When we talk about motorsport competitions, we are used to the idea that “more” is “better”: a more powerful engine is preferable to a less powerful one and a larger tire footprint on the ground is better than a smaller one. However, this is not always true for the braking system, because maximum power is only one of the variables that determine perfect braking.
In an effort to demonstrate this thesis, we came up with an impossible swap. What would happen if we were to invert the Brembo braking systems used in Formula 1 and Formula E? In other words, if we were to move the braking system currently used in Formula E over to the Formula 1 cars of this year and then do the operation in reverse?
The construction differences
In fact, there are significant differences between the two systems: the Formula 1 cars use discs that are 32 mm thick on the front and 28 mm thick on the rear, while the pads on the front are 22 mm thick and 17 mm thick on the rear. The discs also have up to 1,480 ventilation holes, each one 2.5 mm in diameter.
In Formula E, on the other hand, the discs and pads are not as thick, because the friction material is subjected to less wear: 24 mm on the front and 20 mm on the rear for the discs, with 18 mm on the front and 16 mm on the rear for the pads. There are about 70 ventilation holes on the front discs and 90 on the rear.
The effect of the swap
Contrary to what you might think, neither of the two single-seaters would benefit from the system swap: in fact, both the Formula E and the Formula 1 braking systems are designed to optimize design and weight based on the specific characteristics of each vehicle.
The Formula 1 single-seaters have a minimum weight, driver included, of 1,616 lbs (in addition to the weight of the fuel which is about 220 lbs at the start of the race), whereas the Formula E cars, partly due to the heavy batteries that have a 43% impact on the total weight, weigh no less than 1,984 lbs. Also, in Formula E, the tires have a footprint that is more than 40 percent smaller than the Formula 1 cars.
From Formula E to Formula 1
The use of the current Formula E systems in Formula 1 would not allow the braking performance demonstrated up to now to be achieved, first and foremost in terms of braking distances and times. A current Formula 1 single-seater is able to decrease its speed by 125 mph in just 361 feet of braking for just over 2 seconds. Using the Formula E system on a Formula 1 car, both of these values would increase.
Secondly, because it is undersized, the Formula E system would be subjected to rapid overheating. This would mean quick wear of the friction material which, after all, is calibrated for a reduced distance race for the Formula E cars. So, in summary, the Formula 1 single-seaters would not only not be able to decelerate taking full advantage of the tire grip, but they would also have brakes that would be in serious trouble already after just a few turns.
From Formula 1 to Formula E
Reversing the situation, in other words, putting a Formula 1 system in a Formula E car, the effects would be dysfunctional. In this case, the electric single-seater cars would have a vastly oversized braking system. In other words, having braking power that exceeds that demanded by the peculiarities of the single-seater, the system would probably struggle to reach its minimum operating temperature.
At temperatures that are too low, the carbon used to make the discs and pads designed for a Formula 1 car do not guarantee correct friction generation, compromising braking performance. Furthermore, in similar conditions, the friction material is at risk of glazing, thereby reducing braking efficiency. Not only this, but the mechanical action of the pads on “cold” discs would lead to high mechanical wear. The result? Similar to the previous one: dangerously compromised performance and rapid wear.
And the future?
Right now, we cannot predict how the Formula 1 and Formula E braking systems will evolve over the coming years, although a progressive reduction of the current differences is a reasonable hypothesis. However, what we know is that Brembo will continue to use the data collected on the track to make driving on the roads increasingly safer, more comfortable and more enjoyable. That is how it has been in the past with Formula 1 and that is what will happen in the future with Formula E.