided when he took over Honda's team and outlined the characteristics the BGP001 would have.​

Ross Brawn had experienced the braking force and reliability of the Brembo brakes during his fifteen years in Formula 1, first with Benetton (1991-1996) and then with Ferrari (1997-2006). With the Anglo-Italian team, he earned two World Drivers' Championship and one World Constructors' Championship. In Maranello, he contributed to winning six World Constructors' Championships and five World Drivers' Championships.​



At the end of 2007, Brawn found himself back with Brembo brakes in Honda, but this alone couldn't guarantee a successful single-seater. 2008 was an especially unlucky year for the Anglo-Japanese team. It secured only one podium spot in all the 18 GP races, earning points in just four of the races and ranking third from the last among all the Constructors at the end of the season with a mere 14 points, ahead of just Force India and Super Aguri.

So, in 2009 Ross Brawn revolutionized the technical approach to designing the car, introducing a double deck diffuser that ensured an exceptional aerodynamic load. This was the main reason that Brawn GP and Brembo triumphed in the 19th World Constructors' Championship and in the 15th World Drivers' Championship with Jenson Button.

The F1 single-seaters have gone through an impressive evolution in the last ten years, especially thanks to the increased performance delivered by the latest generation of Brembo braking systems. The brakes have to work harder given the faster lap speeds clocked by the current Formula 1 single-seaters compared to 2009, and the increased capacity to discharge the braking torque to the ground due to the use of tires with larger tread.​​




The term 'braking force' means the quantity of energy dissipated during braking. This was the value that grew the most in the last decade, as we'll show you in the examples we are about to give you.​

The St. Devote is the first corner after the starting grid at the Monaco GP and is often the stage for spectacular crashes. The braking force of each single-seater here in 2009 was 1,588 kW; this year the average braking force was 2,175 kW, which is a 37% increase.

Even greater variations in the braking force are found on other tracks: In 2009 at the Japanese GP, the value was just over 2,000 kW on the corner following the finish line and this year it was about 3,000 kW, which is 50% more.


By turning to higher performing Brembo braking systems, the deceleration experienced by drivers has also gone up and on some stretches, it is greater than what astronauts experience when they return to Earth.
On the Variante del Rettifilo, the first chicane on the Monza circuit (Italian GP), the single-seaters assured a maximum deceleration of 5.1 G in 2009 and now they guarantee 5.6 G. The increase is about 9.8%, which is consistent with what is registered on most of the other corners in the world championship.
​ESome tracks register greater variations, like Spa-Francorchamps (Belgian GP). During braking on the former Bus Stop, the maximum deceleration went up from 5.2 G to 5.8 G and on La Source it leaped from 4.3 G to 5.3 G. In the first case, the increase was 11.5% and in the second, it was 23%.​​​​




In order to exert more braking force and handle greater deceleration, it was essential that the load on the brake pedal be increased. The drivers of today are required to exert more force during braking than their colleagues who raced ten years ago.

On turn 11 of Yas Marina (Abu Dhabi GP), the deceleration today is 139 mph compared to 129 mph in 2009, but the load on the brake pedal has gone up even more from 278 lb to 342 lb, or 23%. And on the turn after the tunnel at the Monaco GP, the load on the brake pedal went from 256 lb to 317 lb, or 19%.



On the surface it seems that the braking time on many tracks hasn't changed much since 2009, but we'd be wrong to consider only the braking distance. We have to also take into account the initial and final speeds.

One example is on turn 11 at Yas Marina where the braking time lasted 2.43 seconds ten years ago and today it lasts 2.38 seconds. The time saved may seem insignificant, it is only 5 hundredths of a second. Actually though, the difference is much higher because in 2009 the Formula 1 single-seaters decreased their speeds by 129 mph. Now, at this same braking section, they cut their speeds by 139 mph. So, dropping 10 mph more, the single-seaters of today use less time, which is proof of greater braking force.

On turn 10 of the Monaco GP, the braking time went down from 2.60 seconds in 2009 to 2.48 seconds this year. On the last corner of the Belgian GP, the reduction in braking time is more notable: From 2.71 seconds in 2009 to 2.52 seconds this year. Plus, today's velocity has dropped by 135 mph compared to 125 mph in 2009.

