Technical analysis – brake-by-wire systems explained

Formula One cars have used electronic ‘fly-by-wire’ throttle technology for years, but this season the sport has also adopted electronically-controlled rear brake systems for the first time. But just what is brake-by-wire and how does it work? We guide you through the technology…

For the past 20 years, since the ban on anti-lock braking systems (ABS) in the early Nineties, Formula One brake systems have taken a relatively simple, albeit hugely efficient, form. They consist, as the regulations dictate, of a twin-circuit hydraulic system with two separate master cylinders for the front (1) and rear (4) wheels so that, even in the event of one complete circuit failure, braking should still be available through the second circuit. The amount of braking power going to the front and rear circuits can be ‘biased’ by a control in the cockpit, allowing a driver to stabilise his car under braking.

The introduction of KERS (which converted waste energy generated under braking into electrical power) in 2009 made things slightly more complex for the drivers because the system connected to the transmission, and the resulting reverse torque acting on the rear axle changed the brake balance at the rear of the car. However, because the maximum amount of power that could be harvested was limited to 80bhp, this wasn’t too major an issue for the drivers to deal with.

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