Analysis: F1 Starter Motors

As hard as it is to believe, Formula 1 cars cannot be started from the cockpit so if you stall it on track you’re out. In a conventional starting system the battery powers a solenoid which shifts a pinion in line with the flywheel. The starter motor itself is then activated and the car starts. However in F1 this system is a weight penalty – and just so happens to be forbidden in the regulations – so an external starter is used.

The starter motor itself is a pretty robust piece of kit and I managed to get a few photos of McLaren’s at Goodwood.

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An electric motor is powered by a 24V battery at the bottom of the device, which then rotates a long shaft – probably made from steel – which is geared at the tip. It is all packed up in a neat little trolley, with wheels on the bottom alongside the battery for transportation between the garage and the grid.

The electric motor itself is not a conventional one either, more on this later.

The square carbon fibre piece acts as a support and latches onto the base of the rear crash structure as the car is started. This is to prevent a kick back into the mechanic and makes the start procedure a lot smoother as a result.

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And above is the magic button that can set over 800bhp into action. I was intrigued by the temperature stickers near the top of the starter although they could just be there because they had some spare and couldn’t be bothered to waste them!

Now let’s get onto how the start process happens…

w05 diffuser

At the back of the car is a small hole at the centre of the diffuser, or thereabouts. In previous years this has been left open and exploited for aerodynamic purposes, however in 2014 there must either be a flap covering the hole or the hole must not be visible from beneath the car (e.g. Mercedes’s vertical slot).

The hole reveals the slot for two gears which drives the flywheel. When the mechanics and engineers are satisfied with the engine, oil and water temperatures, the starter motor is inserted into the slot, the big red button is pressed and the engine and gearbox components all rotate at the same rate as the driven shaft.

There’s a slight pause before the ignition kicks in and the engine idle speed reaches around 5000-6000rpm. This is roughly five times faster than the rotating starter motor shaft, so the electric motor has a built in clutch system to prevent the shaft spinning out of control, hence why its diameter is quite big. The starter is then removed and the car is at idle state, ready to roll.

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