Putting it all into perspective, in 2009 the last corner at the Belgian GP registered a loss in speed of 46 mph for every second spent braking. Today, the reduction in speed is 54 mph for every second of braking. By comparing 46 mph to 54 mph, we get an improvement of about 13.9%, but in other situations it is more contained.​​




BRAKE DISCS: FROM 300 TO 1,480 HOLES (+393%)

One of the components on the braking system that went through a visible transformation is the brake disc. For the front discs, Brembo offers three variants: The medium cooling option with 800 ventilation holes, high cooling with 1,250 holes, and very high cooling with 1,480 holes.

Over the course of the last ten years, advancements in research have enabled Brembo to progressively increase the number of holes and decrease the dimensions. Ten years ago in 2009, there were about 300 ventilation holes on a Formula 1 disc.

Three years later, the number doubled to 600 holes. Still, innovation continued and on the Formula 1 single-seaters racing in 2014, the discs counted more than 1,000 ventilation holes.

Increasing the surface of the disc exposed to ventilation ensures greater heat dispersion and a reduction in operating temperature. The temperature of the carbon discs used in Formula 1 can get up to 1,832°F for brief periods.

Since 2017, the discs have grown in size from 28 to 32 mm, which allows more space for the ventilation holes and results in further advancements in the evolution of braking system cooling.

The holes, positioned in four different rows, measure 2.5 mm in diameter and are made one-by-one by a precision machine. It takes 12 to 14 hours to make all the holes on a single disc. At this level, precision is everything: The mechanical component tolerance is only four hundredths.​​





The brake pads have also undergone significant changes over the last decade, both in size and in geometry.

The overall area of each one increased by less than 2% (from 4,000 mm to 4,070 mm), but they are now longer than in the past: In 2009 they measured 106 x 25 mm, while in 2019 they are 185 x 22 mm.

These days, the pads have to dissipate a lot more energy. In Canada ten years ago, the temperature of the discs at turn 10 got up to a maximum of 1666°F and this year they got to over 1832°F at the same spot.

To remedy this problem, more in-depth research went into the shape of the pad itself. The pads have ventilation holes that are customized according to the requirements of each team.



Over the course of the last ten years, the brake caliper has experienced a somewhat inconsistent evolution. On one hand, there are fewer choices available for the differnt tracks, on the other hand, the amount of personalized developments for each team has become more and more prevalent.
In 2009, there were different calipers for the different circuits the single-seaters were competing on, although there wasn't much variation in the calipers from team to team.
For a few years now, each team has been using its own type of caliper that remains the same for all the circuits raced during the season but is extremely personalized to meet the specific requirements of that team's single-seater. At the same time, development has become increasingly complex.
Today, contrary to 10 years ago, Formula 1 requires braking systems that are highly customized according to the different design choices made for each single-seater. Each team Brembo supplies asks for an increasingly tailor-made braking system that is closely integrated with the design of the single-seater and is subject to continuous developments over the course of the season. ​

For example, the brake caliper is perfectly integrated with the cooling system for the corner of the car (air ducts, drums, deflectors, etc.) and with the aerodynamic solutions developed by the individual teams, making each component unique.

Plus, driver preferences influence the different combinations of stiffness and weight.
There are teams that prefer lighter calipers because they need to lower the weight of the car, even though they lose in terms of stiffness. Others want stiffness to the detriment of the mass. On the whole, there has been a 15% reduction in the weight of the caliper compared to 2009 and the manufacturing of today is much more complex.



Another significant innovation that showed up in the last ten years is Brake-By-Wire. The need to guarantee the proper braking force to the rear axle, apart from the output torque generated by the electric motors, has led to the introduction of another innovation in 2014: Brake-By-Wire (BBW).

Under normal operating conditions, the rear system is no longer activated directly by the driver, but by a high-pressure hydraulic system on the car (much like the ones for suspension and power steering) by means of an electronic vehicle control unit that keeps continuous track of the braking force linked to the two MGUs and the braking distribution imposed by the driver.

On the rear axle, the amount of energy that has to be dissipated is equal to the reduced friction, since it is recovered in part by the MGU-K: The result is a less cumbersome and lighter caliper.​​​