Ultimate Performance: How fast is F1?

Will Gray
Eurosport
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It weights just 642kg and produces 800bhp from a 2.4-litre V8 engine, but it is the braking performance and immense cornering forces from high downforce that stand them out from high-performance road cars.

So how exactly do they compare?

ACCELERATION

An F1 car will accelerate from 0–60 in around 2.6 seconds and 0–100 in around 5 seconds.

There are many different elements that affect how fast a car can accelerate - most significantly tyres, road surface and aerodynamic drag.

Very few road-legal cars, however, can beat the 0-60 acceleration of an F1 car. In fact, research suggests only two are verified as being faster – the Ariel Atom (which is a glorified motorbike) manages it in 2.3s while the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport clocks it at 2.46s.

In comparison, other top performance cars that come close to the levels of F1 acceleration are...

Porsche 911 Turbo S: 2.7s *
Lamborghini Aventador: 2.9s
McLaren MP4: 2.9s
Ferrari 458 Italia: 3.3s *
Mercedes SLS: 3.5s *

* Stats from a Car and Driver magazine road test

TOP SPEED

The BAR Honda team set a record speed for an F1 car of 246.9 mph in 2006 at Bonneville Salt Flats, but that car was not F1 legal as it was stripped of its downforce-producing aerodynamics.

The usual top speed is closer to 220mph, and is limited by the huge drag produced by turbulent air from the open wheels, front and rear wings and diffuser.

That means an F1 car is NOT as fast as the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport, which is clocked as the fastest road car on the planet at 268mph. Again, few other road cars come close, with Ferrari’s fastest, the Enzo, slower than an F1 car at 217mph and the most powerful Porsche, the Carrera GT, achieving just 205mph.

BRAKING

The high-tech carbon brake disks used in F1 result in massive braking power, and that allows them to achieve stopping distances from 100mph of around 40 metres.

Again, this figure depends on track surface, tyres and the aero configuration, but it is still significantly shorter than can be achieved by road cars.

In a Car and Driver test, a VW Passat was the best performing family style car and that took 114m to stop from 100mph. Of the performance cars tested, the Porsche 911 was the best, with a stopping distance from 100mph of 93m – which is still more than double the F1 car.

CORNERING
 
If braking performance in F1 is impressive, cornering performance goes up yet another level.

An F1 car produces more than its weight in downforce – the classic claim that it could drive upside down is indeed true – and it is this downforce, coupled with the super-sticky grip of the slick tyres, that make cornering speeds so high.
 
The fastest corner on the F1 calendar is Suzuka’s legendary 130R, which drivers take on flat out at around 190mph – a road car, without all the high downforce devices, would simply not get near that speed.

There have been many comparisons between F1 cars and road cars in the past, but perhaps the best demonstration of the relative performance can be found through the British TV programme Top Gear.

The show has used the Dunsfold Park circuit in Surrey to test cars for more than a decade and the only F1 car to take to the track was the Renault R24 in 2004. It clocked 59.0s.

The Lotus T125, an F1-inspired customer car based on the team’s 2012 F1 machine, has also been around the track. At 560kg it is lighter than the real thing and has a larger diffuser too, but it has a less powerful engine - a 640bhp 3.5-litre Cosworth V8 – and an automatic up-shift gearbox. Its development driver Jean Alesi described it as being “much faster” than the F1 cars he drove in the 1990s. That clocked 1m03.8s.

In comparison, the fastest time recorded for a genuine road legal car was set by the Pagani Huayra, which at 1m13.8s was a full 10 seconds slower than the T125 and a massive 25 percent slower than the F1 car.

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