Load cells and F1 car design: why the driver is “a much better sensor”!

Published On: November 13 2023

It’s not often that anyone in F1 racing actually mention load cells in an interview , let alone top Formula 1 car designers.

Lewis Hamilton had been more than happy with the performance of his Mercedes over the last few years, with his car widely recognised as probably the best on the grid. However, the performance of his 2023 W14 car after changes in regulations proved disappointing, failing to keep up with arch rivals Red Bull.

After the Bahrain Grand Prix, Hamilton criticised the Mercedes design chiefs, saying his ideas were ignored despite him knowing “what a car needs”. When these points were put to Mercedes technical chief James Allison in an F1 Nation podcast interview, he responded by saying:

“I think that drivers sometimes conflate identifying a problem with knowing what the solution is. Where it’s a massive help is the accurate description of what is difficult about extracting lap time from the car.

If they can say, ‘Here it is letting me down because the front axle is too weak, here it’s letting me down because the rear axle is too weak – here, it just feels bizarre and I don’t trust it’, that’s ever so helpful because you can have a million pressure sensors on the car, loads of load cells, accelerometers up the ying yang but, ultimately, those are a little bit sort of stunted in their ability to tell you truly what the car is doing. The driver is a much better sensor.”


F1 cars in wind tunnels

In a well-illustrated video, the Sauber F1 Team Head of Aerodynamics, Willem Toet, explains which load cells he uses for testing F1 cars, and why:

“The main load cell we use is a 6-component load cell for measuring the overall forces on the car, and (to) know where the downforce is – how much is on the front, how much is on the rear.

So we use a pitch moment. You can separate that up by having a load cell at the front and a load cell at the rear of your 6-component balance, so that you can calculate the downforce on the front and on the rear. The same applies for the side force as well as for the drag force and the yaw moment.”

Interestingly one of the most difficult forces to measure are “the forces underneath the wheel contact patches.” Toet explained this was difficult because:

“Between the tyre and the load measurement we have a thick, fast-moving belt system…. We can measure the load that the tyre uses to push down onto the belt by having a specifically and carefully designed high-pressure air bearing load cell underneath the spot where the tyre exists.

If you put a full-size car or a model into the wind tunnel, we can measure the weight of the car (and) also the aerodynamic load of the car with quite good accuracy despite the fact that you’ve got the belt moving in between.”

(see the whole video below)

More about F1 cars in wind tunnels

One of our favourite load cell articles with links to some very cool images of the Honda HALO wind tunnel too.


More about load cells and motorsports

Like load cells and fast cars (and bikes)? Check out these4 previous articles from your favourite load cell manufacturers (us!):


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