I’m not much of a car nut, but even I know the automotive industry is making huge strides in taking new technologies and using them to make cars faster, more efficient, and most importantly, safer than ever before. Take, for example, the brake-by-wire system that was first incorporated into the 2014 F1 racing cars. While the brake pedal connects directly to the front brakes, the rear brakes are instead connected to a computer which controls them, limiting the energy they recover from turns.

In an article by Sam Collins for Racecar Engineering, he explains how racing regulations state that racecars are only allowed to recover a certain amount of energy from the rear brakes and how car batteries can only hold so much energy. When either of these two limits is nearing their breaking point, the Energy Recovery System (ERS) stops doing its job, and the traditional brakes kick in.

F1 BBW brake system

This switch from electrical to manual control is what the ERS is most annoyingly known for. Since it is essential for any racecar to compete, a brake by wire system (BBW) is supposed to lessen the driver’s discomfort whenever the system makes the switch. It eases the driver into using the manual brakes without him feeling discombobulated and allows him to run the car more smoothly.

F1 BBW brake system

BBWs are far from perfect, however. According to Lotus Cars Technical Director Nick Chester, “the biggest problems are how the chassis works with the power unit and how the energy recovery system works.” Since the way the system operates isn’t always uniform, this causes the driver to feel inconsistencies which affect his performance. Think of it like driving a car on autopilot when suddenly you’re given manual control. It can be hard to adapt to different situations each time.

Take into account the fluctuating brake temperature which affects their stopping power, and you have a system which needs to adapt to a variety of situations. BBWs aren’t as flexible as their human drivers, and there have been times when they conk out and leave the driver to his own devices. While the system has a lot of potentials, it needs to be put through its paces before it can be consistent during different driving scenarios.

Grease monkeys and car aficionados can read the entire article over at Racecar Engineering.


Carlos wrestles gators, and by gators, we mean words. He also loves good design, good books, and good coffee.