Auto racing is often viewed as a test bed for automakers to develop new technologies that will later find their way into production cars.
This is wrong.
I hate to disappoint you, but it's just not true. Maybe it was 30 or 40 years ago, but not today.
You've probably seen Infiniti's new TV ad that tries to make a connection between its FX crossover and the Red Bull F1 car driven by Sebastian Vettel. Exactly what do they have in common? Navigation? Air conditioning? Bluetooth connectivity? Intelligent brakes? Lane departure warning? Forget it.
The truth is that technological transfers work the other way around. In this case, Red Bull is the one that wins the most.
|Fernando Alonso, Ferrari F1 (Photo: Ferrari)
The team needed access to Infiniti's hybrid powertrain studies to perfect their own Kinetic Energy Recuperation System (KERS
), which is a sort of hybrid. That's right: Engineers at Red Bull Technologies let Infiniti do the development work for them.
Former Renault technical director Bernard Dudot once told me: ''If you asked me about F1 technologies that found their way into a Clio, my simple answer would be: There are none. F1 is so advanced and so specific; what you see here could not be applied to anything but an F1 car.''
It's the same thing at Ford, for example. Do you honestly think that MyFord Touch
or the automaker's active parking system were developed in the NASCAR Sprint Cup or a WRC-sanctioned Fiesta RS?
Let's take a look at some of the breakthroughs in Formula 1 in recent years:
Did the famous F-Duct, which helped reduce drag, wind up in a production car? No.
How about the Drag Reduction System (DRS)? No.
Or the blowing diffusers that increase downforce? Heck no!
If you want to find traces of technological transfers from the track to the road (or vice versa), you'll have to turn to endurance racing. For events such as the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Audi and Toyota admit to developing and improving various technologies that can be applied to production vehicles, including direct injection, hybrid powertrains, and ultra-lightweight materials.
Hopefully, with small turbocharged engines becoming the new standard in Formula 1 by 2014, the sport will inch closer to our run-of-the-mill automobiles.