Formula 1 is the royalty among all car races. It’s the show of unbelievable speed, incredible courage, and unimaginable skills of F1 drivers.
Millions of fans all over the world are glued to the screens most Sundays during the season, watching the Grand Prix races with caught breath. That’s why it’s fascinating to learn about the techniques used to achieve such amazing results.
Did you know that F1 drivers are often called pilots? It’s quite understandable, as the speed of F1 cars typically exceeds 186 mph. They are basically flying, and it takes a pilot to navigate F1 cars. And from that comes our fascination with the skills they have. F1 pilots are not just fantastic drivers, they are the best drivers in the world, their excellence — is exquisite and unique.
Piloting a race is not a walk in the park, but an incredibly physical, mental, and psychological overload. The stress they are under during the race is incredible. Formula 1 drivers are some of the strongest people on the planet.
So all that makes Formula 1 an interesting puzzle to us. What’s inside their magic F1 cars? How can they reach such speeds? Is there anything special about their driving technique? Do they drive with one foot or two feet?
Let’s find out.
It’s all about optimization
For every Formula 1 team, all the engineering and technological details of the race car are a closely guarded secret. A huge part of the success is the engine. The competition starts here.
The team that has the highest capacity engine usually wins. But that’s only a part of the success story. Optimizing the driving process is also crucial. And then the F1 drivers must perfect that optimized process.
It’s important to point out that only the perseverance and talent of the Formula 1 driver can guarantee the highest efficiency and subsequent success.
So, what techniques do F1 drivers use? What is special about their driving?
Piloting with both feet
First, let’s answer the question in the headline: pilots of Formula 1 drive race cars using both left and right feet.
As any extra movement implies the waste of precious milliseconds, they keep their left foot on the brake pedal and their right foot on the accelerator pedal. This way, the process is optimized to the maximum degree.
Later in the article, we’ll go into detail and explain all the benefits of using both feet the way F1 drivers do.
Pedals and paddles
In F1 cars, a clutch pedal is not provided. It would slow down F1 drivers (“slowing down” is of course relative, but in Formula 1 we count even fractions of a second). Instead, the cars are equipped with 2 clutch paddles that perform the function. Clutch paddles are installed on both sides of the steering wheel where the F1 driver can use them efficiently.
F1 cars have semi-automatic gearboxes.
So, an F1 driver can keep their left foot always on the brake pedal and their right foot — on the throttle. In some F1 cars, special braces are installed on the sides of both pedals to help the pilot fix the feet during the race.
Formula 1 left foot braking technique
The left-foot braking technique has been developed to maximize efficiency and has proven itself throughout the years.
How it all started
The idea of left foot braking originated from the karting sport, where a lot of future F1 drivers began their careers.
They noticed that if they used their left foot only to hit the brakes (there are only two pedals in karts), their maneuverability on the turns improved substantially, and they could use both the accelerator pedal and the brake pedal, thus maintaining the brake and the overall kart balance.
Lotus F1 Team started using cars with two pedals at the beginning of the 1970s and continued to improve the engineering part through trial and error.
The 1980s brought electrohydraulic control systems, which racing teams installed in Formula 1 cars, and the materials for the brakes, ensuring their ultimate capacity. Now only a pilot could be the limit because he didn’t have enough physical force to hit these brakes.
The first F1 pilot who took full advantage of the left foot braking was the one and only Michael Schumacher, a legendary F1 driver who entered the F1 circuit in the 90s.
He confused the other teams, including the pilots and technical staff, by maintaining full control on sharp turns while using braking force.
F1 pilots have been working in close collaboration with the Research & Development Departments on the improvement of the F1 cars. They have been searching for the best position of the brake pedal and the accelerator pedal for the ultimate efficiency and convenience.
This relentless teamwork has resulted in the fascinating innovations that brought us to where we are now, to the point when every race looks like a miracle.
Nowadays, all F1 drivers without exception enjoy the benefits of left-foot braking and have mastered their braking skills to perfection. It’s incredible to watch how the horizons of human capabilities are broadening all the time, especially when you see what the pilots do on the circuit.
The ultimate control
Using left-foot braking enables an F1 driver to achieve an incredible level of control and maneuverability. Here are the major advantages of left-foot braking.
