Why Are F1 Cars So Big?

If you have been fortunate enough to attend a Formula One race in real life, you may have been surprised at just how big the cars look from the grandstands. They seem to take up most of the wide racetrack, and this is by no means an illusion. So why are F1 cars so big? Let’s find out!

How Big is an F1 Car?

The size of the modern Formula 1 car can be quite deceiving. Seeing the racers zoom around the circuit at lightning-fast speeds and with no other vehicles to compare against, it is easy to forget just how large these machines really are.

From 2017 to 2021, the average F1 car was 5.5 metres long and 2 metres wide. To put that into context, these dimensions are both longer and wider than various luxury sedans you would see on the street. Mercedes S-Classes and BMW 7-Series pale in comparison to the sheer proportions of the F1 speed demons of today.

In fact, their size has been steadily increasing since the first ever race at Silverstone in 1950. Just as a comparison, Kimi Raikkonen‘s championship winning F2007 was around 4.5 metres in length. This is more than a metre shorter than the last Ferrari that the flying Finn drove, the SF71H in 2018.

Alpha Tauri F1 Team Garage, British GP, Silverstone 2021 | Flickr
JEN ROSS, Flickr

Why Are They Bigger Now?

The main reason for the increase in dimensions is the fuel tank. The vehicles have to run an entire race distance without the opportunity to refuel. Therefore the tanks have to be extremely large. Current regulations allow a volume of up to 110 litres, which all teams will fill to the absolute brim before a race event.

While packaged in a way which takes up as little space as possible, such a large container still lengthens the car considerably. It was the main reason for the expansion in size of all cars on the grid between 2009 and 2010, when the FIA banned the practice of mid-race refuelling.

File:2009-2010 cars length compare.jpg
Kelvin WongslitzDesigned by User:Chubbennaitor, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons. The increase in length from 2009 (top) and 2010 (bottom) due to the larger fuel tank

Another reason is the constant need for better safety in the sport. The more structure you have surrounding the driver’s body, the lesser the G-forces experienced by the pilot in the event of a collision. For example, you would notice that the nose section on F1 cars has been lengthened in recent years. This is to minimise the risk of leg injury in a frontal impact.

In a set of sweeping regulation changes in 2017, rules were tweaked to allow cars to be significantly wider in terms of wheelbase and tyres. This was to increase the outright speed of the discipline and thus create an even greater spectacle for the fans viewing from afar. A bigger car was needed to implement all the aero devices and chunkier tyres to bring down lap times.

File:Lewis Hamilton 2017 Malaysia FP2.jpg
Morio, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons. Cars were made wider for the 2017 season

What’s Happening in The Future?

The new rules for the 2022 season will not see any further increase in the size of the cars, but due to a variety of factors they will be markedly heavier. The main contributing factor is the new set of 18-inch wheels, up from the 13-inch rims that have been in place for many years until now. Hopefully the added weight will not dampen the extravaganza of seeing these marvels of engineering in action.

The specifications of all the teams’ designs for this year have been released, and it seems that the majority have become slightly shorter. Perhaps this is the start of a downwards trend in car size, as powertrain changes in 2026 are expected to reduce the dimensions of the vehicles even more.

File:2022 Formula One car at the 2021 British Grand Prix (51350002179).jpg
Jen Ross, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons. The 2022 F1 Show Car

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