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Formula 1 spreads its wings – with a little help from Lee Products

11 April 2011

With something of a reputation for producing high-performance, miniaturised solenoid valves for a whole raft of applications, Lee Products has turned its attention once more to the demanding Formula 1 racing sector, modifying an existing product for the current season’s latest technology innovation – driver-actuated rear wings

Formula 1 motor racing technology moves on apace, as teams clamour for competitive advantage within the sport’s strict rules and regulations. An example of this is the decision to allow the use of driver-activated rear wings for 2011, set to return to Formula 1 (F1) some 40 years after they were banned on safety grounds in the 1960s. This decision was made at a recent meeting of the sports governing body the FIA World Motor Sport Council, with the objective of allowing more overtaking.

One of the beneficiaries of this decision is miniature component specialist Lee Products, which, over the years, has sold hundreds of solenoid valves to all of the F1 teams for a wide range of applications. These include, fuel flap, emergency clutch disengage, reverse gear selection, power steering, auxiliary lube oil tank top-up applications, as well as front wing control. In fact, the company’s 250 series solenoid valve was specifically developed at the request of its F1 customers and this was subsequently homologated by the FIA for use in F1 cars.

The active front wings had a trailing edge which could be adjusted by the driver to increase downward force during braking. Active front wings were a feature on F1 cars for the 2010 season but have now been banned for the 2011 season, to be replaced by the active rear wing. Drivers will be able to control the rear wing once they have been behind another driver for a set amount of time, thereby reducing drag on the straight and allowing greater opportunity for overtaking.

Hydraulic actuator
The wings are raised and lowered by a large-diameter hydraulic actuator, which needs to move very quickly, requiring a fast-acting, high-flow valve to control it. Lee Products subsequently developed a 12V dc version of its three-way high flow solenoid valve for the application, and several F1 teams have since specified the valve for this function. The modified valve can operate at much higher temperatures (up to 165oC), while the original 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.

These miniature three-way high flow solenoid valves are a natural evolution of the company’s proven piloting solenoid valves, which set something of a benchmark in terms of space, weight and power consumption reduction. Valve elements are based on the low-leakage, high-reliability designs that are featured in Lee’s check and shuttle valves.

Further features and vital statistics of the modified valve include: two position, three-way, 3,000 psi, 4.0 USgal/min minimum flow at 3,000 psid, single coil and an integral safety screen with .004in hole size. Power consumption is 7.8W at 18-32Vdc and the valve’s operating temperature range is -54oC - +135oC. Special 12Vdc versions are also available for motorsport applications.

These solenoid valves join Lee Products’ extensive range of plugs, restrictors, check valves, relief valves, shuttle valves, filter screens and flow controls which are all to be found in current F1 cars and engines.

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