Brake bias and load redistribution. If you’ve ever watched a Formula 1 race, you know how many turns every track contains. So, the ability of the driver to maintain the highest possible speed is absolutely critical. Instead of slowing down, the pilot can keep on accelerating.
And due to enhanced brake bias and load redistribution, the car can fit into the ideal trajectory of the turn. Better brake bias attributes to faster cornering.
No wasting time. We’ve already mentioned the importance of the opportunity for the F1 driver to keep their feet in place without moving them to the clutch pedal. The right foot stays on the throttle, and the left foot — is on the brakes.
Keeping them hot. In F1 cars, the brakes’ operating temperature is approximately 570° F. Below that temperature, the brakes won’t work efficiently. Left-foot braking ensures the maintenance of the operating temperature. A brake pedal in F1 cars is quite hard. The reason is the incredible capacity of the brakes. The effort it takes to use them is really significant.
During the race, the temperature can rise to 12,000° F and even higher. So with the left foot braking technique, F1 drivers can keep the brakes in operation mode without wasting precious time.
There’s always another way
There is another technique called to heel and toe. It’s quite popular among rally drivers, but not applicable to Formula 1 races because it implies that the car has a clutch pedal. And as we all already know, F1 cars don’t have a clutch pedal, but a clutch paddle.
When adhering to the heel and toe technique, drivers use the ball of the right foot and hit the brake. Simultaneously, they press the clutch pedal with the left foot. As for the gearshift, it’s done the standard way.
Modern F1 drivers do not use the heel-and-toe technique, as the cars in F1 do not have a clutch pedal. Gear shifting is done with paddles on the steering wheel, which means that F1 cars only have a brake and an accelerator pedal. F1 drivers have one pedal per foot, so they do not need to use heel and toe.
This technique enables you to make fast turns and start accelerating from the apex of the turn. If a driver often uses this technique, it wears down the clutch pretty fast.
But we are not discussing the wear of any spares because we are talking about Formula 1 today, and those guys change tires during one race. Anyway, although popular, the heel & toe technique isn’t used in F1. Only left foot braking.
In Formula 1 races, speed, and control are everything. So, through trial and error, the teams found the best position for the pilot during the race — 2 operating feet when the left foot is on the brake pedal and the right foot — is on the throttle.
They are always ready, and the reaction takes milliseconds. With the brakes being extremely hard, the brake pressure should be significant and in this position, the driver can put forth greater pressure on his left foot.
Just imagine the complexity of the task that the pilots face regularly. For example, take the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, a Formula 1 track in Saudi Arabia. It has the most turns compared to other tracks, precisely 27. And the route is running through the city streets. The level of control required from the pilot is phenomenal.
The clutch in the F1 car is presented by 2 clutch paddles on two sides of the steering wheel, so there is no third pedal here.
You can’t say that an F1 car is a normal car and an F1 driver is a normal person, There is nothing normal there. Formula 1 drivers are incredibly talented and hardworking people who perfected their driving skills and became simply the best in the world.
Left-foot braking is just one example of how mastering an effective technique can lead to record results.
As for the cars they drive, they are simply manifestations of the world’s progress and innovation. Read also: How to Build a Shifter Kart?
Frequently asked questions
F1 drivers indeed use the left foot for a brake pedal. They actually use both feet for driving, with the right foot on the accelerator and the left foot — on the brake. It guarantees maximum control and the most efficient movements, which is critical in the sport where the champion often wins by a split second.
F1 drivers accelerate and brake with different feet. They always drive using both feet. The left foot is on the brakes and the right foot — is on the throttle. They have two pedals and no pedal for a clutch. Instead, they have a clutch paddle — two paddles, one on each side of the steering wheel. All of that gives the driver higher cornering speeds.
There are two pedals in F1 cars: brakes and accelerator. F1 drivers use 2 feet to drive. Instead of the pedal for the clutch, they have a clutch paddle, which provides clutch control.
The fact that there are only two-foot pedals, gives the Formula 1 driver more control during the turns and allows moving less, thus saving precious seconds.
Formula 1 drivers use both feet for driving, and they are the best in the world. So, it will be safe to say that it’s OK to use both feet. It’s actually the only way Formula 1 drivers pilot their cars.