Formula 1 Set-up
“In motor racing, including Formula 1, you must always reach a compromise between the various settings which affect the performance of the car. There is no clearly defined procedure that will allow you to find the most effective setup in a scientific and dependable way”
Ayrton Senna from his book “Principles of Race Driving”
"The aim of a driver and his team in setting up the car is to ensure that the tires operate in the best possible conditions. Only in this way will a tire, which is one of the fundamental components of a Formula1 car, perform to the limit of its potential"
Ayrton Senna from his book" Principles of Race Driving"
"To start with, the first thing a beginner should do, as far as setting up his car is concerned, is complete as many possible laps without worrying about other drivers. He must try to learn all about the car, systematically changing key components to see how they affect it: try a different anti-roll bar, softer then harder springs, adjust aerodynamic downforce, that sort of thing. Even in the junior formulae, driving skill alone is not enough, so you must know how to get the most out of your chassis. At that skill level, you can probably gain a second per lap through skillful driving, but lose three times as much by setting up the car incorrectly."
From "Competition Driving" by Alain Prost and Pierre-Francois Rousselot
"To assist in the process of setting up the car for a circuit a driver has to use all his powers of concentration. First of all, he has to tackle each corner in three stages. Then, once he has to establish reference points and the correct racing line, he should try to stick to them as closely as possible. Varying the line from one lap to the next alters the cars behavior and creates extra problems. As soon as a driver has got to grips with a circuit, he should be able to complete a lap in the same fashion time after time. If each lap follows the same pattern, the driver is better able to analyze events objectively. Indeed, such consistency makes the driver a reference point himself. This requires much attention to detail, but by maintaining the same procedure for lap after lap you become a good test driver"
From "Competition Driving" by Alain Prost and Pierre-Francois Rousselot
“I believe that my personal speed – compared with the drivers I’ve driven with, because it’s only those guys I can compare myself with - may come from what you do out of your possibilities. I believe that pure speed isn’t always the point; it’s what you manage to get out of your potential. And that’s where I’ve always been very successful. You know, really working deep with the team, maximizing my possibilities.”
Michael Schumacher during an interview with “ F1 Racing” magazine January 2000
I understand some of you are quite knowledgeable in this field and know how to setup race cars on your own. I also understand some of you have your own understanding of how to setup a car. Most people haven't heard of it yet and some have, but choose to stick with the methods they know, or think that they know, which is fine. I also want to point out that there is no ideal method of setting up the car. Whether they all work same good is another question.
Each of this items are explained on separate pages of this site more in-deep (just follow the links), but here are put together to explain car setup. Must be noted that all of explained setup items interact with each other and changing one will induce different handling of the car, and can be counteracted with some other item. If, for example, car is "born" with some understeer, you can change it with suspension setup, tire pressure or aero setup. That depends of driver preferences, track characteristics or any other reason.
Sometime team become desperate in looking for perfect setup, and can be lost in all different possibilities. In this case is the best (and sometime only possible) to go back to the beginning, on "default" setup, and start again (if there is enough time), or try to copy setup of team mate and adjust it a bit to his own preferences.
Setup in Formula One is a bit of a tricky task. As the racing technology keeps improving, so the setups become more complex. Plus, driving style of each driver is linked to setups and that fact adds to complication. By that I mean that any minimal changes you make to the car will have an effect on the track handling.
Therefore "extreme" setup solutions rarely work. The key philosophy in creating a setup is to always to seek a compromise. The second, and equally important factor in creating a good setup, is the use of telemetry.
Preparations for race are long and difficult process involving all team for hours and hours, and using huge amount of data from tests, wind tunnel, computer simulations and previous years of racing. Drivers, with help of racing engineer trying to get the most from car they have. They will try to achieve that with changing and adjusting different settings on different parts of the car. Setting they will change can generally be divided in two categories: mechanical or aerodynamical. But, most often, if not always, combination of both.
Testing is a very important part of setting up a Formula 1 car. On a typical Grand Prix weekend, track time is limited. This means teams must know their car and know
it well. A driver must know what setup changes bring about the desired effects in handling over the diverse selection of circuits raced during the championship. Testing allows team to develop setups that permit them to use driver individual driving styles to exploit the cars capabilities to its fullest. When making the initial adjustments to set the car up for a specific circuit, it's important to focus on one thing at a time and make detailed notes regarding the cars handling characteristic at the various parts of the circuits. This method to setting up the car follows a set routine to rough in all adjustments. There may be many times when team find themselves being required to backtrack and make changes to things that worked well earlier, but as a result of recent changes, are no longer effective. This is common. The good part is that as team make progress towards fine-tuning, this happens less and less, as well as the adjustments becoming smaller. As the team becomes more comfortable with the car during season and have a lot of collected data from previous circuits and seasons and the effects of setup changes, then they can make multiple changes to smaller degrees. This level of comprehension is vital to produce results during the limited running time of a Grand Prix weekend.
One should always examine the track layout to decide which corners and combinations are the key features to focus on. It is simple not possible to set the car up to handle all the variations at the highest level of efficiency. This is where compromise begins. Another thing to consider is the successive combination of corners and straights. Sometimes it's important to compromise the exit of one corner to maximize the speed through the next. This is especially important when exiting onto, or entering from a
long, fast straight. But as always, the tale is in the timing and a fast lap time is the ultimate deciding factor.
Now, to learn more about specific parts of set-up, please follow this links:
- Set-up of aero components and their interactions
- Set-up of mechanical components and their interactions
- Set-up for specific track characteristics
- Set-up for wet track
Hopefully this guide will explain to you how various components interacting inside an F1 car. As Micheal Schumacher points out in the quote above, it's what you manage to get out of your potential. And this certainly includes the cars potential and maximizing that as well.
Driving style should always be regarded as another factor in setup. One should put forth a lot of analysis into what attributes his or her driving style requires. Through careful understanding of this, one can quickly discern which direction a setup must go in order to accommodate the drivers' particular style.
Every setup is like a meticulously tailored suit; while it suits great one driver, it can be total disaster for another. With this in mind, one should understand that when trying another's setup, instant speed is not always the case. In fact, many times it's the exact opposite. In this case, the setup itself is not poor, it's just missing the technique required to maximize its capabilities. Still, by understanding the contents of this article, a driver should be able to identify the setup characteristics and make adjustments attempting to shift the effectiveness towards a more positive result.
And what makes a car fast? Well that depends on the driver and his technique. Some drivers prefer a lightly understeering car that reminds them gently where the limit is. Others have a more aggressive style and prefers to use oversteer to steer the car from both ends. And here is what's tricky: there is not one defining setup that is faster than any other setup for everyone. It's whatever gives a particular driver the confidence to drive a particular car at its limit. One thing is for sure, as you learn what settings work well for your style, you can generally apply those setup philosophies to most cars with desirable results.
You will see that we are talking about weight transfer over and over again. An F1 car has a minimum weight limit. That weight is subject to the laws of physics, and manipulating that weight is the science of car setup. The ultimate goal is to load that weight into the cars corners, and ultimately in contact with earth, its tires, as evenly as possible at all times thus generating the tire temperatures that are deemed optimum for grip. As the car pitches (movement forward and backward) and rolls (movement from side to side) under acceleration, braking and cornering, this weight transfer must be manipulated to your advantage. Keep this in mind at all times because it is the name of the game.
To have a complete picture of performance driving, take a look at Corners, Setup, Traction circle, Using tires, Left foot braking, braking, advanced braking, WRC braking technique, Slipstreaming, drifting, cornering, shifting, Heel and toe driving technique and steering technique articles.