The Williams FW15 from the 1993 Formula One season may well be the greatest race car of all-time. Its key to obliterating the competition? Active suspension, a technology that for the first time ever is being used in military tanks to make them handle rough terrain more easily and at a far faster pace.
These tanks, dubbed CV90 and developed by Swedish company BAE Systems, travel 30-40 percent faster than your typical tank on rough terrain. It accomplishes this feat without adopting a larger engine, but via the “active damping” system it uses.
It works by judging the speed of the tank and the upcoming terrain and pressurizing the hydraulic dampers to keep the machine level at all times. This reduces pitch and roll, allowing drivers to keep the throttle pegged while the suspension mitigates most of the bumps.
On the racetrack in the early ‘90s, the system worked in precisely the same way: The suspension was controlled via hydraulics, and it was pre-programmed to anticipate changes in elevation and bumps. This allowed the car to maintain an optimal ride height at all times, eliminating the need to raise the car for a heavy fuel load at the start of the race, for example – therefore increasing downforce. Additionally, drivers didn’t have to deal with pitch and roll under braking and acceleration; the car knew the road ahead and set itself up without any input needed from the guy behind the wheel.
The FW15 was so advanced, in fact, it required three laptops just to start it up. It featured a button on the steering wheel that temporarily raised the car on the straights, eliminating the effect of the diffuser and thus decreasing drag. It was often two seconds per lap faster than any other car, and by the end of the year, the system was banned.
BAE claims this technology helps reduce wear-and-tear on its CV90 tank substantially, as well as reducing military fatigue and providing a more stable platform for gunners to shoot from. (Watch BAE’s video of the system in action below.)
It wasn’t easy applying the same F1 technology that led Williams to the 1992 and 1993 titles onto its tanks: The FW15 only weighed around 1,500 lbs., while the CV90 tips the scales at 35 tons. It took engineers years to develop the system into something that could handle the tank’s inherent weight, but in doing so, BAE states that the active system recently led the CV90 to a new speed record on rough terrain, beating the Main Battle Tanks. What speed it managed, however, has not been released.
We often see technology that derived on the racetrack filter its way into our production cars. The concept of active suspension actually began in 1982 when Colin Chapman conceived the idea for his Lotus F1 team; it took a further decade until Williams finally mastered it. After more than 20 years, Chapman’s innovation still lives on.
Who’d have thought it would be in the form of a Swedish tank?