Traction control is one of those features that you don’t think about much, but has probably saved your life a dozen times without your even knowing it. Traction control systems ensure that torque is properly applied, and thus that you stay on the road. And Red Bull, for its F1 car, may have just achieved a breakthrough. At least if the rumors are to be believed.
All we really know is this: At the Singapore Grand Prix a few weeks ago, driver Sebastien Vettel won by a margin that’s not supposed to exist in F1 racing: 32 seconds. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but consider that in most F1 races, the gap between first and second place is measured in tenths of a second. It’s pretty obvious that Vettel had a major advantage… but what?
Cue The Speculation
Attention quickly focused on the course itself; the pavement is bumpy and there are a lot of turns, meaning drivers have to waste a lot of energy literally spinning their wheels as they corner. Traction control systems like you find on your car are illegal in F1 racing, and have been for a few years, but race fans quickly pointed out that Vettel’s car sounded different from anybody else on the track. In fact it sounds a lot like… traction control.
But How Did They Do It?
That’s a good question. F1 cars are examined carefully; their computer code is checked, the cars are inspected, and so on, so one thing is for sure: Either the Red Bull team cheated to a masterful degree, or they found a way to drastically improve traction control in F1 cars. Most believe Red Bull linked the suspension and the engine in some way, which is about the only way to make this work within the rules. That’s important because if that filters down to commercial vehicles, and other companies can make it work, it could mean much better traction control and safer cars.
For now, though, it means Red Bull has some killer engineers.
Dan Seitz is an obsessive nerd living in New England. He lives in the Boston area with a fiancee, a dog, a cat, and far too many objects with processors.