Formula 1 Thermal Imaging

Have you ever thought about using a thermal imaging camera to evaluate your tire temperatures? The Formula 1 guys certainly have. There are a few videos floating around the Web. Here’s a really good one.

Companies like FLIR make all sorts of infrared cameras that can record changing surface temperatures in real time. FLIR’s higher end models even have an Ethernet connection, S-Video and other common video outputs. WiFi and connectivity to tablets and smart phones is also possible. Prices start in the low $1,000s.

There are some really interesting things you can find out about performance when watching a Formula 1 car using infrared.

As you would expect, any time the driver takes a corner, the outside tires heat up very quickly, with the inside ones warming up as well. Certainly the suspension is doing its job of keeping the tire flat on the ground, even when cornering, as denoted by the even coloring across the tread in the video.

While studying the video, I also realized that on the high speed sections, the surface temperature of the tire actually cools down rather considerably. Naturally, as the speed on the straightaway goes up, so does the heat-extracting effect of the air on the tire. In a few spots, the inside edge of both tires showed temperature increases. Can we assume that the driver is making slight steering corrections to keep the car straight? Or, could it be a slight toe-in or the effects of caster? In an effort to shave every millisecond off of their lap times, you can bet the Formula 1 engineering analysts are taking a close look as to why that happens.

You’ll also notice that the tires heat up, ever so slightly, when the driver initially lifts his foot off the throttle. And braking produces a significant change in the images.

I thought it was a fascinating video with a lot of lessons to be learned. Would it make sense to spend a grand or more to see what happens to the tires as they go around the track? People use them for shifter-kart racing

So, what would you do with an infrared camera in your racing tool box?