Motorsports signifies the pinnacle of racing engineering and expertise. Be it in F1 or NASCAR, mechanics, strategists, and drivers from across the globe all come together to create some of the most exciting racing action for viewers to enjoy.

It’s no secret that the cars used in these racing disciplines look vastly different to those driven on the road. Open-wheeled designs, huge spoilers and carefully designed tyres would serve little to no purpose on the daily commute; or would they?

 The advanced rate at which research and development is undertaken within racing teams sometimes means that these keen innovations do in fact make their way down to your daily runner. Are you driving a hidden sports car? Read on to get a look at some of the developments inspired by years of racing that you’ve been unknowingly enjoying for all these years.

Racing technology in road cars


Thanks to minor fuel/environmental efficiency improvements, we’re now seeing a lot of new cars launched with smaller engine sizes. Generally, a smaller engine results in lower performance. So, how do manufacturers compensate? The answer is turbocharging.

In an engine cylinder, more air = more performance. Turbocharging is a way of forcing more air (and fuel) into the engine’s cylinder. This causes a bigger explosion inside the engine, producing more power to be transported to the wheels.

Turbocharging was first unveiled in the 1960s, when General Motors built one into the Chevrolet Corvair. However, it wasn’t until the 1970s when turbocharging made waves in the F1 scene, thanks to Renault. 10 years later, almost all performance cars had some form of turbo across all racing disciplines.

As time went by, turbos started to make their way back into regular road cars, allowing manufacturers to introduce one of the first F1 innovations in road cars.

Read more: What is a turbocharged engine?


Downforce is a major part of F1 racing. Traditional F1 cars weigh much less than a typical road car, despite having more powerful engines to get them around the track. The risk with this is that fitting a light car with a powerful engine can result in lift.

“Lift” is simply when a car has too much power flowing through it, which causes it to lift off the ground like an aircraft. F1 cars are usually configured in a rear-wheel-drive setting, meaning that the lift effect is mostly felt in the front.

Adding weight to compensate for this is not an option, as more weight makes the car difficult to move. So, engineers resort to downforce. Downforce is a way of utilising air pressure to push the car back ono the track, negating the effects of lift.

One major way of improving a car’s downforce is to use a spoiler. Spoilers help concentrate air over the top of the car in a downward direction, keeping it firmly planted.

While downforce isn’t a necessity for road cars, some have grown fond of the aggressive aesthetics that wings can provide. So much so that spoilers can be found on anything from a Toyota Supra to a Ford Mustang.

Carbon fibre

 How do you think F1 cars get so light? Sure, they’re smaller, have less creature comforts, and are only holding one passenger (who is basically as fit as an athlete), but that’s not the main reason why.

Traditional cars use a mixture of different materials to be created. Leather, cloth, aluminium, and steel are among the most common, with each of these materials having vastly different physical properties. The real reason for this weight difference is the use of a clever material called carbon fibre.

Carbon fibre is a man-made material extracted from organic polymers, with around 90% of those being polyacrylonitrile. These fibers are bonded together at extremely high temperatures, resulting in a thick sheet of carbon fibre. This sheet is flexible, and can be moulded into all sorts of shapes; including a full F1 car.

Resistance tests have shown that carbon fibre is as strong as, or even stronger than even the toughest materials, while weighing five times lighter. This makes it an excellent choice for weight reduction, with some road cars adopting the technology in bucket seats, spoilers, and various aesthetic upgrades.

Stop/start ignitions

In a racing situation, every millisecond counts. Being one tenth of a second off the mark can mean the difference between first and second place; losing crucial points for a championship win and taking home all the glory.

This demand for efficiency has resulted in automotive processes being sped up as quickly as possible, and has even affected the ways in which cars are ignited.

Turning a key and waiting for a car to turnover can be a lengthy process, and sometimes runs the risk of flooding the engine through excess fuel being injected. When you’re facing 20, or sometimes 100, opponents in an all-out race, this is unacceptable.

To circumvent these risks, many manufacturers (mainly Porsche) implemented such measures into their early racing cars around the mid-late 1970s, saving drivers those crucial milliseconds and giving them clear advantages. Fast forward, and stop-start technology is a very common feature on road cars. Some have even further improved on this technology by developing measures that cut off power to the engine when a car is stationary.

Small steering wheels

Steering wheels are simple enough, right? Turn left to go left, and right to go right. The thing is, steering wheels haven’t always been as optimised as they are today. Look at any classic road car and you’ll see enormous steering wheels that would be better used as makeshift wheels by today’s standards.

For the most part, though, drivers didn’t have much of an issue with these abnormally large steering wheels. Being so large, these ancient steering wheels granted a lot more fine-tuning to road manoeuvres thanks to such a large diameter, and the large amounts of space in the front cabin.

Transitioning to race situations, we see the impracticalities of large steering wheels starting to show. Drivers, especially F1 drivers, have incredibly limited space in their cockpits, so any excess sizing must be accounted for and rectified. The elephant in the room? Steering wheels.

That’s right, smaller steering wheels are yet another example of F1 technology in real life, with the concept of a smaller rim being floated around in the 1970s by McLaren. Not only were these wheels much smaller, but they also added commonly used vehicle controls to the face of the wheel itself. This saved those precious few seconds that drivers would have otherwise used to stretch to their radio button before calling in a pit stop (and also kept their hands on the wheel for safety).

In recent years, these slimmer steering wheels with radio or window controls built in have become commonplace on UK roads. Combined with a generally smaller turning radius, it’s even easier to get your car around tight bends or quickly enact manoeuvres in a matter of seconds,

Need more tech in your daily runner?

If looking at this list of innovations has left you wanting, want no more. At, you can find thousands of used cars from recent years all packed with the latest and greatest features. Browse all of our listings and find your next car today.

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