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Miniature Solenoid Valves: The Force Behind Formula 1 Wings

The fast-moving world of Formula 1 motor racing technology is constantly changing as a result of the desire to gain an advantage in such a highly competitive arena, as well as the need to comply with ever-changing rules and regulations.

An example of this is the decision to allow the use of driver-activated rear wings for 2011. These wings have returned to Formula 1 after they were banned for 40 years on safety grounds. This decision was made at a meeting of the sports governing body, the FIA World Motor Sport Council, with the objective of allowing more overtaking in F1.

One of the beneficiaries of this decision is The Lee Company. Over the past few years, we have sold hundreds of miniature solenoid valves to all the F1 teams for a wide range of applications. These include fuel flaps, emergency clutch disengagement, reverse gear selection, power steering, auxiliary lube oil tank top-up applications, and front wing control. In fact, The Lee Company specifically developed its Performance Racing Solenoid Valve at the request of its F1 customers, and this was subsequently homologated by the FIA for use in F1.

Marc 'Elvis' Priestley worked for McLaren Racing as a Formula One mechanic and member of the pitstop crew from 2000-2009. He worked with a distinguished list of drivers including Mika Hakkinen, David Coulthard, Kimi Raikkonen, Jean Alesi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton.

The active front wings have a trailing edge which can be adjusted by the driver to increase downforce during braking. Active front wings were a feature on Formula 1 cars for the 2010 season but were banned for the 2011 season, to be replaced by the active rear wing. Drivers are now able to control the rear wing once they have been behind another driver for a set amount of time, thereby reducing drag on the straightaway and allowing greater opportunity for overtaking.

The wings are raised and lowered by a large hydraulic actuator, which must move very quickly and therefore demands a fast-acting, high-flow valve to control it. The Lee Company developed a 12 VDC version of its 3-way high flow solenoid valve specifically for this purpose, and several Formula 1 teams have specified the valve for this function. This modified valve can operate at temperatures of up to 329°F (165°C). Also, the retaining nut has been removed to save space and reduce weight, and the lead wires now exit from the rear of the valve, instead of at the hydraulic end.

The Lee Company’s miniature 3-way high flow solenoid valves are a natural evolution of our proven piloting solenoid valves, which set new standards in reducing space, weight, and power consumption. Valve elements are based on the low leakage, highly reliable designs used in Lee check and shuttle valves. Functions and features include two-position, 3-way, 3000 psi, 4.0 GPM minimum flow at 3000 psid (300 Lohms), single-coil, and an integral safety screen with a 0.004 inch hole size. Power consumption is 7.8 W at 18-32 VDC, and the valves can operate within a temperature range of -129°F to 275°F (-54°C to 135°C).

These miniature solenoid valves are part of The Lee Company’s extensive range of plugs, restrictors, check valves, relief valves, shuttle valves, filter screens, and flow controls, which are all being used in current Formula 1 cars and engines.

Formula 1 and F1 are trademarks of Formula One Licensing BV, a Formula One Group Company.



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