How Car Suspensions Work

Specialized Suspensions: Formula One Racers

Formula One racecar
Formula One racecar

­The Formula One racing car represents the pinnacle of automobile innovation and e­volution. Lightweight, composite bodies, powerful V10 engines and advanced aerodynamics have led to faster, safer and more reliable cars.

To elevate driver skill as the key differentiating factor in a race, stringent rules and requirements govern Formula One racecar design. For example, the rules regulating suspension design say that all Formula One racers must be conventionally sprung, but they don't allow computer-controlled, active suspensions. To accommodate this, the cars feature multi-link suspensions, which use a multi-rod mechanism equivalent to a double-wishbone system.

Recall that a double-wishbone design uses two wishbone-shaped control arms to guide each wheel's up-and-down motion. Each arm has three mounting positions — two at the frame and one at the wheel hub — and each joint is hinged to guide the wheel's motion. In all cars, the primary benefit of a double-wishbone suspension is control. The geometry of the arms and the elasticity of the joints give engineers ultimate control over the angle of the wheel and other vehicle dynamics, such as lift, squat and dive. Unlike road cars, however, the shock absorbers and coil springs of a Formula One racecar don't mount directly to the control arms. Instead, they are oriented along the length of the car and are controlled remotely through a series of pushrods and bell cranks. In such an arrangement, the pushrods and bell cranks translate the up-and-down motions of the wheel to the back-and-forth movement of the spring-and-damper apparatus.