peed, just like Einstein’s time, is
relative. But that has an additional
meaning in racing – particularly in
Formula 1, where the terminal, end-of-straight speed of a car is rarely more than
an irrelevance, the incidental side effect
of whatever aerodynamic setup has
been chosen as the optimum.
In 2005, the final year of F1’s 3-liter
V10 engine formula, Juan Pablo
Montoya’s McLaren-Mercedes MP4-20
was clocked at 231.523mph just before
braking for Monza’s first chicane. Current
2.4-liter V8 cars are reaching around
215mph at the same place. Monza is an
exception, though, a place where the
straights are so elongated that the
quickest way around is to run the cars
with very low downforce wings.
Elsewhere, it’s only on the rarest of
occasions that a current F1 car sees
beyond 200mph, and often it maxes
out a good 20mph short of that.
Sure, the end-of-straight speed will
sometimes be given consideration with
regard to how it helps with overtaking.
But even then, that simple number will
not necessarily be all that relevant.
Average speed over the lap trumps
straightline speed every time, and an
F1 car remains supreme in its average
speed over any road course. Getting the
optimum wing level and general aero
balance front/rear is what will largely
determine what that average speed is.
Obviously, the optimum will vary according
“Only rarely does a current
F1 car see beyond 200mph,
and often it maxes out a
good 20mph short of that”
to a track’s layout, but even on the same
track it will vary between cars. Not only
that, but it will often vary according to
where a team expects to qualify.
For the last few seasons, it’s been fairly
typical to see Red Bull Racing on pole
position with the fastest average speed
over the lap, yet trailing at or near the
bottom of the speed trap readings, which
are usually taken at a track’s fastest point.
Partly, this is because they’ve been able
to generate more downforce than the
other cars. More downforce invariably
means more drag – and that drag does,