ATLAS F1   Volume 6, Issue 49 Email to Friend   Printable Version

Atlas F1   Taking the Lid Off F1

Formula One Technical Analysis

  by Will Gray, England

Last year, Atlas F1 ran a series of articles that investigated the technical areas involved in design, development, and construction of an F1 car. Now, a year later, Will Gray picks up where he left off, and dives deeper into the technical analysis of Formula One.

9B. Vision Express! - Cockpit Displays

It takes a driver 0.9 seconds to visually check dashboard-displayed information in the cockpit. In that time, a car travelling at maximum speed (based on the top speed of an F1 car - 320km/h) will have moved a distance of 80 metres, and that equates to a large proportion of a high speed corner. It is therefore critical to ensure the quickest checking time by correctly positioning switches and displays, and sizing the displays large enough to overcome the problems of vibration which cause difficulty in focusing in the vibration-filled environment experienced by the driver.

The Ferrari F1-2000 steering wheelCurrently, the three major displays in the cockpit are the 7 segment display, the LCD (Liquid Crystal Display), and the LED (Light Emitting Diode) cluster. In addition to this, the radio is used between pits and car to further inform the driver of problems and strategy plans. No messages are allowed to be conveyed by text - in fact no information can be sent to the car, only from it, so all warnings and reading for things such as engine temperature are activated from on-board sensors linked to the on-board computer. The displays are of different types as each has its own requirement, and so will be considered in turn.

The seven segment display can display four digits, each approximately 10mm x 5mm in size and bright red (the sort of display used on a large-display radio alarm clock). This is generally used to display status information on the current gear and is usually situated on the top of the steering wheel. It is in the most prominent position, and the brightest of the displays, presenting important information very clearly. The LCD screen is the display which feeds the driver with information. It can show lap segment times (used in qualifying to abort laps if a section time is too slow), information on active controls, and details of warnings once the driver has been alerted by the LED cluster. It is positioned on the wheel, directly below the seven segment display, but the information it displays tends to be less important, so it is presented in a way that avoids distraction from the seven segment display.

The third major display is the LED cluster, consisting of eight light emitting diodes (small but very bright lights), positioned in an arc on the dashboard. Their main use is as a tachometer. Instead of the needle and round dial as seen on most road cars, the LEDs light up in pairs starting with the outside two, and progressing towards the centre, with each pair remaining illuminated as the revs increase. This gives the best information on revs to the driver, because with an increasing number of lights illuminated, the brightness increases and the light moves towards the centre of the driver's vision. The lights are not incremented from the lowest revs, but rather are the upper limit of the revs to assist in changing gear at maximum revs. The outer LEDs in this cluster will also double as warning lights which alert the driver to look at the LCD screen where information on the problem will be displayed.

The Ferrari F1-2000 cockpitThe LED cluster tends to be positioned on the top part of the steering wheel, so that the display is not masked by the wheel when turning, and is visible at all times. As gears are often changed in the middle of corners, this is very important. The driver's eyes will be focused on the direction the car is travelling, and the display will move with his field of vision. For this reason, all displays are now situated on the steering wheel.

A very recent development is to move the LED cluster into the helmet, positioning them in the bottom of the helmet opening. Teams have done this because the lights are difficult to see in some types of sunlight. However, there are questions over the level of distraction caused by having them so close to the driver's eye. As the lights are quite low relative to the driver's eyes, it may prove to require too much eye movement to see them, although this may be an advantage in making them less distracting.

One development currently continuing (but not used by any team) is the Head Up Display (HUD), which has been adapted from similar systems in fighter jets and some road cars. It allows information to be displayed in the field of vision, to allow the driver to see the displays without looking away from the direction s/he is travelling. In a road car, the information is projected onto the windscreen and includes a vertical adjustment for different driver heights, but a racing car windshield is too small, so the information must be projected somewhere onto the helmet. However, with the visor being curved, the required information has to be projected onto a tiny, semi-transparent screen mounted in front of the visor.

The system can display any information desired, with the image positioned to sit midway between the driver and the car in front, rather than directly over the car in front. It is of low weight, with the heavy part mounted in the chassis. The main problems with previous systems has been coping with the severe vibrations experienced, but this system moves the display further from the eye, possibly lessening the problems. Drivers, however, don't like the HUDs, because they put the information in full view all the time - the drivers only want to see it when they need the information, otherwise they may be distracted. To get away from this, the driver could turn the HUD on and off by pressing a button on the wheel. If this button was positioned easily to hand, the driver wouldn't ever have to look away from the road to find out the information he requires.

Pedro de la Rosa - Belgian Grand Prix 2000In addition to the major displays, a group of three LEDs is positioned on the dashboard for marshalling. These are intended to warn the drivers in the following manner - yellow (for 'Danger Ahead'), red (for 'Stop'), and blue (for 'Leading car trying to pass'). The colours come from the current marshalling system of flags, which are becoming increasingly difficult to see as marshalling posts move further and further away from the track, and are therefore further out of the drivers' eyesight. By having lights in the cockpit, the driver is immediately alerted without having to search for the signals.

The cockpit instrumentation is designed to give the driver the ultimate in easy-view information, and with modern technology improving at such a rate, developments are constantly leading to new designs and new ideas in the cockpit environment. It is crucial to ensure the driver has full concentration on the road ahead, and avoids any distractions. Attention to detail in this area can make all the difference.

Next Week: "How do you work this thing? - Cockpit Controls"

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Will Gray© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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