ABS is an anti-lock braking system that prevents vehicles from skidding when brakes are applied suddenly with pressure and the wheels of the vehicle lock. This situation occurs mostly in emergencies when a driver has to avoid an obstacle or an oncoming vehicle. ABS is used in aircraft, cars, trucks, buses and motorcycles. Even though brakes need to be applied in earnest in emergencies, the driver loses control when the wheels lock and the vehicle skids. A skidding vehicle takes longer to come to a halt than a vehicle whose wheels are turning. A vehicle skidding out of control could itself lead to an accident, leading to harm to the occupants.
The ABS was developed by the French pioneer Gabriel Voisin in 1920. Since 1950, the system was tested in various aircraft and diesel locomotives. In the late 1960s, an electronic ABS was installed on Concord supersonic jets. The system, as we now know it, was invented by Mario Palazzetti (nicknamed “Mr ABS”) in 1971 in the Fiat Research Center. The patented system, then called Antiskid by Palazzetti, was sold to Bosch who named it ABS or Anti-lock Braking System. It was first installed in a car by Chrysler in its 1971 Imperial.
ABS is considered an electronic driver aid and is not used in F1 cars and other vehicle races for the reasons detailed below.
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How does ABS work?
ABS has an electronic control unit (ECU), four-wheel speed sensors and hydraulic valves within the brake hydraulic system. The ECU continually monitors the speeds of the wheels via the wheel speed sensors which are connected to them. If the speed of any wheel is significantly lower than the others, the ECU signals the valve to reduce the pressure on the brake pads of the wheel. The braking pressure is reduced and the wheel starts spinning at the same speed as the other wheels.
On the other hand, if the ECU detects a wheel rotating faster than the other wheels, it prompts the valve to increase the braking pressure. This returns the wheel speed to the same as the other wheel. This process takes place multiple times in a second. It can be felt by the driver through the pulsations on the brake pedal. This prevents the wheels from locking, and the car skidding even when excessive pressure is applied on the brake pedal in urgent situations.
What are the pros of ABS?
Although an ABS keeps a wheel from locking it also keeps the speed of the wheel on the threshold of locking. If the wheels of a car lock, the car will take much longer to come to a stop than if they don’t lock. Not much difference is noted in the stopping distances in cars with ABS installed in normal driving conditions. That is because a wheel moving on the threshold of locking gives the car more traction than a locked wheel. On a good surface, ABS will help a car to come to a standstill faster than a car that doesn’t have ABS.
The ABS gives the driver more control over a vehicle on a skidding surface in emergencies.
Normally a driver would have to use cadence braking. Cadence braking is a practice in which a driver pumps the brake pedal continuously to slow the vehicle but keep the wheels from skidding. ABS also helps divers brake later into a corner trusting the system for vehicle control. When wheels skid, tyres wear excessively forming a flat patch on the tyre surface. Such patches lead to a vehicle vibrating. Thus ABS also extends the life of tyres. The system can also be used for traction control, balancing the pressure on the front and the rear brakes.
What are the cons of ABS?
However, ABS does have its disadvantages. The ABS will detect the locked wheel as an aberration and reduce the brake pressure on it. This will bring the car to a stop within a reasonable distance. On the ice, the ABS wouldn’t detect any difference in speed between the wheels because all the wheels will lock simultaneously. This will cause the car to skid a long way before coming to a stop. In this regard, ABS can be a hindrance for vehicle drivers in adverse weather conditions.
On a snow-laden road, a locked wheel would build up snow ahead of it. This would slow the vehicle down although the vehicle could likely move sideways. A similar situation could occur on gravelly roads. When all the wheels lock simultaneously, ABS would not be triggered. Unless the driver resorts to brake pumping, the vehicle would skid a long way. ABS systems are rendered when all the wheels are at the same speed or lock together.
If the ABS malfunctions, a light will illuminate on the dashboard of the vehicle indicating that the system is not functioning. In case of a faulty ABS, the driver has to check the brake fluid levels or else, head to a local garage to get the system up and running.
Why did FIA ban ABS in F1 cars?
In Formula 1, every so often we see a driver, who goes too deep into a turn, skid and go off the tracks. These situations, although it may cause danger to the other competitors, also makes Formula 1 interesting. Wheels skidding for too long results in flat spots on the tyres from wear. These flat spots cause the car to vibrate. This compels the driver to pit early for a change of tyres in order to be competitive. This is where race strategy kicks in making the competition more interesting and competitive.
With ABS and TC (Traction Control) there would be no locking of wheels and no imbalance of brakes. Further with an automatic gearbox and self-adjusting suspension system, all a driver would have to do is point the car in the right direction! The driver’s only contribution to the race would be working the accelerating pedal. It is for this reason that ABS is banned from all racing competitions. The organisers of these races want the driver’s skill to come to the fore rather than a computer.
The FIA was looking at the economic feasibility of Formula 1 racing in the early 1990s. Its aim was to reduce the cost of F1 cars. If allowed, constructors would splurge money on advanced electronic driver aids, increasing the cost of F1 cars even further. Moreover, it would diminish the necessity of driver skills, reducing the competition to a computer-managed race. The FIA wanted to retain the human element in Formula 1 racing.
Do F1 cars have ABS?
ABS did exist in Formula 1 cars before 1994 till the FIA put its foot down. Along with ABS, the FIA banned traction control, active suspension, launch control and stability control. These measures would certainly increase lap times but make Formula 1 racing more interesting. If all the electronics were allowed, Formula 1 would have more about computer control and less about driver skills.